Natalie Jaresko doesn’t look at the glass as half empty — she prefers to see it three-quarters full. That’s how she tackled Ukraine’s economic challenges when serving as the country’s first post-Maidan finance minister.
Jaresko left her position on April 14, and remains proud of her nation’s recent economic achievements — things like:
- Continued economic growth.
- Rapidly growing industrial output, up 8 percent in February.
- A stabilized currency and foreign bank reserves.
- An end to inflation, fallen from a high of 14 percent in April 2015 to minus 0.4 percent as of February 2016. That’s in part due to …
- Jaresko’s strict budgetary discipline — which earned her the nickname “Minister No” and reduced Ukraine’s debt by $3.8 billion.
Foreign investment, new businesses booming
Jaresko observes that Ukraine’s improved economic situation is attracting foreign investment. U.S. agriculture giant Cargill announced it will invest $100 million to modernize port infrastructure near the Black Sea city of Odesa. In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Japanese automotive parts manufacturer Fujikura has opened a facility and Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson plans an R&D office.
Ukraine’s business climate has also improved. Jaresko says opening a business can be accomplished online in 24 hours, thanks to a reduction in the number of required permits and licenses. Even the registration time for ships and cargo to arrive in and depart from port has been reduced from several hours to about 16 minutes, she adds.
Corruption taking a hit
Reducing corruption is necessary for the good economic news to continue. Real progress was made during Jaresko’s 17 months in office. All state officials now must fully disclose their assets and their tax payments online — a requirement, Jaresko boasts, that makes Ukraine “far more advanced than some European countries.” Salaries of public employees have increased and stronger legal measures hold them accountable for performing their duties honestly and efficiently.
A popular new police force is one key to stomping out corrupt practices. It’s up and running in 18 cities across Ukraine, with 14 more planned before the end of 2016. And a newly established National Anti-Corruption Bureau already has investigated more than 80 cases of alleged corruption.
Jaresko knows that even as Ukraine becomes a more prosperous, pro-European country, many challenges remain. The nation’s economic growth is real, but starting from a very low base. “It will take time for the Ukrainian people to enjoy the benefit of the return to growth and prosperity,” she warns.
She also says the country’s economic recovery depends heavily on the security situation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Prior to the April 30, 2016, Easter cease-fire recommitment, violence was at the highest level since September 1, 2015. “Ukraine is committed to peace,” but Russia must uphold its side of the deal under the Minsk agreements, she says.
Jaresko urges the new government to implement fully the program recommended by the International Monetary Fund and to undertake “painful reforms” that will keep the country’s economy on track. The new government must also exercise fiscal restraint and “live within our means,” she notes.
Despite Ukraine’s recent political turmoil, Jaresko hopes the West will stay engaged and press for more reform. She believes progressive forces within Ukraine’s government will prevail — “it is only a question of speed and time.”