By Valentyna Novytska
It is believed that February 2014 could have marked the beginning of the modern history of Lviv Customs, when four significant events could start a new chapter in its work.
First, and the most important event: Lviv entrepreneurs stated that they will no longer be giving bribes to customs officials, and urged everyone to do the same.
"We have defeated Yanukovych. Why cannot we crash the miserable [Head of Lviv Customs Serhiy] Papazoglo?" entrepreneurs asked rhetorically and united into a community of those refusing to give bribes at the customs.
Furthermore, business people made the chief of Lviv customs Serhiy Papazoglo aware that the business officially declared a war on bribery in export-import operations and during the crossing of the nation's border. Business people and tax officials have agreed to set up a joint working group to work out changes to amend the regulations governing foreign economic activities to reduce customs corruption.
The second important event on February: for whole two weeks businessmen have crossed the border without bribes - none given, none solicited. Entrepreneurs testified to that in social networks and did believe their luck.
The third event was fairly revealing: the Svoboda party sought to sack the Head of Lviv Customs Serhiy Papazoglo after he has contributed to the delay of the humanitarian cargo from Poland for the capital's Euromaidan activists.
It was just another accusation among hundreds of others that Svoboda for years has stoned with the Lviv customs chief in the fight against corruption that the Communists perpetuated through their high ranking member Ihor Kaletnyk. At least that's what Svoboda claimed.
The fourth event was about society in the whole. People felt the taste of revolutionary victories and realized that to achieve something they should unite, work out and put forward common demands. Thus, the residents of border villages and towns in the Yavoriv county, Lviv Oblast, who largely live off the shuttler trade, appealed to their MPs calling to initiate amendments to the Customs Code of Ukraine concerning the transit requirements.
"Everyday we cross the border to make a living... Our only tool is a car with Polish registration plate. The adoption of the Customs Code of Ukraine regarding the terms of transit dealt a major blow to us. The government allows our car with foreign registration to stay in Ukraine only for five days running. Even a few minutes past that term are fraught with protocols and fines. When we have no money to pay the fine, our properties are seized or confiscated altogether. No one takes into account that we are made to stand in lines at the border for 12 hours and more. Previously, the allowed time of stay was 10 days, but our government obviously decided that we live all too well and decided to reduce the period of transit down to five days," the shuttlers of Yavoriv wrote to their lawmakers and complained that the shortened transit actually resulted in an increased stress and bribery.
All of these undoubtedly positive achievements of February 2014 were leveled by March 2014 that has brought the sun, warmth and the revival of eternal traditions and values of the Lviv Customs.
Here's the first robin of spring from the site davkhabara.org: "Just spoke with a neighbor, who shuttles in the stuff from Poland for the past five years. Semi-legally, of course, i.e. pay up – you pass, no bribe - stand in line until you change your mind. So he says he did not give bribes for exactly two weeks during the heat of the standoff in Kyiv. However, already yesterday when going abroad, he produced his passport for visa, and got a question: "Where's the bribe fare?" He had no choice but pay up. It looks like nothing has changed in Lviv Customs except the people that collect cash. And most likely, the new guys are from Svoboda. Lviv. Yuri."
What follows is probably a proof of this state of affairs. http://ord-ua.com implies that Papazohlo could have negotiated a deal with the new government. "The odious head of the Lviv Customs, a creature and faithful lackey of [the former deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada] Ihor Kaletnyk, the chief of Lviv customs, accountable to [the deputy minister of duties and revenues] Stepan Deryvolkov, an ardent connoisseur of women etc. Who does not know this character in the uniform of customs general? Who does not know about his corruption schemes, organization of gray and black import traffic through the checkpoints of Lviv? Who does not know about the blatant violation of the law during the forced retirement of customs officers on orders of Deryvolkov-Kaletnyk? Who does not know of the monthly collection of funds from the customs posts for the benefit of the customs chiefs and himself. "I am God here, I afraid of nothing and no one, everything is bought?" he has famously said to his subordinates. It seems like not everyone knows. The new government, for one. Or do they? Already? During his time in office, this public servant and his subordinates were repeatedly exposed, but Papazoglo seems to be Teflon-plated. Au contraire, the government has decided to encourage him and raised in the rank of civil servant. Elementary question is why Papazoglo still holds the post, why the MPs of Svoboda, Udar and Batkivshchyna turn the blind eye to the fact? Or maybe he had already their eyes sealed? If so, you, our dear members of the former opposition, that swear allegiance to the people on every corner, not just discredit yourselves but are no different from this thief. Shame on you!" citizens would comment on the ORD website.
That is, the February efforts of Svoboda to release the head of Lviv Customs ended with nothing and the sacking of Papazohlo are off the agenda.
But there were times in 2010-2012 when the Svoboda continuously fought with Papazohlo, accusing him of corrupt collusion with the Communists, in particular with Kalyetnyk. What has changed now?
In 2011, the Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok described the work Lviv Customs and its links with the Communists as follows: "It is noteworthy that in the current government, the Communist government retain their almost sacred right to keep their hand on the corruption flows. For example, in the customs, which is perhaps the biggest source of corruption in Ukraine, In Azarov-Tihipko-Tabachnyk 's government its given at the mercy of the communists. Hence the fabulous fortunes that the Communist honchos do not even try to conceal any longer.
The situation in Lviv Customs is a screaming example of the so-called clampdown on corruption. After the Svoboda deputies exposed the smuggling scheme introduced by the new communist leadership of the Customs Service, and even detained smuggled goods worth more than UAH 10 million, the government launched a fierce pressure on the Svoboda members.
And here is the corruption scandal at the Lviv Customs in 2011 through the eyes of Svoboda members.
In 2011, the situation in Lviv Customs has prompted a discussion at the Lviv oblast council. Svoboda lambasted customs practices as well as the methods of combating corruption within the Customs Service: "Today, the Customs is both taking bribes and lets the goods in. Its work is described in two words - smuggling and corruption. There are companies, whose primary purpose are shady schemes. To name just a couple: Velira and Stega. And such companies are numerous," claimed the councilman Andriy Kholyavka (Svoboda) during the February 22 session of the Lviv oblast council.
At the next session of the council on March 9, Svoboda urged the president, prime minister and secretary of the National Security Council to sack the head of the State Customs Service Ihor Kaletnyk.
"Especially alarming the situation in the Lviv regional customs became during Mr Kaletnyk's time in office. Here, on orders of the head of the Customs prevails biased, unprofessional and discriminatory personnel policy. Under false pretexts, the workers native of the Western region are dismissed, while employees with tarnished reputation but from other regions are being appointed... We consider that the chief of the Customs Service is being personally responsible in the lawlessness," the statement read.
Ihor Kaletnyk responded claiming said that among released customs officers were a lot of relatives of Lviv oblast councilmen which, he claimed, caused the outcry: "Certainly, the efforts to restore order in Lviv Customs stirred the resistance of those who came to the local legislature to be able to cover the shady schemes of their business, particularly smuggling-related. It is hardly surprising that among the 124 employees of Lviv Customs dismissed in 2010 for offenses that led to smuggling of goods, there were many relatives of the deputies of Lviv Oblast Council and other known people of the Lviv region."
Throughout the year 2012, Svoboda was involved in the continuous struggle with the communists and Kaletnyk, the embodiment of evil in the customs. In 2013, when the Ministry of duties and revenues started working with Olexandr Klymenko at the heat, Kaletnyk stopped looking as evil as he used to, because he himself had to fight for survival. And even received situational victories now and then.
Svoboda has always wanted to dismiss the head of Lviv Customs Serhiy Papazohlo as Kaletnyk's man. When they finally received such an opportunity, the issue has faded and lost relevance.
As "No to Corruption! reported, the head of Chop customs in Transcarpathia, who admitted being a relative of Kaletnyk, got fired.
At the background of the redistribution of influence on the customs authorities, it is also interesting to observe the fight Transcarpathian businesses that launched a massive clampdown campaign on the local corrupted customs, and reached the national level. No to Corruption! has reported that local entrepreneurs uncovered corruption in the customs and three customs already got the boot.
In Volyn, customs officers opted not to not wait for the new leadership and resigned, previously making considerable donations to the victims of Kyiv Maidan. Was it guilty conscience or the understanding that they won't be able to work under the new leadership?
But back to the Lviv Customs: will the odious Papazoglo, so much criticized by Svoboda, be sacked after all?
Or is he not that bad, all things considered?
Translated by Y. Tsyganok
The Ukrainian version see here