The sad surveillance saga

Фото: ru.tsn.uaBy Nadia Virna

The infamous surveillance cameras installed on the polling stations before the 2012 parliamentary elections seem to have quietly gone into oblivion.

Everybody seems to have forgotten that this whim of one lawmaker, Vladislav Zabarsky of the Party of Regions, cost the national budget nearly one billion hryvnia.

Forlorn and forgotten, all this surveillance equipment (i.e. not only video cameras but also powerful computer equipment) is gathering dust in every city and village of the country.

I would have forgotten about these ill-famed cameras myself, if not an acquaintance of mine, who asked out of curiosity about what happened to those cameras worth a hefty billion. After all, it is a good half of the annual budget of my own Chernivtsi Oblast.

I got even more curious when the chief of the administration department of the State Voter Register in the Chernivtsi Regional State Administration Nadia Maryanchuk told me that the system was a one-time thing for the 2012 parliamentary elections, after which the Central Election Commission decided that the cameras should be dismantled and handed over to local governments for storage.

And this is where they are now, the cameras and equipment for 33,500 polling stations at every local government across Ukraine. Outdated and gradually turning into a pile of scrap worth a billion. A logical question would be why they are not given over to schools that are still poorly computerized, or in the same State Register departments in the field, or cameras may be installed on the streets as the CCTV. Nadia Maryanchuk said there should an appropriate resolution of the Central Election Commission, duly agreed with the Ministry of Finance.

Nor such resolution neither such approval are in sight...

How it all began

The whole thing started when the then deputy from the Party of Regions Vladislav Zabarsky sponsored a bill titled "On the peculiarities of openness, transparency and democratic parliamentary election in Ukraine” from October 28, 2012 and "On the amendments to the Law of Ukraine On State Budget for 2012" (the so-called video-surveillance law). Of course, the bill was voted through and took effect in August. 1320178243_226297_20101021193313

Interestingly, the company chosen for the installation of cameras at the polling stations on the eve of the Rada elections in October was the same that previously serviced the last presidential elections in Russia and earned UAH 3.5 billion, namely JSC "Citronics Information Technologies of Ukraine." So the Cabinet decided. It is needless to emphasize, I think, that the government took this billion hryvnia decision on a tender-free basis?

Therefore, the said company was announced to secure Internet broadcasting of video signal on the Internet from all 33,500 polling stations nation-wide, for which purpose the government has allocated over UAH 990 mn.

Cameras and other technical equipment were duly purchased and installed. So far so good. Because everyone now could observe the ballot count, the phase of the biggest fraud, according to the lessons of the 2004 presidential race. The team is now doing the same election. However, in September 2012, the Central Election Commission adopts a resolution, whereby after the vote, the ballot count will not be broadcast live on the internet. Instead, video surveillance system at the stations will work for record and storage. So it goes.

Thus, Internet users could only see how the voters dropped their ballots. In the meantime, in our parts, an old wisdom says it’s not important how they vote. It is important how they count. And that’s exactly what was not shown to the general public. Meanwhile, all of Ukraine knows how ballots were counted in troubled districts.

Interestingly, the deputy head of the Central Election Commission Andriy Mahera said that the Verkhovna Rada adopted the policy on the installment of surveillance cameras at polling stations during the elections without prior consultations with members of the Central Election Commission.

"I believe that the effectiveness of such cameras does not justify the budget expenditures on them," said Mahera." At one time, the CEC requested UAH 1.2 billion for the elections, we were allocated 800 mn, then have long waited for the rest of the sum. However, the government easily found a billion to install the cameras."

Millions to the wind

In a year after the elections, in September 2013, the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine deemed the election surveillance system, that cost the budget UAH 955.3 mn, ineffective.

"The installment and operation of the CCTV at polling stations during the ballot in 2012 worth UAH 955.3 mn proved ineffective because, according to the CEC, the obtained video data was in actual fact not used. Given that the current legislation does not provide for the use of video surveillance in the next elections, or in any other way, the future of this system remains unclear," the Accounting Chamber said in a statement.

Moreover, the Accounting Chamber found that the funds allocated for the support of the CEC were misused, which resulted the expenditures exceeded the planned figures by UAH 7.4 mn, and UAH 15.7 mn were used inefficiently. Because of the overestimation in the calculation of the number of polling stations during the preparations for elections, the CEC budget fund was overstated by UAH 5.6 mn.

Who’s to get the goodies

After the 2012 elections, the initiator of the billion video surveillance Vladislav Zabarsky promised that the media surveillance equipment that was installed for one day of parliamentary elections, may be used during the presidential campaign of 2015.

As I said above, it will not happen, because it takes a decision of the CEC. That does not exist. Why is anybody’s guess.

I believe this issue should be raised at the national level, for any machinery must work. In addition, law enforcement agencies should also be reminded of this billion hryvnia deal. Billions are not lying around, after all.

 The Ukrainian version see here