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8 June 2015, Interview to Inter TV Channel

Dmitry Firtash: It’s a Shame That Today Business Has To Fight Against the Government

Interviewed by Inter TV, Dmitry Firtash, President of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine, shared his assessment of the government’s operation, the pivotal role of employers and of conditions of the economy’s revival 

If we look at the current government’s performance indices over the past year, what do we see? The first thing we see is that 600 thousand jobs were lost in the industrial sector alone during this government’s tenure. I guess you realize the scale of the disaster.

The government is trying to attribute all of its faults to two things: originally they were referring to the war which was a very compelling argument – so they used it. When they saw that the war yields no wins, they understood that they still should be doing something and they declared war on the so called oligarchs. But what is a war on oligarchs anyway? It is not about two or three or four or five people, it’s about dozens of thousand people across the country who – to a different extent – create jobs, who fill the national budget, who care about the welfare of their regions and how to help make things happen.

We have to realize that Ukrainians as citizens and Ukraine as a country are not in the habit of living on borrowings. We don’t know what’s like to live on credit because we’ve been used to earning our living and to calculating our budgets. The current government has led us to a condition when we are living on credits. I mean, what’s happening to us today is that we seem to be reluctant to do anything, we only want to take money, to grow debts and to relay these debts onto future generations. You clearly appreciate it that it can’t last long, this situation must be changed.

How critical is the situation at this time? What do you think is the margin of safety?
I think that the critical point of this margin of safety has been surpassed already and we are plummeting down to the very bottom. That’s why I’ve argued that we as the Federation [of Employers of Ukraine] must assume a great deal of responsibility and start doing all those things that the government fails to do.

Let’s take a look at utility tariffs. There is an alternative: the first way is to raise utility bills for citizens which they did and did it, quite sharply too…

Everybody says that there was no choice, that it was an IMF requirement: no rise in tariffs – no money.

Yes, I agree, obviously it was an IMF requirement. But the IMF wanted not the rise in tariffs, the IMF wanted that the national budget be balanced, I think. It is my perception as that of the President of the Federation of Employers, as that of someone who knows what a budget is all about for we, at the Federation, are working on this issue as well. So, it was not just about raising tariffs, it was about balancing the budget. And that’s the way they approached balancing the budget.

However, if they had found another solution, if they had imported some cheaper gas into the market, there wouldn’t have been any need for lifting the tariffs because the cheaper gas would have done all the balancing job. But because gas prices are high, the budget gap is obviously too big and the IMF requires the tariffs rise which they did.

There have been numerous appeals to the government, including those voiced at the Congress, but no government representative was there. Do they not want to listen, or do they not at all understand that they should listen to what business community says?

My feeling is that our government lives like a fish in a tank: as it floats one way, the picture outside the tank is one, next day – it’s all different. I mean these are the people who only live one day. They don’t have a 5 or 10-year outlook, their outlook doesn’t go beyond today. The country can’t be ruled that way, the life can’t be led that way, business can’t be built that way either. As we build up our businesses, we do planning. From the point of business inception up to a plant commissioning, 7 to 8 years elapse. Show me a program that the government has devised for 5-7 years and show me some signs of work being started. No activity whatsoever…

There is a governmental program. It is mostly composed of mottos, though… OK, you have a program, the Federation has a program. But what stands between it and its implementation? Or should I ask more correctly: what has to be done?

We must restore peace and come up with decisions that are most wanted. The current government however is not interested in peace since once peace is achieved they don’t know what to say and don’t understand what to do. As long as everything can be written off for war… I think that the first and foremost thing to be achieved is to stop the war and to instill peace. This is the utmost priority. Clearly, we are having huge problems today; clearly many in Donbass keep cursing Westerners while many Westerners keep cursing folks in Donbass. And the losses toll on both sides is only growing. And that really divided people. Our politicians’ playing games has led to it. First, they were playing games of selling their election programs to constituents and trying to artificially segregate our people into different casts – you know this whole story – and today, owing to the war, they really achieved it.

In my view, today we, as the Federation of Employers and I as is president, will pursue a large-scale program aimed at the nation’s reunification. I believe that Ukraine and the whole nation are undergoing the maturity test. Are we the nation or aren’t we? We, the Ukrainians, are capable of standing together and going through this situation, countering the external forces’ attempts to destroy us.

No need to look for winners and losers, no need to labeling anyone. The country must be united, it must be stitched together. The time to collect stones has come around. We can see that the government is unable to do it. Nor is it willing to. It is not to their advantage. Therefore, it’s our job – to assume this burden and to make it happen.

The Congress of the Federation took place recently and the comments voiced there must have been quite familiar to you as you speak to people on a daily basis. To me, all those things for the first time sounded pretty harshly and straightforward: the people said that jobs are being lost, that reforms aren’t there, that competitors conquer markets, that the government treats business people as enemies.

What’s good about employers? We’ve been living under such circumstances all of our lives. We’ve been used to working hard. I mean, it has nothing to do with politics, with PR – it’s a hard work which you have to do day in and day out. These people are very apt because they have plants, companies, stores. They are responsible for their assets and they attend to them every day. They have more responsibility than the government today. Because the government can afford not to pay wages and pensions on time while these people can’t.

So, they pay, they maintain their businesses caring about how to keep them up and running on a daily basis while the government is waging wars on them and destroying them. Can you see what’s happening? Therefore, today we are faced with a situation in which we have to rise up and say “Stop!” It’s a shame that we have to fight against our own government. It’s really a shame.