Yanukovych Sets July Utilities Deadline

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday set a deadline of the end of July for the government to hike utilities tariffs, warning that the failure to comply would force him to take action.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

The warning raises pressure dramatically on Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to begin the painful and unpopular reform that the government has been postponing indefinitely.

It increases the likelihood that Yanukovych may replace Azarov by late July or early August if the tariff hikes, demanded by the International Monetary Fund, fail to materialize.

But the tariff hikes also make perfect case for Azarov replacement later in the year or next year to channel away political liability associated with the painful reform.

This would potentially open way for a new political figure – a Yanukovych ally not burdened with the painful reforms - to lead the government for the October 2012 elections.

“I am convinced that we will have a tough conversation in this respect in the near future,” Yanukovych said addressing Azarov at a meeting at the Kiev City administration on Thursday.

“I set the task and hope that you, Mykola Yanovych [Azarov], will prepare a serious meeting by the end of the political season, by the end of July, how to address the optimization of the tariff policy in the country.”

“So, I again, if not the last time, warn you and the housing sector bloc [in the government],” Yanukovych said. “Show me a response.”

Citing the lack of “reforms,” Yanukovych has dismissed Healthcare Minister Illia Yemets last week, and replacing him with Oleksandr Anishchenko, on Wednesday.

Yemets “failed to organize the work of the ministry in a proper way to make sure that the ministry operates efficiently,” Yanukovych said last week announcing the reshuffle. “The main thing is to carry out reforms that we have planned and that are extremely necessary.”

The replacement of the healthcare minister is the first reshuffle the government after rumors had started to circulate earlier this month that a number of ministers may be sacked.

The developments come as opinion polls have indicated that Yanukovych’s popularity has been falling fast, threatening his Regions Party ahead of the October 2012 general election.

Source: Ukrainian Journal