In this EITI profile of the month, Olena Pavlenko tells us about uphill battles, Yetis and how things are moving ahead.
How do you begin to change an energy sector which has been languishing for a generation?
Mrs. Olena Pavlenko from the civil society organisation Dixi Group gives us an insight into the roller coaster of life in Ukraine:
“To clean the room, you have to turn on the light. Everything was in the dark and very complicated” Olena says very matter-of-factly after working on Ukrainian’s energy sector for the last 15 years. “It is only by making details visible that you can change them.”
Hailing from a family full of PhDs (both parents, her husband and of course herself), Olena brings a dry wit, an unhalting enthusiasm and a torrential desire to help turn Ukraine’s energy sector around.
With the country’s first EITI Report due later this year, Ukraine’s EITI process is making progress despite the challenges of the country.
“You must push, and then continue pushing,” she smiles. The doors were not always open. “The hardest thing for CSOs to deal with is silence. You send letters, which go unanswered. You try hard to build a relationship, often times to see a government reshuffle and then you are back to square one.”
The Yeti in the room
First becoming involved in EITI in 2010, she saw the process as a tool that might help her own country. The government signed a resolution to implement EITI, and declared its readiness to do so.
Translating and communicating EITI’s purpose to the government was not always easy though.
“When we first pushed for EITI in Ukraine, and explained the Initiative’s purpose to the government representatives, they usually could not remember the abbreviation. Many of them didn’t speak English, and could not decipher “EITI”. In Ukrainian, EITI phonetically sounds very long. Finally, the general alias for EITI in the Government became “Yeti” (bigfoot). It was funny, because EITI, like Yeti, was something unclear for Ukraine’s bureaucracy. When engaging with some government representatives, it soon was clear to them: “Oh yes, you are the person who is dealing with “Yeti”, right?“.
After fits and starts, the process started to gather steam in late 2014, with more frequent meetings and the preparation for the country’s first Report.
“Here is one reason why I like EITI – it has the mechanism of co-operation between CSOs, companies and government. If all these stakeholders really co-operate, the results can be significant and quick.”
“EITI has taught this lesson to many of us – from companies, civil society and government. We have learned how to listen to each other, and see EITI as a strategic need for our country’s future development. The efforts of our National Coordinator Larysa Mykytko, her colleague Olesya Nekhoroshko and others on the MSG have really been helpful."
Indeed, one private sector company said, “I used to think that the EITI was important for Ukraine, now I see it as vital.” With so much cooperation and good will, MSG meetings have a strange sense of shared vision and not the clichéd stances of divided camps and an “us vs. them” mentality.
It’s not all sweetness and light though.
“The new government, which was formed after the revolution, was convinced that extractive companies receive big profits from their activities, and raised taxes to 55%. Companies complained that the new tax regime reduced profitability so much that it cuts exploration and production.”
This energy security debate is front and centre, given the important energy sources which have been lost to the hostilities in Ukraine’s East.
Plans for the future
Pavlenko, recently named a Publish What You Pay’s Global Council member, continues, “As part of PWYP’s Eurasia coalition, Ukrainian CSOs have had the opportunity to examine the process of the region’s EITI implementation and enabled exchanges on how to work with local communities and to present analysis and data.”
The fact that now two OECD countries have started implementing the Standard has given the EITI renewed drive in the Ukraine. “We watch EITI implementation in the USA and Great Britain very closely - for many Ukrainian politicians the engagement of EU countries and US are the most powerful argument that EITI should be implemented as soon as possible in Ukraine.”
She is clear about her hopes for the next five years – “a transparent and accountable energy sector in my country!”
“I also hope that maybe in the next five years EITI will cover not only countries which voluntarily join, but will be a part of World Bank or IMF official conditions for those who want to co-operate.”
“Transparency is not a matter of ‘good will’ – it is necessary for having fair rules of play in a society.”
Olena danced for eleven years and on occasion plays guitar, but finds that she has little free time. Her work is very much focused on the future:
“We have a small son. Like others, we are involved in helping soldiers and internal immigrants and like many others, are trying to change our country for the better – I really want my children to live in a modern and peaceful country.”