Passport to Nowhere

Passport to Nowhere

May 13, 2010

When my Ukrainian friends respond to news with a mixture of laughter, embarrassment, and disbelief, I know it’s worth taking note.

Recently there was just such a story on the evening news. The company responsible for the printing of Ukrainian international passports-a serious job that has national security implications-said that it could no longer continue to produce them since it was owed several million US$ for work performed in 2009. They had not been reimbursed a single kopek and could no longer pay their workers.

The spokesman for the company said that they regretted the action, and they recognised the disruption it would cause to people waiting for their passport to be issued, but they had exhausted all lines of communication with the relevant government department. Hundreds of passport applicants were affected: students wishing to study overseas, fiancés due to get married in foreign places, Ukrainians intent on seeing the Winter Olympics in Canada, and so on. Many had bought air tickets, enrolled on foreign study courses, and made other financial commitments. A smorgasbord of emotions, financial commitments, and worries about the future was a potential tinder box.

The spokesmen for the administration criticised the company for their lack of responsibility and insensitivity to their clients. But it was what followed that elicited the mixture of laughter, embarrassment, and mild disbelief of my friends. The administration spokesman said the printer had put the government in the embarrassing situation of having to appoint another printer, a task that would not be easy given the specialised nature of the work.

The obvious question is, what happened to the passport fees collected by the administration? But the story highlights the more deep seated issue, which is, why should companies invest in Ukraine when there is no confidence that they will be paid a return for that investment?

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