Ukraine president vows anti-corruption drive, says people tired of waiting for better life

TORONTO (Reuters) - New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday used his first trip to North America to promise a sweeping anti-corruption drive, saying his people were fed up of waiting for a better life.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a news conference after meeting European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Zelenskiy took power in April on promises to root out corruption amid widespread dismay over rising prices and sliding living standards.

He made his remarks to a Toronto conference on reforms in Ukraine where other high-level participants stressed the need for major changes to the judiciary to give investors confidence.

“Let me name the key tasks facing my team. It is to eradicate corruption and create an independent court system,” he said, stressing the need to improvement the investment climate and make changes Ukrainians could see and understand.

“They’re tired of waiting. They’re not asking for the impossible,” he said. Ukraine is due to hold parliamentary elections on July 21 and Zelenskiy said he was confident a majority of legislators would support him.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Finance Minister Oksana Markarova said it would take years for the full effects of reforms to be seen in Ukraine.

Investors, she said, complained about lack of respect for the rule of law, poor infrastructure and a lack of capital.

“We have to enter right now into more structural, deeper reforms, (such as) land reform. Law enforcement and judicial reforms have to be completed in order,” Markarova said.

Canada is one of Ukraine’s closest allies and since 2014 has provided more than C$140 million ($106.7 million) in development assistance to support economic reform and economic growth.

“We will be patient of course because there is a lot of work to do but we will also be appropriately impatient ... to see the results,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier in the day after meeting the Ukrainian leader.

Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, unveiled a special court to try corruption cases in April in a bid to root out entrenched corruption and ring-fence court decisions from political pressure or bribery. [nL8N21T4N7]

David Lipton, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said western investors were not yet sure Ukraine would remain stable despite the efforts of the government over the last four years.

Another challenge is the low-level war Ukraine is fighting against Russian-backed actors in the east.

Kurt Volker, a U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, said lack of investor confidence had done “terrible things” to Ukraine’s economy.

($1 = 1.3112 Canadian dollars)

Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish