February 5, 2016 / 2:51 PM / 2 years ago

Ukraine needs new-look government, says outgoing economy minister

Ukraine's Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius reacts during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine, February 5, 2016.Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine needs a new technocratic government led by the present finance minister to have any hope of pushing through long-promised reforms, the outgoing economy minister told Reuters on Friday, two days after his shock resignation.

Championed by Ukraine's Western backers as the type of minister capable of tackling endemic corruption, Aivaras Abromavicius stepped down saying vested interests were blocking his ministry's work.

The move highlighted deep divisions within the ruling coalition and raised fresh concerns over the government's ability to deliver change, two years after street protests toppled a pro-Russian government.

Amid growing speculation of a government collapse, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk's cabinet put on a show of unity on Thursday. Four other ministers who had previously resigned publicly reversed their decision.

Yatseniuk and President Petro Poroshenko had also asked Abromavicius to rejoin the cabinet, he said. But he refused, despite promises that ministers would be shielded from the kind of political pressure Abromavicius said all ministries work under.

"It's a crisis of trust, of values. We need to use this opportunity to bring in a completely different set of people with a completely different mindset," he said in an interview.

"...I believe we are either two steps away from a breakthrough or two steps away from a breakdown ... Reforms can only be as progressive as the people that do (them)."

NEW BROOM?

He said ideally all ministers and their deputies should not have been in politics prior to the 2013/14 Maidan uprising, which ousted a president under whom oligarchs wielded huge political influence and state firms were milked.

"This was my proposal, the short cut to progress is a completely technocratic government," he said, recommending that Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko be appointed prime minister.

Yaresko and Abromavicius were among several foreigners appointed by the government in late-2014 in the hope that their outsider status and international experience would help Ukraine make good on its reform promises.

In his resignation, Abromavicius accused a close ally of Poroshenko, lawmaker Ihor Kononenko, of lobbying to get his people appointed as heads of state companies, and one of them as Abromavicius's deputy. Kononenko has denied the allegations.

Abromavicius also said the president's office was meddling in ministerial appointments.

In the interview Abromavicius stopped short of criticizing Poroshenko directly. But he urged the president to sack Kononenko and another ally, General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin.

"Friendship is friendship ... but politics and country and its people are above all. I do hope that the president will have no problem asking for the resignation of those two people," Abromavicius said. "Let's not waste this chance."

Ukraine promised to reform in exchange for billions of dollars in financial aid from Western backers, including the International Monetary Fund, which has said Abromavicius's accusations are cause for concern.

Editing by Matthias Williams and John Stonestreet

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