June, 14

Pensions of discord: (not) to pay the residents of the occupied Donbass?

03/03/2017 11:06:00 am
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The issue of pension provision of displaced persons and residents of the occupied Donbass is one of the topical and most controversial issues.

While the parliament has no unified position on this issue, NGOs urge not to create obstacles for getting social benefits. But the government tightens this procedure every time.

Yevdokia moved from Luhansk to Mariupol about a year ago. Prior to that, she had the opportunity to receive Ukrainian pension just by getting to the Ukrainian territory or by passing her bank card through her relatives.

"As soon as the war started, I moved to my Mariupol relatives, registered there, received the ID of a displaced person. Everything was fine, I received a pension and allowance as a displaced person, but did not want to be a burden for the relatives for a long time. So when the sutiation became a little calmer, I returned home. But to live there only for the local pension is very difficult, so I did not refuse from the Ukrainian pension and help: I passed a bank card through friends and relatives, who brought money and products from the Ukrainian controlled territory", - she said.

But the "scheme" did not work for long. At some point the money stopped coming to the bank account.

"I came to Mariupol to figure out what had happened. It turned out that the workers of social protection service came to check my place of registration. There was no one at home, so all the payments were suspended. I spent a few months in huge queues on recovering the pension and resettlement payments. I was firmly warned that if I cross the demarcation line, the payments will be suspendeded again. So now I decided to live permanently in Mariupol. After all, Ukrainian pension is larger than in Lugansk," - said Yevdokia. The woman still hopes that she will be able to return to her native Luhansk some day.

Indeed, in June 2016 the government adopted the infamous Resolution №365, which complicated the lives of displaced persons in terms of social assistance, including pensions. To get or recover all social payments, every six months internally displaced persons are inspected by the Office of Labor and Social Protection of Population. In particular, public social inspectors arrive at the place of a displaced person and check the accuracy of the given information about the actual place of residence. Inspectors also fill in housing inspection report of the family and only then a special commission decides whether to appoint (recover) the payments or not.

In addition, Ministry of Social Policy has introduced additional checks of the actual place of residence of displaced persons. The inspection can be conducted by representatives of structural units on social protection and working groups consisting of employees of territorial divisions of the Interior Ministry, the SBU, the National Police, the State Financial Monitoring Service, the State Audit Service and the Pension Fund of Ukraine. These additional inspections are carried out in the following cases:

1) reports about a possible change of the actual place of residence without prior notice of structural unit on social protection of the population within ten days;

2) reports on the return of internally displaced persons to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine or leaving abroad;

3) receipt of notice from the Oschadbank on the suspension of operations on the current account in the absence of the passage of the physical identification of an internally displaced person;

4) receipt of the recommendations from the Ministry of Finance on the results of verification of social benefits, indicating specific reasons for the termination of the relevant payments.

Authoritative international organizations speak out against such actions of the Ukrainian government. For example, on October 12, 2016, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted resolution №2133, which states that "the Ukrainian authorities should make easier, as far as is in their power, the daily life of the inhabitants of the territories outside of their control and of the displaced persons from these areas by reducing administrative burdens in access to pensions and social allowances".

The coordinator of the UN programs in Ukraine Neal Walker said that all Ukrainians, regardless of where they live, should receive all the required social benefits.

"We have expressed our serious concerns about the problems of social payments to citizens and the pensions. In some cases, the removal of IDPs from the lists of people that are entitled to these benefits, actually violates Ukrainian law. I am not even talking about international humanitarian law, these are actions that violate Ukrainian law! We continue to insist with the government on the rights of citizens to receive these social payments, regardless of their social status as an IDP or as a pensioner or where they live", - he said in a recent interview.

Not to pay

This statement of the UN representative caused quite a strong reaction from the Ukrainian government. In particular, the Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva called it "brazen interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine".

"I have not seen this brazen interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine before. He is little worried about whether our soldiers being killed or not, that there is war, that foreign troops are on our territory, he cares about one thing - how Ukraine pays pensions to people who live on uncontrolled territory”, - the minister said and added that this could be possible only after the implementation of the first seven points of the Minsk agreements. Namely, after the cease-fire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and so on.

Vice-Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko agreed with Reva. He confidently said that Ukraine would fulfill its obligations to the citizens who remained on the uncontrolled territory of Donbass, but only after the restoration of the constitutional integrity of Ukraine.

"Ukraine is ready to carry out all the necessary calculations, including for a time when people were not paid their pensions and when social benefits were frozen through no fault of Ukraine. After the restoration of constitutional integrity of Ukraine, after public authorities in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts will fully operate, we will fulfill all our obligations in full", - Rozenko said.

Ukrainian government has a very strange position on pension payments to residents of the occupied Donbass. On the one hand, government constantly repeats that they have the right to receive pensions and must do so, on the other hand it says about the lack of a mechanism and legal framework. This is confirmed by the Deputy Minister on the temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons Heorhiy Tuka.

"The position of the ministry and the government is the same: they are our citizens and we should pay them pensions, but the implementation mechanism, unfortunately, does not exist. Our international partners are well aware of that. It is a constant topical issue. Ukraine has never abandoned its commitments as a state, but our partners have never proposed a mechanism for realization of these intentions. Everyone understands that such a mechanism does not exist", - he said to OstroV.

Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva in an interview to Ostrov explained in detail why Ukraine cannot pay pensions to residents of the occupied Donbass. He believes that the adoption of such a mechanism requires a separate law.

"In order to do so, we need the relevant law. The status of people who stayed on the uncontrolled territory of Donbass is not defined by law. They have the right to receive pension, but then the Kirovske or other office of the Pension Fund in Donetsk should pay these pensions. So the law states. As for now, that is impossible. But if a person moved and became an internally displaced person, we are able to pay all the social benefits according to the new place of residence", - he says.

The minister advised residents of Donetsk, who asked how to receive a Ukrainian pension, to move to the territory controlled by Ukraine.

"It's very simple. I used to work in Vinnytsia. 700 university teachers moved there from Donetsk, and they do not ask what they need to do to get the Ukrainian pension. They receive it. Moreover, 6000 people, who were forced to leave Donetsk, now live in Vinnytsia. And I think that they are the best people - excellent doctors, teachers, highly qualified professionals, entrepreneurs. I really wonder who left there", - Reva said.

At the same time he assured that all the allowances which were not paid on time (for example, if a person was in Donetsk all the time), will be paid in full "whenever it will be possible". The simplest of the possibilities is to leave the occupied Donbass and get the status of an internally displaced person.

"In August 2014, the offices of the Pension Fund ceased to operate on the occupied territory. A person has the right to get this entire amount paid in full for all the period this person has not received payment. The money is still there. It is a property of a person. Therefore, it is a lie when we are reproached that we have deprived people of payments. The right to receive payments is still there. As soon as there will be the slightest opportunity to implement it, we will do so. Moreover, if a person who has not receive pension for two years leaves Donetsk today, he will be paid the full amount, but only on the territory under the control of Ukraine and after gaining the status of internally displaced person", - he explained.

In general, the government's position is clear and simple: we should pay, but we cannot do it. And they chastise the legislative body and Minsk agreements.

Heated discussions about the status of the uncontrolled territory of the Donbass are held in the Verkhovna Rada recently. Samopomich and Batkivshchyna factions are in favor of the adoption of the law on the occupied territories, which, among other issues, will exonerate Ukraine from responsibility for the pension coverage of citizens.

"It is necessary to adopt the law on the occupied territories. It is very raw, of course, so we decided to create a working group, including the cooperation with international organizations and partners, the SBU, external intelligence, the Ministry of Defence, to determine these territories as temporarily occupied. This definition should say in the international law that only the occupying power is responsible for the observance of the rights, freedoms and other guarantees for the population that lives there. Unfortunately, we cannot pay pensions to people who are there physically, we can only ask them to leave, register them as IDPs and pay pensions and other payments. In my opinion, we cannot support the livelihoods of the fully occupied territory which is under the control of Russia, because Putin desires us to supply gas, purchase coal, pay pensions and so on, and he will control these territories and swing Ukraine in such a way. I think that this is definitely not the strategy that should be supported. This is Putin's dream that we fulfill all our obligations on the territory which we do not control at all and where we cannot go", - the People's Deputy from Batkivshchyna Alyona Shkrum told OstroV.

She considers that Ukraine suffers all the losses for anti-terrorist operation because of the fact that martial law was not imposed in time and the law on the occupied territories was not adopted. "This is war in fact", - the People's Deputy emphasizes.

Commenting on the UN position on this issue, Alyona notes that the international organizations will always ask for guarantees of the observance of human rights, and "they will ask Ukraine to pay as much as possible".

"They cannot ask Russia about this, so they demand from us. I understand them from the point of view of human rights. But this is the wrong step from the point of view of our independence and our counteraction to Putin's aggression. We need to make clear our position that we cannot pay the payments there physically, because we do not control that territory. According to the international law, the country which controls the territory is the occupier country, it bears all obligations and all our international partners should address it. So I think that such a clear position will find support from our international partners, but it is necessary to announce this position. If Russia refuses, it will be needed to force it to do this", - the deputy said.

To pay

"High-ranking officials say that they cannot pay pensions to citizens who live on the uncontrolled territories, because there is no mechanism for it. However, they keep silent that they even did not look for such an opportunity. Pensions are not just social payments. This is, in fact, the property of a citizen guaranteed by the Constitution, regardless of where he lives. And the non-payment of pensions may be appealed in court. Moreover, if the claim may be partially sustained in Ukrainian courts (the state's obligation to make payments will be determined, but the inability to pay without introduction of mechanism will be specified), then only one such finished case in the European Court of Human Rights may become leading for the rest of the citizens", - the coordinator of Donbass SOS non-governmental organization Olga Gvozdeva considers.

The mechanism of pension payment to the residents of the uncontrolled territory of the Donbass is developed at the present time within the framework of the interagency task force under the Ministry of temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons, and Donbass SOS coordinates this direction. International experts are involved in this work, representatives of the ministries are also being invited.

"Of course, the mechanism must be built on certain principles, including the need to identify citizens and taking into account security issues. For example, I do not say in no case that payments should be made on the uncontrolled territories (on what officials often speculate) and, of course, we must do our best to confirm that pensioner gets legal help", - Olga notes.

So how might this mechanism look like? First of all, pensioners who live on the uncontrolled by Ukrainian government territory can be conditionally divided into two categories: mobile and immobile.

Mobile citizens who are able to go to the territory controlled by Ukraine on their own and register in the Pension Fund should do this from time to time (for example, once a year or more often) for filing of application to extend the payment.

According to the coordinator of Donbass SOS, such mechanism will not only ensure a positive commitment of Ukraine to its citizens, but also encourage them to go to the controlled territory and buy Ukrainian goods, thereby supporting the economy of frontline settlements and communication between citizens.

In order to ensure the payment of pensions to immobile citizens (persons with disabilities, older persons) it is necessary to involve international organizations that operate on the uncontrolled territory of Ukraine.

"A representative of an international organization can testify the impossibility of a person to go to the controlled territory on his own. In the presence of an authorized representative (guardian, relative) a representative of an international organization testifies "a letter of authority" relating to this person. And if such person is absent, then he himself can be the authorized representative. The authorized representative will go and get pension for the citizens incapable of movement. And it is possible additionally to use payments not in cash - the transfer of pensions' part to the natural appearance. A representative of an international organization is the authorized representative who get pension for citizens. He can buy daily use products for them on the controlled territory, of course, by prior arrangement with the pensioner", - Olga Gvozdeva explains.

Furthermore, it will be possible to use modern technologies in future, Skype in particular, to create a letter of authority or identify a face. Olga notes that it just sounds "like a fantasy". Such experience is used in Georgia - a letter of authority can be created there by Skype via videoconferencing.

"If our goal is the restoration of territorial integrity, we should keep in contact with peaceful citizens by all means, introduce incentives for the integration. Such mechanism - one of the steps forward, which our state can make. Moreover, not only pensioners on the uncontrolled territory, but also internally displaced persons as well as social workers gain from this mechanism. Because the mechanisms to control the social payments for IDPs introduced now (Resolution №365) are created just in order to fight the "pension tourism". But it is a fight with consequences, not the prime cause. And quite weak fight – social workers simply do not fulfill the resolution because of excessive load. It is the introduction of the mechanism of payment of pensions that should become the decision of the problem's cause - detachment of pensions from the IDP's document, absence of necessity for any additional information and providing with the pension payments in fact", - the coordinator of Donbass SOS says.

In his turn, Heorhiy Tuka treats these initiatives with skepticism.

"The working group functions, but there is still no concerted position", - Heorhiy Tuka notes in his comment to OstroV.

Only one political party in the Verkhovna Rada stands for the complete resumption of social payments to the residents of the uncontrolled Donbass – it is Opposition Bloc. At the same time, they do not explain the exact mechanism of how this might work, accusing the current government in all things.

"Our citizens live here, this is our territory, and I believe that we just deepen the conflict by pushing people away in such a way. The payment of pensions can be done in different ways, for example, by charging to the bank cards, people can receive pensions on the controlled territory (by themselves or by attorney), some other options also can be. This issue can be solved technically. What is the guilt of people who turned out to be on that territory and who have exactly the same constitutional rights as we have?", - the People's Deputy from Opposition Bloc Mykola Skoryk said to OstroV.

According to OstroV, many international partners raise the issue of liberalization of the process of pension payments and other social payments both to displaced people and residents of the uncontrolled territory of the Donbass at the meetings with Ukrainian leaders. However, the business does not reach the specific requirements yet, and all the advice has only informative nature.

Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV