Ukrainian reconstruction official resigns, highlighting tensions

A Ukrainian official with long experience fighting corruption resigned Monday from a government agency that oversaw mainly Western-funded reconstruction work in Ukraine, citing mismanagement of funds. His departure highlights tension within President Volodymyr Zelensky's government over the allocation of wartime aid.

Official Mustafa Nayyem, who had been director of the State Agency for the Restoration of Ukraine, did not report any embezzlement. But his allegations of abuse and mismanagement risked undermining the government's efforts to allay concerns from the United States and other allies about providing billions in aid to Ukraine's war effort.

He was the second senior official involved in Ukraine's reconstruction effort to leave in the past month, following the dismissal in May of Oleksandr Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister. Kubrakov's ministry oversaw the agency headed by Nayyem.

Kubrakov was perceived in Kiev political circles as a figure aligned with the United States on reconstruction aid spending priorities – a position that angered other government leaders who resented what they saw as intrusive American oversight. Both he and Mr Nayyem had spoken out against corruption in the construction industry.

The Agency for the Restoration of Ukraine was established during the war to streamline and safeguard reconstruction funding, which is expected to eventually attract tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, given the scale of destruction during the war. Ukraine and some allies are promoting the seizure of Russian assets to finance the work.

Preventing abuse has been a priority of American policymakers, and was a concern raised by members of Congress as they debated a $61 billion military and financial aid package earlier this year. The package was finally approved at the end of April.

The reconstruction agency led by Nayyem last year oversaw a budget of 100 billion hryvnia, the Ukrainian currency, or about $2.5 billion, largely financed, like most non-military spending in Ukraine , from foreign aid.

His projects were wide-ranging. The agency funded efforts to build physical barriers to protect vulnerable electrical equipment at power plants, in cases where air defense systems failed to protect the sites. The agency repaired water mains, bridges and roads.

In a telephone interview and in a letter posted on Facebook explaining his resignation, Nayyem did not cite any specific cases of corruption. Instead, he listed what he said were a series of bureaucratic hurdles hampering the agency's work, delaying project approvals and contractor payments. The salaries of the agency's staff were cut, he said, in what he called an attempt to undermine the organization's work.

“Since November last year, the agency team has faced constant confrontation, resistance and artificial obstacles,” he wrote in his Facebook post.

Zelensky's office did not immediately respond to a question about Nayyem's resignation or allegations of mismanagement.

Despite the setbacks, Nayyem said, most of the projects have been completed.

Last fall, Nayyem reported two members of Parliament to anti-corruption authorities for allegedly trying to pay a bribe. These cases are now in court.

Foreign aid has been a thorny issue in Ukraine for years, even before the war, with Ukrainian leaders rejecting Western efforts to leverage aid as a way to steer personnel policies or support government overhauls that threaten vested interests.

Nayyem described bureaucratic slowdowns apparently intended to sideline the agency's work on reconstruction.

“Transparency and predictability on this issue are crucial because the money comes from taxpayers,” Nayyem said in the interview. “The greatest resource we have now is trust. And at this time, those who tried to make this system transparent and accountable have had to go.”

Nayyem's resignation came the day before a major donor conference on reconstruction in Berlin. Ukrainian authorities had excluded him from the delegation, canceling meetings he said he had planned with foreign officials about donations for Ukrainian reconstruction.

On Monday evening, Nayyem and the government were in open disagreement over why he was excluded from the delegation. Government officials told Ukrainian media that the prime minister had scheduled a meeting with Nayyem for Wednesday, while Nayyem said he had never received such an invitation.

Despite the urgent need to repair damage to electrical systems, roads, bridges and aqueducts damaged by Russian missile attacks, contractors have not been paid for months, Nayyem said in the interview. Some projects have stalled due to non-payment, he said.

The agency had financed some military fortification work in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine and the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Mr Nayyem wrote in a letter explaining his resignation that payments for these contracts and others had been “delayed by months”.

“All this negatively affects the country's defense capability,” he wrote.

Completed projects, he said, include the construction of protective barriers around electrical equipment at 103 sites, to safeguard machinery from splinters. The barriers helped protect against missile attacks in three regions, she said, allowing engineers to restore electricity more quickly.

Given the tangle of government permits and agreements with construction companies needed to repair war damage, some snags are inevitable, said Tymofiy Mylovanov, Ukraine's former economy minister. “It's a wartime environment, so not everything works well. Continuously solve problems.

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