October 21, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Roundtable on Reform and Anticorruption

19 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kyiv, Ukraine

America House

MS KVIEN:  Hello.  Good afternoon, everyone.  I’m Kristina Kvien.  I’m the charge d’affaires here at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.  And it is my enormous pleasure to have with me today our Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

We’d like to thank you all for joining this roundtable today.  As many of you know, Secretary Blinken knows Ukraine well through three decades of work on foreign policy, including with the White House, the State Department, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

While here in Ukraine, Secretary Blinken has met with Ukrainian Government, civil society, and members of the press.  And one of his primary areas of discussion with all of these groups has been Ukraine’s reform agenda and fight against corruption, which is why we’ve invited stakeholders from civil society, business, and anticorruption institutions here today to discuss the important work that they do, share their assessment of Ukraine’s progress on reforms, and advise how the United States can support their efforts.

So – and now please allow me to introduce Secretary of State Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Kristina, thank you so much, and it’s wonderful to be with all of you virtually.  I wish we were together in person, but maybe next time, but meanwhile I really appreciate everyone taking some time this afternoon to have a conversation.  And as I look at it, Ukraine is facing aggression from without and from within.  From without, obviously from Russia and the actions it’s taken since 2014 – Crimea, the Donbas, including recently – but from within, from corruption, from oligarchs and interests that would put themselves ahead of the interests of the Ukrainian people.  And so just as there are incredibly brave soldiers on the front lines in the Donbas, in many ways you are on the front lines in that second fight against corruption and for a democracy that has strong institutions, that has transparency, that has accountability.

We know that corruption literally eats away at Ukraine’s democracy from the inside.  And so the work that you’re doing and the courage that you show in doing it could not be more important.  And I really want to salute you for that.

We had some very good conversations today with leaders in the government, including President Zelenskyy, including about the reform agenda.  And what I really am anxious to do is to listen to you, to hear from you about how the United States can be a strong and even stronger partner for Ukraine in moving forward with reforms, and particularly in combating corruption.  What can we do more effectively in support of Ukraine as it takes on this fight?

And some of the things we discussed today with government colleagues were the very great importance of corporate governance, and particularly to make sure that there are true, independent people overseeing the particularly state-owned enterprises.  We talked about as well the vital importance of sustaining and strengthening the anti-corruption board.  We talked about the importance of judicial reform and making sure that the process for picking judges is transparent and relies on outside evaluation and expertise, not on inside interests.  We talked about the reform of the security forces to make sure that they’re truly working for the Ukrainian people.

And finally, we talked about the importance not only of passing the right laws and making sure that the legal foundation is there to deal with corruption, to advance transparency, to deal with the judiciary, but that those laws are actually implemented.  Because it’s necessary but insufficient to have laws on the books; they actually have to be used for the purposes to which they’re intended.

So we, as I said, had a very good, open, direct conversation.  We want to know how we can be more helpful.  And so I’d really like to learn from you, to listen to you, both about your assessment of the state of things, what’s working, what’s not working, and again, whether there are things that we can do to be a strong partner to Ukraine in advancing reform and combating corruption.

MS KVIEN:  Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken.

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  • COVID-19: HHS Should Clarify Agency Roles for Emergency Return of U.S. Citizens during a Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. returned, or repatriated, about 1,100 U.S. citizens from abroad and quarantined them domestically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) experienced coordination and safety issues that put repatriates, HHS personnel, and nearby communities at risk. This occurred because HHS component agencies—the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—did not follow plans or guidance delineating their roles and responsibilities for repatriating individuals during a pandemic—an event these agencies had never experienced. While they had general repatriation plans, there was disagreement as to whether the effort was in fact a repatriation. This led to fundamental problems for HHS agencies and their federal partners, including at the March Air Reserve Base quarantine facility in California where the first repatriated individuals were quarantined prior to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S. These problems included the following: Lack of clarity as to which agency was in charge when the first repatriation flight from Wuhan, China, arrived at the quarantine facility, which caused confusion among the HHS component agencies. Coordination issues among HHS component agencies resulted in component agencies operating independently of each other, and led to frustration and complications. HHS's delay in issuing its federal quarantine order, during which time a repatriate tried to leave the quarantine facility. HHS personnel's inconsistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and HHS officials' disagreement on which agency was responsible for managing infection prevention and control. An HHS official also directed personnel to remove their PPE as it created “bad optics,” according to an HHS report that examined the repatriation effort. The National Response Framework, a guide to how the U.S. responds to disasters and emergencies, instructs agencies to understand their respective roles and responsibilities, know what plans apply, and develop appropriate guidance for emergency responses. Until HHS revises or develops new plans that clarify agency roles and responsibilities during a repatriation in response to a pandemic, it will be unable to prevent the coordination and health and safety issues it experienced during the COVID-19 repatriation response in future pandemic emergencies. HHS also did not include repatriation in its pandemic planning exercises. As a result, agencies lacked experience deploying together to test repatriation plans during a pandemic, which contributed to serious coordination issues. GAO has previously reported that exercises play an important role in preparing for an incident by providing opportunities to test response plans and assess the clarity of roles and responsibilities. Until HHS conducts such exercises, it will be unable to test its repatriation plans during a pandemic and identify areas for improvement. Why GAO Did This Study HHS provides temporary assistance to U.S. citizens repatriated by the Department of State (State) from a foreign country because of destitution, illness, threat of war, or similar crises through the U.S. Repatriation Program. In January and February 2020, HHS assisted State in repatriating individuals from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to the U.S. HHS quarantined repatriates at five Department of Defense (DOD) installations to ensure they did not infect others with COVID-19. GAO was asked to examine HHS's COVID-19 repatriation efforts to ensure the health and safety of those involved in the response. This report examines HHS's coordination and management of its COVID-19 repatriation response. GAO reviewed relevant documentation from HHS, State, and DOD related to repatriation planning, including documentation on pandemic planning exercises. GAO also interviewed officials from HHS, State, and DOD.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
    In Crime News
    U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today made the following statement in honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day:
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  • Four Members of Los Angeles-Based Fraud Ring Indicted for COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    Four individuals were charged in an indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme to submit at least 35 fraudulent loan applications seeking over $5.6 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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