Roman Leshchenko: “As the Head of the State Geocadastre, I will hand over the land powers to the people”
On June 10, Roman Leshchenko, the Presidential Commissioner for Land Affairs, was appointed Chairman of the State Geocadastre. Once the land market is opened, the agency will be key to further implementing land reform. About the existing land schemes and plans to combat them, about the changes that await the State Geocadastre, preparations for the opening of the land market and ambitious plans to transfer state-owned land to local communities, as well as the technological revolution of the State Land Cadastre Roman Leshchenko.
- Mr. Roman, what are your first impressions of working in the department, which will actually be key in the further implementation of land reform?
Land reform in Ukraine is not just continuing, but is entering the most difficult phase – the implementation of adopted laws. And, as the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Land Affairs, I continue to be responsible for its implementation, already in the status of the head of the State Geocadastre.
It is one thing when you are directly involved in the legislative component of the reform, and quite another when you enter the practical plane of the central executive body. And you see that it is not enough to pass a good law, its correct implementation is important.
If the purpose of my work is simple, it is to bring order to land legal relations. To do this, I have a clear program, a team, and the implementation of the tasks set under the land reform, in the first place, will be based on the principles of decency, transparency, complete intolerance of corruption and any kind of abuse.
- What is the most global task in land reform that you plan to accomplish in this position?
Already in the first two weeks of work, I clearly realized that the central executive body can not dispose of state land. An official in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa cannot know for sure where the best hayfields are and where the best pasture is.
I remain a supporter and have a deep conviction that the land should belong to the people and that the people on the ground should decide how to dispose of it. This is the global challenge of land reform. Therefore, there is already a clear understanding that we must make the land available to local communities as soon as possible.
To do this, we do not need to wait for the adoption of any special laws – we only need to have political will. And the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has it, and I have it as a person directly responsible for land reform.
Today in the hands of the Head of the State Geocadastre is the disposal of all state lands in Ukraine. We will set a precedent when an official, or as the people say – an official, for the first time in the history of Ukraine’s independence voluntarily relinquishes such powers.
As the head of the State Geocadastre, I will hand over the land powers to the people. And, believe me, the people will not want to give back their powers. That is why the process of forming communities so that people on their land are masters is actively going on today.
- What steps will precede such a transfer?
Task number one – to conduct an inventory of land and identify abuses. In the coming days, I will appeal to Ukrainian society to show the real state of affairs.
Our people must be psychologically ready to find out what has happened to the lands in recent years, as in the process of so-called free privatization, we have formed a caste of “elected”. Because there are people who for years can not get a hectare of land for cultivation, most of them. And there are those who received land in different parts of our country five times for the same passport in different regions.
You will not believe, but to this day in our state, distributing hundreds of thousands of hectares of land as part of free privatization, there is no official single register of citizens who received these 2 hectares for free! For me, the lack of such a base came as a shock.
- Can you assess the extent of the abuse now?
During the years when the State Geocadastre was the administrator, and still remains, thousands of hectares of the best lands of Ukraine were plundered.
We are talking about coastal areas, recreational areas, the lands of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, the beautiful nature reserve fund, starting from the Carpathians and ending with Pushcha-Vodytsya near Kiev, which through various criminal schemes were brought into private ownership.
We will not just analyze this whole situation, but will publicly show it all on an electronic public cadastral map of Ukraine, in real time, with names. All information about illegal land allocation will be passed to law enforcement agencies.
Society will know the truth: who, where, how much and when received, as well as – what taxes are paid from this land. We have already signed a relevant agreement on cooperation with the State Tax Service, with the head of the State Tax Service Oleksiy Lyubchenko.
- What exactly will the deal do?
We will introduce an exchange of information with the State Tax Service, and each cadastral plot in Ukraine will be linked to the payment of taxes.
I understand that it will be painful for society to see how much land tax the owner of a house in Koncha Zaspa pays. And how much taxes does a peasant who works hard on the land pay?
In this sense, the State Geocadastre is, in fact, the face of our country. Through the prism of this state body you can see all the shortcomings of the public administration system. From bloated staff and existing criminal schemes, to blatant facts of social injustice against our citizens.
- What do you plan to do with the identified violations?
Step by step, we will return the land that belongs to the Ukrainian people.
To do this, we are initiating changes in land legislation that will allow both law enforcement and judicial authorities to return the stolen land under a simplified procedure.
Moreover, society must receive social satisfaction for those thieves who have plundered the country for decades. But it will all be later, now we will carry out basic measures and step by step we will implement it all.
- You say that there are already some agreements with the State Traffic Police. And what about the interaction of the State Geocadastre with other law enforcement agencies? Will those people who doubtfully received state lands as their property from the point of view of the law voluntarily give them away?
After the first week of work, realizing the scale of the looting of our state, I, as the Head of the State Geocadastre, initiated the signing of memoranda of cooperation with NABU, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the DBR, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. We are already establishing a full mutual exchange of information and maximum cooperation with all these bodies.
In the first days when I first took office, I was shocked that some representatives of regional administrations did not even obey me as the head of the State Geocadastre. We have already started a complete renewal of the staff of the State Geocadastre in the regions.
And they also did another very important thing: they completely stopped the land registration system. So that while we are carrying out personnel replacements, another robbery does not take place in fulfillment of the undertaken “obligations” to continue criminal schemes.
- Have you noted for yourself the problem areas where you plan to put things in order first?
For me, the Zhytomyr region today is practically a war zone.
Banditry flourishes there, and local authorities today “cover” the extraction of amber, titanium ore, and forests. There are villages where such subjects keep everything under control, and simply intimidate people with weapons, take away their land.
You look at the documents – everything is fine, people have an agricultural plot for growing soybeans. And when you look at an orthophoto – like the moon or the planet Mars, you know, such craters. This is one of the most popular schemes, according to which the shadow business thrives: 2 hectares of land are registered as agricultural land for fictitious persons. And then, where you have 2 hectares of land, everything under this land is also yours.
Therefore, in the near future I plan to visit Zhytomyr Region with special law enforcement agencies, state protection, which was provided to me in connection with systemic threats against me and my family members.
Zhytomyr region is one of the outposts of such a movement. It is only 120 km from Kyiv, and such unhealthy processes take place there. That’s why we are moving there first.
I invite journalists to show people what is really going on there.
- Is it necessary to use the power unit?
I believe that without a tough reaction and without forceful support, we will not be able to move forward.
I do not rule out provocations, because often such dealers under the guise of public organizations frantically “defend” the Ukrainian land. If they try to open fire, block or something else – we will act within the law. It’s time to put things in order.
- Let’s talk about the technological aspect of the work of the State Geocadastre. What will change for Ukrainians?
About a month ago, the law “National Geospatial Data Infrastructure” was adopted, which is really revolutionary and will qualitatively change the content of the State Land Cadastre.
Already today we are supplementing it, taking orthophotos of the whole country, showing all administrative-territorial boundaries, making a single information base, which in the near future will be freely available to the Ukrainian people.
This database will contain dozens of technical layers, and will allow you to see everything – land, water, forest, urban planning documentation, subsoil. Everything in the state! That is, we lay a foundation that is irreversible. What other government would not come later, how will it explain the closure of the information base of the geoportal, where all the riches of the Ukrainian people are?
Our logic is as follows: decentralization, maximum digitalization, and the third very important aspect is demonopolization.
- What do you invest in the concept of digitalization for geospatial data?
We demonopolize the market as much as possible so that a person is not tied to a specific district, position, official. We remove it as an intermediary between the person and the information base. Anyone can make an extract from the Unified State Land Cadastre for 20 hryvnias.
It will not be necessary to stand in queues, ask the official, call, persuade, wait for his signature. These are the things that will make a revolution in the system of land relations!
Thus, we solve two strategic tasks: we bring order to the land sphere, as well as to all other natural resources. The entire public database will be located in the State Geocadastre. We will be the bearers of knowledge. And we will open this knowledge to society. This is the best protection.
There is another revolutionary thing we will do. All data that will be entered in the public cadastral map, all satellite images that are formed over the years, will be available in the dynamics.
Every citizen will be able to see, for example, how the Carpathians have changed over the last 20 years. To do this, it will be enough to choose the time period in the structure of the layers of the public cadastral map of Ukraine, for example, how the forests of the Carpathians changed from 2001 to 2020. All this information will be available online.
- Do you feel opposed to such a reform?
I have already faced work blockades, threats, artificial barriers. But when you have an understanding of the ultimate goal, everything else doesn’t matter.
In my deep conviction, our country deserves to finally implement land reform. You can’t live in chaos and chaos, “themes”, schemes, “watchers”, etc. for 28 years.
Land reform will give our country an extraordinary leap for further development. We must realize that we are reforming not for ourselves, but for future generations.
- Quite an ambitious plan.
I have an advantage – the support of the President of Ukraine on the issue of bringing order to land relations. And I am in the State Geocadastre on behalf of the Prime Minister of Ukraine and the President of Ukraine. I have been given very clear tasks, given all the necessary powers.
Because the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has undertaken a historic mission to implement land reform, which was mentioned in his election program. And clearly defined the task of bringing order.
I will honestly say that when there is the support of the first person of the state, it is much easier to move. And we will definitely implement the planned changes.
(c)STATE GEOCADASTRE 2020