Ukraines assets being sold off one fire-sale after another

The FT this week ran an article about the recent sale of Ukrtelekom, Ukraines national incumbent telephone service provider, to an Austrian based investment house, Epic. Epic have bought up 93% of Ukrtelekom for the bargain basement price of $1.3bn.

I’ve been following the back-story of this particular sell-off, or rather, privatisation, for some time now, as it was on the cards way back when I was still living in Kiev. The more interesting notes behind the entire saga of this particular sale hark back to the valuation of Ukrtelekom, and the current governments constant haranguing and insistent challenges of the then government that the sale price for this item of the Nations silverware was too low.

Interesting then that the valuation put forward by the previous government valued Ukrtelekom at $1.5bn for a 67% stake. At that price, it would not have been unreasonable for the citizens of Ukraine to have expected the price paid by Epic for the 93% they just bought to be closer to $2.1bn rather than the $1.3bn they got it for.

And all the while, whilst Epic were working out how much to pay for Ukrtelekom, the current government excluded rivals from the bid. Seemingly they forgot all about their protests of a fire-storm sale when they were in opposition.

In a country where the government routinely sell-off national assets and the nations prized natural resources are raped, pillaged and sold-off at bargain basement prices to repay those oligarchs who footed the bill to get them into office, this recent, albeit poorly constructed, attempt at transparent privatisation has failed miserably. President Yanukovych’s previous foray into public office was met then with a wilful blundering and sale of the country’s silverware at below market value. Typically in the form of large tranches of land rezoned and sold off for pennies on the dollar.

Epic of course deny that they are a front for one of Ukraine’s billionaire oligarchs. I guess only time will tell. The facts are undeniable though. There is already a menagerie of Off-Shore entities set-up as the legal owners of cheaply sold government assets. The most notorious of these fronts being RosUkrEnergo, which according to a Global Witness report is linked with Dmitry Firtash, and whom acts as the middleman for gas sales which pass from Russia to Ukraine. Quite why a middleman is required is unclear, afterall the price of gas is already too high in Ukraine without some oligarch creaming it from the top and thus resulting in even higher prices to be passed on to Ukraine’s citizens.

What’s next on the list of  silverware up for grabs? Well it cannot be the Rada (Parliament) as it’s been bought and sold ten times over by now.

The FT article can be found here

Who knew Gwyneth could sing?

I’m not usually a fan of award shows. My opinion of them is that they’re simply a venue (of which there are far too many these days) for all the Luvvies to get together and partake in the mutual appreciation society they are so enamoured with.

Although there are probably two exceptions to that rule…the Grammy’s and the MTV awards (original/video).

It seems that the musical world, whilst equally caught up in the mutual appreciation society as the Luvvies, simply put on a much better show that we normal mere mortals can much better appreciate. And occasionally you get a Luvvie popping up and surprising the world that his/her talents know no bounds. Recent case in point is the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow. She seems to have shocked the world by duetting with Cee Lo Green at this years Grammy’s and in my opinion doing a better job that the might Mr. Green. Having said that, her singing talents are no new. She released a single, a rendition of that masterpiece “Bette Davis Eyes” and has in the past performed live at the CMA’s amongst other awards shows.

Here’s a clip from the Grammy’s. Enjoy

The state of Dutch healthcare

In the land of plenty and high taxes (or should that read “plenty of high taxes”?) a development has been underway for sometime. The development is “Tax by Stealth”. This development pulls on the heart-strings of what most Dutch people either like to believe or pretend to be the case, and that is “to be seen to be doing the right thing” and is based on the fundamental foundations of what most Dutch people call “the Polder model”, which is nothing more than a euphemism for what we in Ireland would call “the Welfare State”. In other words, those with money and means should pay for those without.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that one should not pay taxes or that my taxes should not be used to either ease the burden of my less unfortunate neighbour who has fallen on bad times. On the contrary. But the discussion about high taxes is for another time. This rant is about being FORCED to pay for private health insurance, which in previous years was paid for via my taxes, and not getting a decent level of service in return. The real route cause for the failure of this grand plan is centred around that one single thing that most Dutch either have no concept of, or are unable to provide….SERVICE.

The expat community here will usually regale you of stories where they visited their GP (huisarts here in Holland) when they were suffering from flu or some other every day ailment, only to be told “Stay at home for a few days and take some paracetamol”. Fine and dandy if you are trying to avoid the population from taking too many antibiotics and thus lowering the nations immune system from its over dependence of prescription meds. However, when someone is ACTUALLY sick, once would expect a different tack from ones physicians. Not so in the land of tulips. Nope, no matter what the ailment, the usual treatment is “stay at home and take a paracetamol”. As you can see already, our insurance is great value for money!

A recent personal experience has left me wondering why on Earth am I paying so much for healthcare, when at the point of needing said healthcare, I would probably have been better-off to go abroad to some Eastern European hospital (read the Dutch cynical belief that Eastern Europe is the “3rd world” on such matters) for far better, and concise, diagnoses and treatment. Not to bore you with my ailments and diseases, but let me very briefly explain to you my experiences.

I suffered from a very common skin disorder when I was in my teens, which was combatted through the use of medicated shampoo and cold-tar soap. The condition was kept at bay, and all but disappeared as I got older, with odd exception of re-manifesting itself if I am a little run-down or under a lot of stress. As it happened, I was under stress at work at the time and my skin problem came back. Not to worry, I live in the Netherlands, a modern, wealthy developed Western nation. I’ll ring up my doc and have him prescribe me something. Yes-but-no-but….the GP could not prescribe me with the necessary stuff I would have gotten from my GP in Ireland, for this I had to visit a Dermatologist. OK, refer me to one then. Certainly……I can get you an appointment in 2 months….TWO MONTHS!!! Fear not…..for I have private health insurance!! I’ll just ring up the health insurance company and ask them to get me an earlier appointment. “Yes Sir, that we can do…the next available appointment will be in six weeks….SIX WEEKS, not much of an improvement, is it? As luck would have it, I was visiting Herself in Finland that same week. I flew up on the Friday, griped about it to herself who suggested I call the polyclinic down the road and see if they can do anything. Amazingly, the Finns were able to get me an appointment for later that same day AND the Dutch health insurance confirmed that I would be 100% compensated.

Fast-forward to a few years later, were Myself and Herself have been trying for children now for quite sometime. We went to our GP, who referred us to the local hospital to see some specialists. So far, so good. Herself had all manner of things done to her and a blood test, all confirming that there was nothing wrong with her plumbing. “Hmmm”, says I, “must be my swimmers then”. I was asked to provide a sample. Which is when the first problem started. In any other hospital in the developed world, one might expect a specific room in the Urology department where one can whip-up a sample and provide it immediately to the folks in the lab who would then start their count and whatever else they do. Not so in Holland. No, our hospital only allows samples to be handed in by the patient between the hours of 8am and 9:30am…..and there’s no special room to use on the premises. One needs to do that job at home first thing in the morning. And then, as was the case with me, rush to the hospital super fast in -3 degree weather to give the sample before their lab closes…..VERY convenient. Hurdle one passed, I then get a call confirming that the swimmers are indeed a little on the slow side. But not to worry because “we’d like you to see an Urologist to take a closer look”. Alrighty then….a few weeks later, I show up at the Urology Department at the same hospital. I’m met by the doctor, who takes me into his hospital and proceeds to ask me the following questions:

  1. How old are you? Answer….early 30′s
  2. Do you smoke? Answer….No
  3. Do you have any pain when “pissing” (his exact words)? Answer….No
  4. Do you “piss” standing up or sitting down? Answer….Standing up of course!
  5. Do you have a stressful job? Answer….Not especially, just the odd deadline from time to time

Questions over and done with, he then he asked me to go to the examination room next door and drop trou’. He stood about 2 metre’s away from me, looked, hemmed and hawed and then said “you can get dressed again”. What….No poking, no prodding, no “Cough please”??? No, apparently that’s unnecessary. His diagnoses? “You should try pissing sitting down for a month” WTF!!!! I was flabbergasted….firstly, no proper examination, no probing questions about diet, drinking habits, how often do you do it, boxers or briefs, exercise regularly, nothing, nada, ZIP!! No, in his professional opinion, I should be pissing like a girl!! I was not only shocked, but I was outraged that my insurance money is being spent on this quack who didn’t even examine me properly and gives me the kind of “old wives” recommendation that most Expats have come to expect from the Dutch medical establishment.

If I had gone to see a doctor either in Finland, or Ukraine, or in my native Ireland, I would have been subjected to a lot of poking and prodding not to mention the battery of tests and bloodwork they’ve have done. The other amazing thing about the healthcare system is that the establishment KNOWS how bad it is, yet feigns interest in doing anything about it. Except of course if you’re a Dutch Turk. Dutch Turks have known far longer than I about how bad the system is here ….probably because I’ve only had to go to the doctor until very recently. They have left in their droves to get everything done from tooth fillings, wisdom teeth extraction, all the way up to corrective cardiac surgery, laser eye treatment and anything else you can think of. The amount of money that the insurance companies pay out to Dutch Turks for healthcare undertaken in Turkey is so much that they’ve now set-up a Turkish run hospital in Amsterdam in order to stem the outflow of cash leaving Dutch shores.

What I can’t understand is why the average Henk or Ingrid is happy to accept below average healthcare….especially when he is being forced to pay through the nose for his insurance. Suffice to say, we’ve opted to go and visit a real doctor abroad.

Audi Drivers

I lived in Ukraine for some time, and whilst there, I found out very early on that NOBODY can drive properly. The concept of safety goes out the window as soon as the person sits behind the wheel. It’s actually frowned upon by the locals to be caught wearing your seat-belt. And this isn’t just a male thing either….the women are equally as bad.

So you can consider my joy when I was moving to the Netherlands. A land where you cannot bribe and buy your driving licence, but where they fleece every penny out of you in the guise of failed driving exams (on average it takes the average Cloggy 2 attempts to pass their exam and is rare to pass first time), but really it’s a form of invisible tax, and where everyone, in theory, obeys and follows the rules….with two exceptions, Audi and Seat drivers.

Really they are both one and the same, the only difference being the average age of the driver. Seat lunatics are usually found in the form of a twenty-something “boy racer” driving a Seat Leon, but really my experiences have shown that pretty much anyone driving a Seat, no matter what model, can be seen driving around like a loon on the Queens highways. But the predominant “new TIT on the block” is the Audi driver.

It seems that the age old adage of the BMW driver has found a new flash set of wheels on which to tear up the roads in. They seem to have moved from Munich’s wunderkind to the new Bavarian tit-mobile in droves. My guess is that the BMW had waned a little in the status levels (every man, woman and spotty teenager was driving them) so they went for something a little more powerful and a lot more elegant to look at and hence the sudden migration.

But you may be asking, “what, exactly, am I complaining about?” Well, for starters, it’s their driving style. I simply do not understand why anyone insists on speeding past me doing 30kph above the speed limit, only to be caught at the lights that I end up catching them at when I roll in behind them. And then there’s the “drive up my arse, over take, and cut me up” manoeuvre which just gets, well, right up my arse!! It seems that they are so frustrated to have a car with so much power, but which must be tamed on the Queens highway, because the Dutch don’t believe in raising the speed limit on perfectly smooth 5 lane motorways from 100 KPH to 120 KPH (or as the rest of civilised Europe has done, up to 130 KPH).

The added frustration is that the traffic in the Netherlands is absolutely appalling. Add to that the fact that you’ll always find at least one crash involving an Audi or Seat driver on a weekday commute, and you end up with gridlock…all because some small dicked testosterone fuelled knob was driving like a gobshite overtaking one car and squeezing in front of him ’cause the car in front was obeying the speed limit and yer man wanted to go that wee bit faster.

The other thing that drives me up the wall with these fellas is the fact that they have no idea what these orange blinky things on the side of their cars are. Perhaps they’re disco lights, or a bird pulling device….the thought that they be used to indicate ones intentions to the traffic around one never enters their mind. Mind you, this seems to be a disease that affect almost all Dutch drivers, particularly on round-abouts.

I have no idea what the insurance premiums are for either Makes, but given the amount of accidents I see one or the other involved in, I can only guess that it must be high. And reading in the local press the other week, it seems that the A3, A6, Leon and BMW X5 are the most popular models amongst the Dutch car thieves….perhaps the local criminals share the same mindsets as these anti-social road hog knobs?

So to my fellow motorists out there, if you happen across a yellow Dutch licence plate and the car in front is an Audi or Seat, then for your own safety and peace of mind, give them a VERY wide berth.

Happy motoring agus Slán,