Ukraine's President Pledges Faster Privatization

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, still smarting from Western criticism about sluggish market reforms, pledged Wednesday that speeding up privatization would be a top priority in Ukraine this year.

"Mass privatization has great significance. It is perhaps the only means Ukrainians have to reach our common aim: to become a developed society," Kuchma told a meeting of senior ministers and regional leaders. "Our strategic goal at the start of this year is to get more people involved in privatization."

Ukraine fell far short of its goals last year. Only 39 percent of about 8,000 medium and large state firms were turned over to the private sector, and only 51 percent of "small enterprises," all of which were to be privatized.

International institutions, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have warned that future loans would depend on faster reforms.

Blame fell on privatization authorities, recalcitrant regional leaders and the communist-dominated parliament.

Privatization chief Yuri Yekhanurov told the gathering that small-scale privatization and distribution of "privatization certificates" -- the Ukrainian equivalent of Russia's vouchers -- could be completed within the first half of the year.