Ukraine's economy minister offers to resign over poor pace of economic reform

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta said on Thursday he had tendered his resignation, voicing frustration at the poor pace of economic reform by a government which he said acted "like a predator towards business".

After months of fighting in its eastern regions following the toppling of a government blighted by corruption and economic mismanagement, Ukraine's economy has contracted sharply, even with a multibillion dollar financial lifeline from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). That money comes with requirements for reform, which have been slow in coming.

When he was appointed, soon after the ousting of a Moscow-backed president in February, Mr Sheremeta vowed to slash red tape and eliminate corrupt practices that had helped almost to bankrupt Ukraine. But he has not managed to push substantive legislation through Parliament and on Thursday he said without reforms it would take three to four years for Ukraine to achieve flat growth if the economy falls by the expected 6 per cent to 7 per cent this year.

"It's sad... The economy will never advance if the government continues to behave like a predator towards business," he said at a televised briefing.

Earlier, in a sign of frustration at the lack of broad support for reform, Mr Sheremeta said on his Facebook page that he no longer wanted to "fight against yesterday's system".

Mr Sheremeta's offer to resign follows comments from Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk on Wednesday that voiced dissatisfaction with the speed and depths of reforms.

Parliament, which is still packed with many former supporters of former president Viktor Yanukovich, has managed to pass legislation on taxation and sanctions on Russia in recent weeks - but only after being pushed by Mr Yatseniuk, who at one point also threatened to resign over the legislature's inaction.

The post of economy minister was the first political appointment for Mr Sheremeta, a former economics academic.

According to the terms of the US$17 billion (S$21.25 billion) IMF loan package, Ukraine must implement set reforms, including deficit-reduction targets and raising the price of gas to households and industry.

The IMF decides on the disbursement of the second tranche of US$1.4 billion on Aug 29, and Kiev has asked it to take into account the extra financial burden of fighting the insurgency.

The resignation of Mr Sheremeta, who has not been a key negotiator with the IMF, will have to be approved by Parliament. This might be one of the last acts of the current Parliament, which is likely to be dissolved next week, paving the way for a new election in October.

He has handed over his duties temporarily to his deputy Anatoliy Maksyuta, he said.