On 7 February, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle made an official visit to Kyiv where he spoke with ranking Ukrainian officials about just one thing – how prepared Ukraine is to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. No new official statements were made on behalf of the European Union, but the media exploded with the news that 19 clearly formulated requirements – so-called Füle’s list – had been set for Ukraine. The document does not carry any official weight, but both sides agree that it will be the basis for evaluating Ukraine’s progress on sector reforms. In particular, Füle’s list envisages monitoring Ukraine’s efforts to efficiently combat corruption in the country.
But is this feasible in a state which, according to Transparency International, is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries and has firmly placed itself among the 30 most corrupt countries of the entire world? Regular reports by the Ukrainian government suggest that overcoming corruption is indeed possible, but public assessment of the same events is much less optimistic.
Corruption remains a key problem for Ukraine. Under the disguise of active political competition, political and business elites have made a pact to divide up the key sectors and put the government apparatus under their control. This agreement was preceded by a transformation of elites into powerful financial-industrial groups that are closely linked to the bureaucratic apparatus, political parties and the mass media.
Most anti-corruption action taken by the Ukrainian authorities are formal in character and boil down to adopting documents of a political nature, passing laws, creating or restructuring bodies that coordinate anti-corruption policy, training officials responsible for counteracting corruption, and so on. However, the most important reforms that could lower the level of corruption in Ukraine have never been implemented and the anti-corruption legislation that has been adopted has yet to acquire proper significance. As an example, the decision of the Constitutional Court dated 13 March 2012 postponed until April 2013 the requirement that public servants must declare their income and expenses.
In Ukraine, the real fight against corruption is replaced with loud statements and ostentatious campaigns. Work to systemically reform government institutions is extremely slow and looks more like imitation than true action. These processes are taking place against the backdrop of growing pressure by law enforcement agencies on businessmen and businesswomen who have supported opposition political forces in one form or another. For example, special task units were on numerous occasions involved in physically blocking the operation of enterprises, seizing financial documents, replacing company management, etc.
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The key trends of the 2012-13 political season are:
Ø The inactivity of the National Anti-Corruption Committee attached to the President of Ukraine. This institution has the most authority to coordinate anti-corruption activities. Moreover, the Ukrainian side is going all out trying to present this body (which, in fact, has merely an advisory function) as the only independent anti-corruption body tasked with coordinating government institutions responsible for combatting corruption. However, even given that, the National Anti-Corruption Committee has not met even once in over a year. The president only generates documents about member rotation in the committee and updating its approaches.
Ø The government programme to counteract corruption is worth no more than the paper it is printed on. The declared funding to implement an anti-corruption programme with a total budget of over UAH 800mn has never been disbursed. The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine as the coordinator of the programme suggests that government executives carry it out using their own funds. As a result, average performance under the programme is 2.7 on a five-point scale. This has to do with the fact that the programme’s activities are not always well-justified and indicators of progress do not always agree with the content of activities. Even though government bodies have enough capacity to implement the programme, they are essentially stripped of the financial resources needed to carry them out effectively.
Ø Changes in legislation regulating government purchases have made it possible to transfer tens of billions of euros of state money into the shadows. For example, in 2012 alone, the Ukrainian parliament passed eight laws which made significant changes to the legislation regulating government purchases. They gradually introduced an entire series of exceptions from the law on government tenders. The main exception involves purchases for which government or communal enterprises, as well as by economic associations in which the government has a controlling stake, pay with their own funds. In this situation, the real implementers of the government’s anti-corruption policy are NGOs. Among other things, they perform the following:
v public monitoring of government purchases and helping avert embezzlements of many millions of hryvnias
v organizing direct-action events and public disobedience to corrupt officials
v providing legal counselling to victims of corruption
v supporting anti-corruption efforts of small and medium business
v advocating for legislative regulations that would promote proper governance in Ukraine
v developing anti-corruption training courses for various categories: government officials, law enforcement officers and students
v organizing training in the implementation of modern tools of watchdog activity
v publishing information about cases of corruption in certain areas
v drafting expert anti-corruption assessments of high-profile laws and government acts.
However, responsible government bodies, above all law enforcement agencies, continue to very unwillingly react to facts collected by public watchdogs. Law enforcement bodies are reluctant to open cases on information obtained by public activists and journalists.
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All of this suggests that Ukraine can meet the anti-corruption requirement from Füle’s list on paper only. To avert this scenario, the Ukrainian government needs to immediately take a series of definite steps. These include:
Ø making the Unified State Register of Persons Held Responsible for Corrupt Activities (the so-called List of the Corrupt) publicly available by making the necessary changes to the Law of Ukraine “On the Protection of Personal Data”
Ø securing open access to declarations about assets, income and expenses submitted by public servants, in particular through publication on official government sites, by making changes to the basic anti-corruption law
Ø starting real monitoring of the way public servants declare their assets, income and expenses
Ø reforming legislation on financing political parties and electoral campaigns to reduce the dependence of the latter on private financing and corrupting influence
Ø the President of Ukraine should finally make up his mind about a particular agency that will coordinate the anti-corruption policy and carry political responsibility for its implementation; he should then increase the capacity of this agency
Ø revising the priorities of and then securing real financing for the 2011-15 Government Programme to Prevent and Counteract Corruption.
How feasible all of this is today may not known to either Brussels or Kyiv.
Oleksiy Khmara, Transparency International