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30 March, 2011  ▪  Andrii Duda

Recovering Addicts

Corruption can be eliminated and the way to do so is known, yet the government lacks the will to just do it

The vote on the new Law to Prevent and Fight Corruption leaves many with the illusion that the Ukrainian President is following a new strategy of anticorruption, but optimists will be disappointed. The Verkhovna Rada (the Parliament of Ukraine) is looking at a bill about conflict of interest among civil servants and other categories of entities entitled to act on behalf of the government, not the anticorruption law itself. Indeed, Ukraine has sufficient demand for anticorruption reforms and is even on the verge of an anticorruption revolution. Yet, the bill being reviewed by the millionaires with mandates in parliament – many of whom are corrupt themselves – will not open the way for any of the above.

Must-have first steps

Ukrainehas had Russian bureaucratic institutions for over 200 years now, first tsarist, and later communist. With the government authorities completely closed, representative bodies weak and no transparency or feedback mechanisms, the Russian bureaucracy brought forth the government model that looked like some kind of a corporation. Its key goal was feeding its own corporate interests rather than serving the country's people. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, Ukrainian officials have failed to quit their psychological addiction to this non-European practice.

According to The Ukrainian Week’s estimates, if the government has the real political will to fight corruption, it needs to draft a set of at least 20 bills and regulations to change procedures for entering and serving in civil service, to strengthen the requirements placed on civil servants, to supervise their work, and to change decision making procedures.

Just like the popular saying goes, a personnel means everything. So, anticorruption reforms should start with changing the staff in public and municipal authorities. This requires examining qualifications of civil servants and hiring new people to fill the resulting vacancies. Preference should be given to the younger generation rather than the Soviet one.

Next, a legal and organizational framework should be set up for supervisory units responsible for revealing corrupt civil servants provoking bribery. For instance, by verifying the accuracy of fiscal control reports filed by civil servants and monitoring a civil servant and his or her family members' spending.

Moreover, it makes sense to introduce rotation in public and municipal authorities. This will improve the qualification of civil servants and prevent them from establishing corrupt ties during their terms in office.

Another step in the anticorruption program is introducing liability for corruption by firing civil servants involved in bribes scandals and depriving them of eligibility for the pension for a civil servant granted according to the Law of Ukraine on Civil Service or any other special law, or a local self-government servant under the Law On Service in Local Self-Government.

The Principal Civil Service had offered the following: “A civil servant fired for charges of intentional abuse of office or for corruption shall not be eligible for the pension entailed herein. In such cases, pension shall be provided as stated in the Law of Ukraine On Mandatory State Pension Insurance.” If corruption or abuse of office leaves a person without privileged pension, Ukraine will have completely different civil servants since the pension is currently a key incentive for the governmental authorities. It is absurd to even talk about critical changes in fighting corruption until such norms are implemented.

Clearly, this kind of liability should be applied to a certain category of violations only. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to deprive an employee of his civil servant status after a small one-time violation, such as a late response to an inquiry or request from the public, or ignoring restrictions regarding other activities.

Fewer temptations, more public control

The anticorruption policy should account for the fact that corrupt activities require certain powers, so not all civil servants can be engaged in them even if they desire to. Decision making is the most corrupt in public procurement, licensing, allocating land and so on. To solve this, lawmakers should draft a set of laws and acts to regulate public procurements, eliminate the practice of purchasing goods from just one tender participant, and set up a legal framework to make tender procedures for purchasing goods for public funds as open and transparent as possible.

With regard to licensing procedures, Ukraine could use the best practice of Western countries and Georgian experience in setting clear authorization and licensing deadlines. When a government authority leaves the request unanswered after the deadline set forth by law the applicants understand that silence implies consent.

One of the least transparent segments in public administration includes the disposal of community-owned property, the transfer of land ownership, etc. Lively debate in the VR about plans to cancel the moratorium on selling farmland will only fuel corruption among municipal authorities. It makes sense to introduce mandatory anticorruption examinations to check draft decisions taken by local government authorities. Based on this a court can ban relevant local councils from approving decisions. 

Also, legislators should amend the Land Code of Ukraine and the Law On Local Self-Governance to change the procedure for decisions made by the councils which entail a high risk of corruption. One option is to sell community owned land through auctions exclusively. Another efficient move against land corruption could be to authorize local state administrations or other authorities to terminate council decisions and send them to court.

The Russian bureaucracy machine and similar models are very sensitive to transparent decision making since an opaque and closed environment is the easiest environment in which corruption can flourish. This means that transparent processes for decision making and enforcement are the best weapons against corruption. This transparency should come both from timely coverage of the situation by the media, encouraging public expertise and applying technical tools of public control, such as transparent offices equipped with video cameras for all public authorities.

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