On February 22, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to a petition to restore electronic declarations for MPs and other officials. The Head of State supported this idea, noting that the obligation to adopt laws is the prerogative of the Verkhovna Rada; the relevant draft law is ready for voting in the first reading. In other words, he skillfully “threw the ball on the field” of the highest representative body. Now, the next step should be taken by the Parliament.
Electronic declaration is the cornerstone of anti-corruption reform in Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity. As a result of its introduction in September 2016, our state received one of the most effective tools for preventing corruption in the public sector. After all, it was it that opened access to information about the income of persons who received salaries from the pockets of taxpayers.
The fate of electronic declarations during this time was not cloudless. For too long, the NACP could not approve the procedure for a full verification of the declaration. The ineffective work of the Agency required its immediate reboot, which took place only in 2019. Do not forget about the notorious decision of the Constitutional Court of October 27, 2020, which de facto stopped the verification of all declarations of that time and caused a prolonged crisis of constitutional justice.
The war also made its own adjustments. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, for security reasons, declarations for officials have become optional, and the Register of Declarations has been closed for public access. As a result, only a third of all civil servants sent information about their income for 2021. In addition, no representative of the Presidential Office or a judge of the Constitutional Court wanted to provide their data, and only 28 MPs from the parliament “dared” to take such actions.
In the case of maintaining the status quo — the effect of martial law and the current version of the law — the number of declarations submitted may be reduced even more. And such a “voluntary” submission will effectively indicate the dismantling of one of the root anti-corruption reforms. During the year of the War, it becomes clear that what seemed to be a justified decision in March-July 2022 is now a serious obstacle to the further implementation of reforms and the future recovery of Ukraine from the consequences of hostilities. And, therefore, let me give you the top 5 arguments why electronic declaration needs to be restored as soon as possible.
- Progress in anti-corruption investigations
At the end of January 2023, Transparency International published the latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index(CPI), where Ukraine scored 33 points out of 100 possible, ranking 116th out of 180 countries represented in this list. Currently, this is the highest indicator of our country in the past 10 years, which indicates that we are showing growth even in the most difficult period of our statehood. But such a result still should not cause excessive joy. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is still at the level of developing countries — next to Angola, Zambia, Mongolia, El Salvador, and the Philippines.
One of the reasons that hinders our progress is the actual closeness of data during martial law in those areas where it does not harm the interests of security and defense. In particular, the absence of an obligation for officials to submit electronic declarations, and for the NACP to check them, creates a significant threat. After all, without access to declarations, it is almost impossible to hold officials accountable for illegal enrichment and publication of false data.
Recent journalistic investigations about the overpricing of products for the military, the likely acquisition by an MP of valuable real estate in the center of Kyiv or the expensive vacations of the Deputy Prosecutor General say it all: corruption in Ukraine has not disappeared anywhere. In addition, it requires more careful efforts not only in the context of punishing the perpetrators, but also to narrow the opportunities for dishonest behavior. It is no secret that corruption is always afraid of the “light.”
- European prospects of Ukraine
With the acquisition of the status of a candidate country for accession to the EU, Ukraine was provided recommendations on 7 blocks of reforms, one of which is strengthening the fight against corruption. To convince all skeptics and get the opportunity to start negotiations on accession, official Kyiv must fulfill all conditions without reservation, not hoping to finish something later.
The text of the recommendations does not explicitly refer to electronic declarations. But in early February 2023, the ambassadors of the EU countries, as well as the G7 countries, called for an immediate restart of this anti-corruption tool. According to diplomats, this “will prevent corruption and strengthen the trust of citizens in the government.”
Implementing the advice and recognizing signals without waiting for ultimatums is an important diplomatic skill that also affects the further preservation of the trust of our international partners.
- New investments and funds for reconstruction
Attracting foreign investment in the economy is a separate, painful conversation. Due to the high level of corruption, the slow pace of reforms of the judiciary, tax system, and law enforcement agencies, Ukraine has long been considered a very risky jurisdiction compared to its more successful neighbors in Central Europe. All this seriously hampered the pace of privatization of public and municipal property because foreign investors did not particularly long to participate in auctions.
Businesses that have refrained from investing in development for years may also refuse long-term investment in the restoration of the destroyed economy if Ukraine does not rush with institutional reforms. Restoring the obligation to declare is only a tiny step in preventing such a scenario.
- Away from moscow
On February 6, 2023, the head of the terrorist state signed a law allowing local MPs of all levels and senators not to publish their incomes in the public domain. Officials of the aggressor country will continue to file declarations of their income and expenses, but will publish only generalized statistical information on the Internet, without personal data. This is due not only to the fact of waging an aggressive war against Ukraine, but also to ordinary laziness of officials. And according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), such legislative manipulations are designed to “calm down political players” who support the Kremlin tyrant.
Instead, Ukraine has chosen the opposite vector of its development, taking a course towards transparency and openness of political processes. Reforms of decentralization, public procurement, the introduction of competitions for civil service positions are a clear proof of this. Already during the martial law, MPs adopted draft law No.7451, where, simplifying the procedures for privatization of public and municipal property, they refused to close the information about the auctions completely.
- Preserving the unity of society during the war
At the end of January 2023, the petition requiring to resume the declaration of the income of officials and MPs was registered on the official website of the President of Ukraine. In a few days, it received almost 28,000 votes and, as we already know, an approving response from the head of state. Such a lightning-fast reaction indicates the high support of society for the continuation of the movement to the accountability of the authorities to the citizens.
Such support is not difficult to understand. While a significant number of Ukrainians are defending the state at the front, volunteering, or transferring funds to the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, it is important to understand that representatives of the power establishment do not seek to illegally enrich themselves. Corruption scandals of recent months rather indicate the opposite.
It was to solve this problem that the Verkhovna Rada registered draft law No.8071 last year, designed to restore the obligation for officials to submit electronic declarations. Last November, it was approved by a specialized parliamentary committee and has since been patiently awaiting the first reading. As we can see, this is what the whole country is waiting for.
I only want to once again urge the MPs not to delay its adoption.