For more than a year after the obligation to declare the assets was abolished, some officials began to think that submitting declarations is at all prohibited. This once again has shown why it is so important to restore electronic declaration as soon as possible.
Recently, during a press conference, Roman Klichuk, the mayor of Chernivtsi, in response to a question whether he would file a declaration of assets for 2022, said:
“I just know it’s forbidden, it’s not being submitted now. But I am not hiding, there are no difficulties in submitting a declaration. I just haven’t thought about it. If at the legally stipulated time I have to submit a declaration, I will definitely submit it.”
Whether the Chernivtsi mayor confused something, or the full-scale invasion has lasted for too long, but the story of the prohibition of declaration is not true. Although such a position may be convenient for some, it is hardly convenient for a country at war.
The fact is that in the seven years after the launch, electronic declaration has proved to be one of the most effective mechanisms for preventing corruption among officials. And its publicity helped keep the official “disciplined” because any journalist, activist, or Ukrainian citizen could find out what property they owned, and where it came from.
The introduction of e-declaration in Ukraine was a real breakthrough of the anti-corruption reform. Thus, regularly reporting on their assets, declarants confirmed their integrity to taxpayers, and sometimes even were held legally responsible for corrupt acts. It was thanks to the declaration that such offenses as unjustified assets and illicit enrichment could be detected. For the latter, the official could even be prosecuted.
Now, it is unknown whether officials will be prosecuted because the facts of such illicit enrichment can simply escape the public eye.
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion of russia in Ukraine, the mandatory declaration was suspended until the end of martial law. The relevant amendments were introduced to the Law “On Protection of Interests of Reporting Entities and Other Documents during the Period of Martial Law or State of War.”
For its part, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention published a clarification in which it noted: “…until the victory over the ruscist invaders and the end of martial law, declaration entities should not waste time filling in and submitting a declaration and(or) notification of significant changes in the property status, but should make all possible efforts aimed at protecting their freedom, peace in Europe and the world, and the defense of the Ukrainian state.”
In another clarification, the NACP once again affirmed: “…victory first, then declaration and verification.”
Thus, the mandatory submission of declarations by officials was abolished. But what seemed obvious and crucial in March last year, today is not. Although the full-scale war continues, the fight against corruption and our European integration remain among the priorities, and the declaration of officials plays an important role in this.
It is important to emphasize that even last year, no one forbade submitting declarations, this obligation was voluntary. Therefore, either Mr. Klichuk is not entirely honest in his answer, or he just read the law a long time ago, but his answer to the journalist has nothing to do with reality. And it creates some inconvenience for him as well.
The same amendments last year provided that after the end of martial law, officials will have three months to submit declarations for all years for which they have not yet reported. However, back then, no one could predict how long the war would last, and what problems this can create for declarants and those who will check their declarations.
Unfortunately, the full-scale war has been going on for more than a year, so, officials may not submit declarations for 2 years, since the full-scale invasion caught us in the midst of the declaration campaign for 2021. Of course, there is no need to wait — everyone can submit their declarations at any time without looking at the deadlines. However, statistics indicate that such an opportunity is used by very few officials.
The NACP regularly updates data on the dynamics of declaring, and recently, the number of declarations submitted has been growing by about 10,000 every week. According to the latest data, 378,638 people filed their declarations for 2021; 231,644 declarants reported for 2022. Among them, for example, ministers, MPs, judges, and senior officials constitute a total minority.
Adding insult to injury, Ukraine has been rocked by several corruption scandals over the past few months that could have been detected earlier thanks to data from declarations. For example, a journalistic investigation by Ukrainska Pravda into the possible acquisition of valuable real estate in the center of Kyiv by MP Pavlo Halimon. Or the alleged illegal receipt of gifts by the Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksii Symonenko, data on which was published by journalist Mykhailo Tkach.
And this is amid the regular closure of cases regarding false declarations due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Thus, in the last couple of months alone, MPs Marharyta Shol, Mykhailo Volynets, and Anna Kolisnyk have avoided responsibility. Their cases concerned data in declarations for 2020; it’s not difficult to imagine how the investigation of violations for years when it was not necessary to declare assets will be conducted.
All these facts testify to one thing: the lack of obligation to declare the property creates favorable conditions for corruption offenses and gives corrupt officials a sense of impunity. This situation is unacceptable even in peacetime, not to mention war.
International partners of Ukraine are also paying attention to this problem. Thus, in the recently published memorandum of Ukraine with the IMF, one of the obligations that our country has pledged to fulfill by the end of July this year is the adoption of a law on the restoration of the declaration for public officials who are not directly involved in mobilization and hostilities, as well as the resumption of the NACP’s function to verify these declarations.
There is no need to reinvent a wheel! Back in September last year, the Parliament registered draft law No.8071, which is designed to restore the obligation for officials to submit electronic declarations. This document also provides for exceptions for officials who were unable to report on income and assets due to the performance of tasks in the interests of national security and defense of Ukraine, direct participation in hostilities, or other circumstances caused by the military aggression of russia.
Of course, this draft law can be finalized before the second reading to make it even better in terms of responding to the challenges of wartime. The presence of such a document shows a real search for ways to solve the problem, but the delay in its adoption indicates the unwillingness of the MPs to share data about their property. By the way, among the MPs, 39 people submitted their declarations for 2021. And for 2022 — only 21.
That is why we at Transparency International Ukraine, along with other representatives of the public sector, have repeatedly called on the parliament to adopt relevant changes to the legislation. By the way, draft law No. 8071 is not the only such initiative of MPs. Alternative ideas are being discussed in the parliament, which can also fully solve this important anti-corruption problem.
Therefore, currently, the Rada has various opportunities to fulfill the IMF’s requirements and restore Ukraine’s key anti-corruption safeguard — the mandatory electronic declaration of officials. One should simply use them because the longer we delay this, the more officials will forget about this form of reporting to society, lose the habit of it, or even decide that the declarations are prohibited.
The project is supported by the EU Anti-Corruption Initiative (EUACI) – the leading anti-corruption support program in Ukraine funded by the EU, co-funded, and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The views expressed by the material do not necessarily represent official views of the EUACI, European Union, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.