For two years now, Ukrainians have been travelling on board of the plane whose crew commander is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This period was remembered both for the turbo mode and for passing through a number of turbulence zones. Despite the blue sky in the porthole, in some places it seemed that a catastrophe could not be avoided. In particular, in the fight against corruption.
A take-off full of emotions and concerns
In 2019, a plane with the Ukrainian flag on its side came out with partially filled tanks, a relatively call-ready crew on board, and significant support on the ground.
In matters of anti-corruption, Zelenskyy did not need to build a complex ecosystem from scratch and invent new routes. Although there was a vast horizon of tasks and challenges ahead, the basic anti-corruption infrastructure in Ukraine had been already functioning despite the storms and icy runways.
At the time Zelenskyy received presidential powers, the NABU, the SAPO, the NACP, and the ARMA had been working for several years. Under the youngest Ukrainian president, one anti-corruption body was launched — the High Anti-Corruption Court, but preparations had been made for this launch even before Zelenskyy.
In addition, Ukraine has implemented numerous sector reforms by opening registers, digitizing certain processes and providing new opportunities for citizens and businesses. For instance, Prozorro, Prozorro.Sale, eHealth etc. have been launched
Flight status: altitude gained
According to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Ukraine’s indicators have increased by 3 points. With 33 points out of a possible 100, we were ranked 117th out of 180 countries.
Such a level of altitude became possible because it covered the initial stage of Zelenskyy’s flight — turbo mode with a mono-majority in the Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers. And it did not touch upon the severe turbulence — the adoption of scandalous laws, the decision of the Constitutional Court and the reaction to them, wildly unjustified appointments to leading government positions…
The most significant victories are the launch of the High Anti-Corruption Court with appropriate jurisdiction and the restart of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention.
In general, in the fall of 2019, the president was submitting draft laws to the parliament in bundles, and the Rada also was adopting them in bundles. These are the second procurement revolution, transparent and accountable lease of state and municipal property, responsibility for illegal enrichment, the long-awaited improvement of Criminal Procedure legislation, strengthening the protection of whistleblowers and prevention of political corruption.
At the same time, many experts at that time noted that top officials of the Government of Oleksii Honcharuk were really not spotted in corruption schemes.
The first zones of turbulence and loss of benchmarks
Soon after the successful start of the flight, passengers experienced unpleasant emotions. They witnessed pressure on anti-corruption institutions, interference in investigation and judicial review of top corruption cases, the failure of the government to overcome the crisis of constitutional justice, an attempt to destroy principles in the field of public procurement, tougher and more cynical attacks on activists at the national level.
Despite some preliminary training and self-confidence, Zelenskyy’s plane began to crack at the seams. Constant being in areas with different pressures tore both the crew and the machinery itself.
Roadmap: how to get back on the route
At some point, it began to seem that due to constant pressure drops and lack of oxygen, the crew led by Zelensky temporarily lost touch with reality and forgot about the purpose of the flight.
This is an opportunity for us, the passengers, to remind President Zelenskyy and his team about the check-list. We all want to reach our destination safely and lead a quality life and enjoy equality.
- To ensure independence and viability of the anti-corruption infrastructure.
The effectiveness of the anti-corruption ecosystem is based on the professionalism and independence of its participants. Only with this understanding can the infrastructure evolve and be pushed forward. That’s why it’s so important:
To exclude political influence on the appointment of managers and their work. In the third year of the flight, as many as two bodies do not have sound managers — the SAPO and the ARMA. The manager of the third one (the NABU) ends his term in office in less than a year.
And if the selection of the leaders of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office is already at the last stage, the Asset Recovery and Management Agency has been without a head for a year and a half.
As for the NABU director, the government, the president, and MPs submitted dozens of options for future selection to the parliament, and among these documents there are even potentially good ones. It is not known when they will be accepted.
To ensure an effective system of checks and balances for independence of the anti-corruption infrastructure from administrative and political pressure. Streams of draft laws that contradict the principle of separation of government branches enshrined in the Constitution are whirling in the direction of the Rada. Prosecutor General Venediktova and the Presidential Office have repeatedly questioned the independence of anti-corruption institutions.
Just think about the corruption story of the deputy head of the Presidential Office Oleh Tatarov, whose case Iryna Venediktova practically buried with a number of her decisions and an appeal to the “alternative” Pechersk court. And the crew commander didn’t even remove him from his post.
At the same time, we should not forget about conducting a full-fledged independent external audit of the work of anti-corruption institutions and making it regular. This is the only way to find out how effective these bodies are in general, and to eliminate doubts about the need for an anti-corruption system as a whole.
- To introduce transparent and accountable management of public assets and guarantee further development of the procurement sector.
It’s good that the crew of our aircraft in this direction does not postpone life for later. In March, the Parliament resumed holding auctions for the sale of large-scale privatization objects. Therefore, the State Property Fund will again be able to sell state property, the value of which exceeds UAH 250 mln. Now it’s time for asset preparation and transparent and efficient auctions.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done in this sector for anti-corruption activist Zelenskyy. It is necessary:
To disclose information about state-owned objects. To develop a new Register of State-Owned Objects as an affordable and convenient tool for visualizing and searching for objects.
To improve the shpere of procurement in accordance with international commitments. To minimize the risks of adopting draft laws that contradict the Law of Ukraine “On Public Procurement” and/or expand the list of exceptions. To ensure effective control and monitoring of procurement by the State Audit Service.
- To form a professional and independent judiciary.
A corrupt judicial system remains the biggest threat to the sustainability of reforms in all areas. Last year, the President and Parliament tried several times to start a painful but necessary process of change. Although the MPs adopted the first presidential draft law in 2019, the High Council of Justice actually blocked its implementation. In addition, on March 11, 2020, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine declared the main provisions of this law unconstitutional.
The next attempt to start the reform was also initiated by the president, but it was mercilessly criticized by the Venice Commission and experts. The crisis of constitutional justice, which began on October 27, 2020, and has not actually been overcome so far, only once again pointed out all the bugs of the existing judicial system.
Therefore, once again we have to repeat that in order to relieve tension on board and give passengers a chance for a fair life, it is necessary:
To select a virtuous composition of the High Council of Justice with the participation of the international community and public experts. To update the composition of the High Qualification Commission of Judges, taking into account the best practices of conducting competitive procedures.
To abolish the Kyiv Administrative Court. Certain categories of cases under the jurisdiction of this court should be referred to the Supreme Court or the newly created administrative court for consideration of cases at the national level. The draft law on the abolition of the KAC is already in the Parliament.
To systematically reform the constitutional court proceedings, taking into account all the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The flight continues, visibility worsens
It appears that every Ukrainian president at one time or another found himself in a situation where he was forced to make the right, albeit unpleasant or inconvenient, global choice. And when he didn’t, then, like Yanukovych, he was inevitably wrecked.
For Zelenskyy, such a challenge was precisely the anti-corruption and judicial reforms. They can’t be implemented separately, just as they can’t be implemented in half. They directly affect the inclusiveness of Zelenskyy’s current government and his team, but a lot depends on full-fledged anti-corruption and judicial reforms both for the country and for the president.
As you can see, Zelenskyy’s second year was very difficult. It seems that our president has his head in the clouds, although theoretically, he knows where and how to fly.
The president must understand that behind every pilot, even the first one, there is a large group of professionals (or even villains). The lives of passengers and a soft landing depend on engineers, mechanics, dispatchers, and even flight attendants who either serve martinis with olives or save people. Because despite the illusion of omnipotence, flying and landing is a complex task requiring team work.
How is that with you, Mr. President?