VoxUkraine launches a series of interviews with the experts from the Index for Monitoring Reforms (iMoRe) project. Each one of them is a specialist in specific questions, extremely important for Ukraine, – anti-corruption, taxes, bank and judicial systems and others. Oleksandr Kalitenko is an analyst at Transparency International Ukraine, he deals with analysis of anti-corruption policies and regularly evaluates the progress of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine as a part of the iMoRe project.

In the four years since the launch of the Index 102 progressive laws and regulations aimed at anti-corruption were approved in Ukraine. 2015 was the most productive year: 57 anti-corruption reforms were adopted. During the following years we saw a constant decline.

According to the latest report by Transparency International, Ukraine has somewhat improved its results in the Corruption Perceptions Index and got 32 points out of 100 possible. What do you think this result is connected with? Is it a good result?

Ukraine got 2 points more than last year. We at Transparency International Ukraine think that it is connected with the automatic VAT reimbursements and ProZorro. The sales continued, the business saw a bit less corruption due to the work of the Business Ombudsman Council.

Every year, Transparency International Ukraine gives recommendations as to what should be done by the Ukrainian government in order to make a leap in the rating and achieve the cherished dream of getting into top 50 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index by 2020. But I want to emphasize especially that the important thing is not getting into the top 50, but the points themselves, because the number of countries accounted in the Index may change, some of them will rise, others will fall. The spot in the rating tells us much less than the score. As for the amount of points, we are well behind others.

Which recommendations from Transparency International Ukraine we did not follow last year?

Unfortunately, they stay the same year in and year out: rebooting of the NACP, giving the NABU autonomous wiretapping, stripping SBU of their powers to fight corruption due to the fact that these powers are uncharacteristic of national security services and do not correspond to the NATO standards, for example.

This year, we recommended to reboot the management of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Also, we suggest making the process of checking declarations automated; the system is supposed to work in the way that was established by the law back in 2014.

As a whole, we have more than 10 recommendations this year – we remain cautiously optimistic, although we understand that during the election year chances for their implementation are lower.

If Ukraine was able to complete all the recommendations, how many extra points could we get?

There are cases when a country can get 6, 7, even 8 points in one year! In 2013 Ukraine had 25 points, now we have 32 points – we got 7 points not in one year, but in 5. This is not a desirable tempo of reforms for a country where the authorities proclaimed the fight against corruption to be the number one priority.

Which countries made a large leap in the Index during the recent years?

The Czech Republic, Greece, Austria, Albania, the UK, Senegal, Argentina are among the top performers. They got 6 and more points in the recent years. So, there’s nothing impossible for Ukraine.

In your opinion, how can we measure corruption except for polling?

Corruption perception is more fit for measurement than the level of corruption itself. Corruption is a thing that is deliberately disguised. If we were to measure it by the amount of verdicts or allegations that are directed by law enforcement agencies or by the number of scandals in journalistic investigations, we would be detecting the level of the media and law enforcement efforts, not the level of corruption perceptions.

For that reason, the Corruption Perceptions Index is based upon polling of experts, entrepreneurs and established international organizations. 13 studies in total. That way, the Index expresses a more balanced, measured attitude in each country, despite different political regimes.

We need at least three sources for a country to appear in the Corruption Perceptions Index. In Ukraine’s case, we add up the results of nine sources.

Despite the good news – for example, Ukraine’s rise in the Corruption Perceptions Index – mass media are more inclined to write about how corrupt the country is. Do the journalists exaggerate? 

We studied the research into the display of corruption in mass media, which was commissioned by USAID/ENGAGE in Ukraine. There were some interesting observations.

First of all, 80% of reports in mass media place emphasis on the message that Ukraine is a corrupt country and don’t suggest any possible solutions. Secondly, the share of specialists that talk about corruption professionally is 20%. The remaining 80% provide quasi-expert opinions which may make people think that corruption is boundless and constantly growing.

When journalists report on corruption incidents, so-called “success stories,” they are simply showing the law enforcement agencies doing their job. At the same time, mass media do not pay attention to the contributions of the civil society and do not tell a consistent story with the entire development and conclusion. An average person may get a reasonable impression that corruption stays unpunished.

The Internet is the main channel for reporting on corruption. TV broadcasts, which remain the most popular channel of information for Ukrainians, highlight corruption much less than the Internet. The subject of corruption in business is rarely addressed. We barely hear about the schemes which the business employs and which are connected to political corruption.

When asked, 47% of people are not able to answer which public authority is supposed to fight corruption. If we are asking about trust for newly created anti-corruption bodies, the NABU is the leader, the NACP has lower results. This figure is usually between 10% and 17%.

When Ukrainians hear the questions about the harm of corruption for the society, they agree that corruption is harmful. But on the individual level it is validated – when a person needs to “settle” some things, this method is perceived as valid. When people hear that a certain amount of money was stolen from the budget, it does not occur to them that the money is theirs, that it comes from their taxes.

The interesting fact is, people recognize that in certain spheres the corruption has decreased, for example, in healthcare, in reporting to tax authorities, Administrative Service Centers. So, people think that corruption has become more widespread, but at the same time they think that in certain spheres it has lessened.

Which sectors of the Ukrainian society are the most corrupt?

State-owned enterprises. According to the information from the NABU, this is one of the main sources of corruption in Ukraine.

How often do you encounter corruption and how do you deal with it?

Last year we ran a communication campaign “I don’t bribe” and I wrote about my own experience as part of the flashmob. I needed a vaccination certificate for my first trip abroad. The doctor demanded a bribe and, of course, I declined.

Why do you think Ukraine became this corrupted after the collapse of USSR?

One of the largest obstacles in fighting corruption in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the so-called “state capture”, where influential private individuals or groups take control over decision-making in the country and use corrupt methods in order to avoid justice. This discredits the government and international organizations in the eyes of people, which leads to an even larger level of corruption.

We have widespread petty corruption, when a person perceives a bribe as a simple token of appreciation. Also, I remember studies that are still conducted, which show that almost a third of respondents say that bribery is a national feature and corruption in Ukraine is undefeatable despite all the efforts.

If we look at the case from a different angle and look into how many people are ready to report corruption, it will turn out that right after Maidan the number was just 13%. This is an extremely low percentage if we compare it with 90% in Western and Northern Europe. This influences the total amount of corruption accordingly.

Even after information campaigns that explain that a whistleblower is not a snitch or a ratter, but a guard of the public interest, the number of people ready to report corruption rose to 35-40%. But that is only readiness – in reality, only 2% report corruption. So, we made the change in perception, but not in actions. This is something we should work on. Psychologists estimate that we need at least 15 years in order to change the attitude to corruption.

By the way, two years ago the question was “Is the governmental anti-corruption policy effective?”, now it is “Does the governmental anti-corruption policy even exist?”. That’s the answer.

What are the largest challenges in anti-corruption activity right now?

First of all, the main challenge is forming a competent independent constitution of the Anti-Corruption Court. The Anti-Corruption Court is the mechanism that is able to complete the line of the NABU, the SAPO, and to ensure that the punishment is unavoidable. We have contributed to the advocacy of this cause. The law came a long and thorny way, but was approved in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

Right now we are monitoring the enrollment to the Anti-Corruption Court, have already checked profiles and court rulings of the candidates, formed a list and gave it to the Public Council of International Experts and the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine. As a result of the interviews, 42 candidates were filtered out immediately because of the veto right, which was almost 37% of all candidates left in the competition. Without this mechanism they would be able to continue, possibly get the job and make decisions in the cases led by NABU.

What does the next president need to do in order to fight corruption?

First of all, to have a strong political will, high-flown as it may sound. Right now we have a ton of talks and promises, and later the actions will attest to the contrary. I’ll give an example.

In his annual speech in front of MPs, the President said that e-declarations of public activists were a mistake that had to be fixed. This was supported by the statements from international organizations and foreign high-ranking officials, yet, eventually Verkhovna Rada did not get enough votes even to prolong the time frame, let alone cancel the discriminatory requirements. Now, when the case is being considered at the Constitutional Court, the president was not even able to provide his legal stance on whether the norms are constitutional.

So, having the political will and not using the dialogue with public for whitewashing the decisions that will hurt the country are the main things.

Interviewed by Lyudmyla Halychyna, VoxUkraine communication manager

When Ukrainians hear the questions about the harm of corruption for the society, they agree that corruption is harmful. But on the individual level it is validated – when a person needs to “settle” some things, this method is perceived as valid. When people hear that a certain amount of money was stolen from the budget, it does not occur to them that the money is theirs, that it comes from their taxes.

Oleksandr Kalitenko, policy analysis expert, Transparency International Ukraine