For almost nine months, the Asset Recovery and Management Agency has been operating without a Head of the Agency.

Head of New Year 2020, Oleksii Honcharuk’s Cabinet of Ministers dismissed then-Head of ARMA Anton Yanchuk. At the same time, Vitalii Syhydyn was appointed as Acting Head, and has been performing these functions for over 260 days awaiting the competitive recruitment of a new Head of the Agency.

How has the Agency been doing all this time?

The ARMA tried to select the manager of Ukrainian Media Holding assets, and it eventually managed to conduct the competitive selection. The Agency also tried to manage the equity in PrAT Gastransit, has not resolved the Mezhyhiria situation and launched a register of seized assets in beta mode. It also participated in the development and advocacy of much-needed change to relevant legislation on asset management.

It should be noted here that this agency not only has a highly important role in the system of anti-corruption agencies, but is also the result of Ukraine’s fulfillment of its international commitments. It is probably not great that a central body of executive power with a special status, an agency working on some high-profile assets, has been getting by without an actual Head for almost a year now.

This situation is extremely dangerous on multiple levels. First, this threatens the urgent need to conduct the Agency’s activity strategically.

Of course, there are urgent issues and everyday crises to handle, but a relatively new and often controversial agency must have a development plan. This, among other things, is the task of actual agency management selected through an open transparent competition, not an acting head. 

The manager will be able to guide the team in one direction and focus on the priorities for the next five years. This person will also be responsible for the results of the Agency’s work — or lack thereof.

Currently, the ARMA is “headless.” The reason is obvious stalling of selection of the new Head instead of the temporary appointee. This has already led to a violation of current legislation.

For instance, the Law of Ukraine “On Civil Service” (Art. 31, clause 8) states that the temporary appointment on a vacant position in public office cannot exceed three months.

This period has already passed three times over and continues to this day.

How do we get the appointment of the new Head?

According to the Law of Ukraine “On the ARMA,” the Cabinet of Ministers appoints the Head of the ARMA at the motion of the Prime Minister, who files the nomination of the candidate selected based on competitive recruitment.

This leads to the obvious. To announce competitive recruitment, you need a selection commission. It was the election of its members that became an obstacle for a quick competition. Just like with other relatively new agencies, such a commission is formed by representatives of different branches of power and state institutions. The Ministers of Justice and Finance, the Prosecutor General, the Director of NABU and the Head of Financial Monitoring delegate one person each.

Three more are to be determined by the Verkhovna Rada. Today, it is the only institution that has not met its obligations.

Twice, the Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee elected representatives to vote in the session hall. Each time, civil society had concerns about the candidates, the selection procedure due to special conditions for certain individuals, the chaotic approach to interviews and the surprisingly low understanding of the role and functions of the ARMA demonstrated by the candidates. It is no wonder that both times, the Verkhovna Rada failed the vote — once in the spring and another time in the summer.

The Parliament is obviously not interested in bringing professional, honest candidates into the competition. The approaches we observe at other competitions hardly encourage experts and civil society representatives to participate in the selection. The recent decision concerning the selection commission for Head of the SAPO is a good illustration of the situation.

Will the third attempt to form the commission be successful?

The Anti-Corruption Committee of the Verkhovna Rada announced a “call for applications” for the third time.

The requirements overall are pretty standard: impeccable business standing, good reputation in the society, experience with development or implementation of policies in the sectors of criminal justice or corruption prevention and counteraction.

The candidates are supposed to apply by September 23, following an interview at the Committee meeting. Only then will the vote in the session hall be held.

It is what comes after the commission has been formed that is much harder but much more interesting.

Commission members will have to:

  • announce the call for applications for Head of the ARMA;
  • verify the compliance of documents filed by the candidates with the requirements of the specialized law;
  • assess the professional knowledge and qualities of the candidates by means of testing;
  • conduct interviews with shortlisted candidates.

All of this will happen right before our eyes, since the Commission meetings must be open to the media and the public, and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, too, will have to ensure online streaming of all the meetings.

These steps are necessary to select the new Head of the ARMA.

In any case, the new head of the agency can be expected no earlier than the end of the year. Meanwhile, the National Agency is trying to fully launch the register of seized assets, continues to engage managers for high-profile media holdings and does its best to prevent another failure during the heating season in Lviv oblast, where a heat and power plant is under temporary management that did not undergo special selection as guaranteed by the law.

Will the actual Head of the Agency make the ARMA’s work more systematic and effective in the long run?  That’s quite likely. Will he or she have to resolve even more complex issues? Without a doubt. Considering the significant pressure on other anti-corruption agencies, this “headlessness” may jeopardize the Agency’s work.

This is another reason why the ARMA needs a Head. Every institution needs its own champion because no one knows what will happen tomorrow.