Ukraine aspires to the EU, and the electronic declaration was a step towards it. However, after February 24, MPs made the submission of declarations voluntary. How did the EU react to this, and would it be possible to restore such an obligation? Let’s try to figure it out.
In June 2022, the European Union granted Ukraine the status of an EU candidate. We have received 7 recommendations from the European Commission, which must be implemented so as not to lose the candidate status. Moreover, their successful implementation will allow us to move on to the next step on the path of European integration — the actual negotiations on accession to the EU.
One of the 7 recommendations concerns the effective investigation of high-profile corruption. The Commission recommends further strengthening of the fight against corruption, in particular at a high level. And this should be done precisely by ensuring a proactive and effective investigation. Electronic declarations of officials would be very helpful here.
In the February independent monitoring of the implementation of the EU recommendations by a consortium of specialized analytical centers and civil society organizations, including Transparency International Ukraine, the implementation of the above recommendation received 7 points out of 10 possible. And the resumption of electronic declaration seems to be one of the priority actions that Ukraine has yet to take in this area.
The fact is that the functioning of the electronic declaration regime can not only contribute to the prevention of corruption, but also help with the punishment for it. And this is not only about the current article of the Criminal Code, with a prison sentence for a serious lie in the declaration or its failure to submit it. Declarations submitted by officials can also reveal signs of illicit enrichment, for which a separate criminal punishment is provided — even with a longer term of imprisonment. During the verification, it is also possible to expose alleged unjustified assets or conflicts of interest.
However, all this can remain in the dark.
In connection with the introduction of martial law, the submission of declarations was postponed until its abolition. Verifications of declarations by the NACP were suspended. The register of declarations was closed for public access. This not only has a cooling effect on the activities of the public and investigative journalists, but also directly affects the effectiveness of anti-corruption bodies.
After all, now, in March 2023, not all declarations of officials even for 2021 are available in the register because the deadline for submitting annual declarations is April 1, and many did not have time to fill out their declaration before the start of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. The declarations of senior officials are especially lacking.
In addition, a new April 1 is coming — the deadline for officials to submit their declarations for 2022. However, this obligation was again removed due to the unprovoked aggression of the terrorist country. And we have every reason to believe that there will be even fewer declarations submitted for 2022 than for 2021. And if there are no declarations, including those of senior officials, how can they be checked and then how to investigate potential high-profile corruption?
Ukraine should answer this question by adopting draft law 8071, which has been gathering dust in the Rada since the autumn of last year. It provides, in particular, for the restoration of the obligation to submit declarations not within 90 days after the end of martial law, but within 60 days from the date of entry into force of the law, which is a positive step.
That is why, the investigation of high-profile corruption with the help of an up-to-date electronic declaration tool should be unlocked as soon as possible. This will allow Ukraine to additionally positively report to the EU on the implementation of the recommendations received from the European Commission.
The fight against corruption is one of the EU requirements for Ukraine’s European integration. It cannot be postponed because of its “being irrelevant” — we need to act now because the analysis of the declaration after its submission also takes time. And the longer this is postponed, the greater the “snowball” of simultaneously completed declarations will have to be dealt with by anti-corruption bodies.
Parliamentarians should think of the effectiveness of investigations against potential senior corrupt officials and reintroduce electronic declaration in Ukraine, as well as take another step towards membership in the European Union. We’re all looking forward to it.