Almost a year ago, on July 1, the law enforcement committee of the Parliament for the first time elected members of the SAPO election commission and offered the Verkhovna Rada to support them in order to start searching for a new head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Right from the start, the Rada failed to approve of the candidates from the committee but, in fact, it was then that this soap opera began which has not yet reached the final.

The importance of the position of the head and deputy head of the SAPO cannot be overestimated. The independence and responsibility of the future head and the issue of what is expected from them are constantly being discussed and emphasized not only by experts and the media but also by MPs themselves as well as international partners.

While the call is being held, Maksym Hryshchuk is the acting head of the institution. However, the position of the acting head of the SAPO in some important powers is limited and even dependent on the Prosecutor General. Therefore, it is the election of a new proper head and the deputy that is of extreme priority and urgent need for the entire anti-corruption infrastructure to operate effectively.

What we have as of today

When the election committee finally decided on the rules and methodology of its work, the test dates for candidates were announced. The test itself for knowledge of the law and general abilities took place at the end of March, after which candidates who successfully passed both tests passed a polygraph test as well. And now we are at the stage of integrity interviews.

According to the “Methodology and Criteria for Evaluating Practical Tasks and Results of an Interview During an Open Call,” which the commission itself approved, the candidate’s compliance with the integrity criterion is evaluated considering the presence or absence of reasonable doubts among the members of the election commission.

The commission’s decisions are made according to the 2+5 scheme. That is, in order for a candidate to pass further, before an interview for professional qualities and a practical task, they must be supported in the call by 2 members of the commission from the Council of Prosecutors (in fact, they are members of the commission proposed by representatives of international partners) and 5 members of the commission appointed by the Verkhovna Rada. The criteria are as follows: correspondence between the income, expenses and property, proper declaration, lifestyle, professional ethics, political neutrality, and other violations of integrity.

It is at this stage that the process has slowed down so far. Why? Because after a week of interviews with 20 candidates, only one turned out to be worthy to go on beyond “reasonable doubt” according to the commission’s vote.

The fact is that the commission often divided its votes — representatives from the Parliament against representatives from the Council of Prosecutors. But still, it was the representatives from the Verkhovna Rada who distinguished themselves the most. They disclosed information based on the results of the polygraph and did not adhere to the criteria for evaluating integrity, which they themselves had previously approved. Double standards in the approach to candidates and even some coordination in voting also took place.

This week, without any warnings or official statements, the commission did not meet once, although the meetings and interviews were supposed to last at least until June 10. We saw only a few messages on the SAPO Facebook page, and there was not even a hint of the reason for such a pause in the call.

What’s next?

Now a possibility for flight of imagination opens up. What will happen next to the call, and what are the consequences of different scenarios?

Let’s try to understand the options.

Option 1. This pause in the call ends soon enough, and interviews with candidates resume. However, will the members of the commission be able to understand what they are here for? Will they start behaving in accordance with all their regalia and professional achievements?

The bottom line is that a significant part of the candidates have already passed integrity interviews, and among them there were clearly worthy ones at least for reaching the next stage. That is, even if the commission “adapts” a little its approaches to evaluating integrity, the pool of potential suitable candidates for the position of head/deputy of the SAPO is already smaller than it should be. Accordingly, the chances of electing an independent and professional head of the SAPO are now lower than they were at the start of this process.

Option 2. The call may remain in this limbo state for a long time if the members of the commission do not get together and come to an understanding. 

Here it is easy to jump to the conclusions that there are people interested in such a scenario. After all, the Prosecutor General will also have a strong influence on the activity of the SAPO, as long as the acting head remains in office. And such limited independence of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office over the past year has already perfectly demonstrated its poor results.

Members of the commission may also decide, for example, that they are tired of such meaningless waiting and withdraw from the commission.

Of course, there is also option 3: this call did not shoot up — let’s start the next one. 

In addition to the previously described risk of delaying the final selection of the head/deputy and continuing the influence of the Prosecutor General on the work of the SAPO, the announcement of the next or a new call according to the same principles that are prescribed in the legislation now looks quite ineffective. For one thing, the decisive vote should have the independent commission members and not the representatives of the Parliament who themselves were elected in violation of the active legislative standards. Moreover, it is necessary to provide for greater independence of the acting head of the SAPO from the Prosecutor General’s Office while the call is taking place.

The main thing in this whole process is that a professional, strong, and highly independent head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office is a vital necessity for the adequate functioning of the entire system.

The president and many parliamentarians have repeatedly promised that such a leader will be chosen as a result of the call. So, where are the actions that support this big talk? We are waiting for the next episode.