Executive director of TI Ukraine, exclusively for Ukrainska Pravda

How has the situation with corruption in Ukraine changed during Petro Poroshenko’s term? It is hard to find objective criteria. But let’s look at the country’s progress in Corruption Perceptions Index, compiled annually by Transparency International.

We gained 7 points and rose from the shameful place 144 to the somewhat less sad place 120. We got ahead of Russia, but that’s the only neighbor we beat. We are still the worst in Europe. Still, we crossed the 30-point threshold, which means that the country has started trying to fight corruption.

We have been moving in the right direction, but very slowly. We have arrived at what we call “the most transparent corruption in the world.” Innovations make it possible for everyone to see everything – everything other than actual convictions and fair rules for everyone.

Our Anti-Corruption Way

Five years ago, when Yanukovych ran away, we believed that we would change Ukraine quickly. But the war set us back, taking away our energy and attention. We also overrated how willing the new authorities were to implement change.

And yet, we started the war against corruption, too. The Parliament adopted a package of crucial anti-corruption laws back in October 2014, under pressure fro the society and international partners. These laws became the basis for formation of anti-corruption agencies and promoting transparency in various sectors.

MPs adopted the country’s anti-corruption strategy for 2014-2017. As early as in 2015, the newly created NABU and SAPO started pre-trial investigation in their first criminal proceedings.

In 2015, the Ministry of Healthcare assigned procurement of medication as part of 12 governmental programs to three international organizations – UNICEF, UNDP and Crown Agents.

In the middle of 2016, the National Agency for Corruption Prevention started functioning. The obligatory electronic declaration of public officials started functioning.

Since 1 August 2016, all public procurement takes place in the innovative ProZorro system, developed thanks to the triangle of the government, the business and the civil society. It was Transparency International Ukraine that administered the system before transferring it to the government.

The Asset Recover and Management Agency started functioning, not only finding hidden assets, but also assigning their managers and selling property of potentially corrupt officials seized as part of criminal proceedings.

During 2015 – 2016, Ukrainians gained access to a number of databases – on public procurement, a registry of legal entities and private entrepreneurs, city development documentation etc.

The court reform, the PGO reform and the police reform started – even though, now, we can rather say they were all failures.

All of this became part of dramatic change in the country. Why did the authorities do this? Perhaps, active military action and economic threats made Poroshenko and his team concede internally, understanding that there would be no chance to withstand Russian attacks without international support.

The stronger Ukraine was becoming in its fight against Russia, the more difficult this interaction became. Instead of viewing the public as partners, the authorities started viewing them as enemies.

The Parliament supported electronic declarations for anti-corruption activists. A lot of unworthy candidates ended up on the Supreme Court.

The politically influenced NACP only started the e-declaration system under the pressure of the public and international partners, however, it is not currently meeting its corruption prevention commitments.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) continues “investigating” corruption.

The “dark” side quickly realized how powerful the newly created agencies are. It has already taken us almost three years to launch the Anti-Corruption Court.

The Age of Political Will to Fight Corruption?

Now, there will be a new administration again. The priorities of the civil society remain the same, though.

We expect the new president to at least preserve the past achievements. Better yet, to develop them. Here are some steps we are counting on:

  1. Initiate and support the reboot of the NACP.

The NACP has unique authority, and its work is regulated by advanced legislation. And yet, the Agency fails to demonstrate expected results.

The Parliament should adopt a law enabling to form a new composition of the NACP. Independent international experts must be engaged in this process.

The new model of NACP’s work must be free of collegiality in management. External audit of the agency’s work should function properly.

  1. Provide creation of the Financial Investigation Service.

The SBU and the National Police should be stripped of authority to investigate economic crimes. The Law of Ukraine “On Security Service of Ukraine” must be amended to eliminate provisions allowing the service to pressure business under the pretext of fighting economic crimes.

Other law enforcement agencies should be stripped of similar authority, too. The Financial Investigation Service should be created instead.

  1. Continue the prosecution reform. 

Transparency International Ukraine has reiterated numerous times that the SAPO’s credibility should be restored after the so-called “fish tank scandal.”

To restore this credibility, the management can be replaced through a new procedure.

The SAPO should also be made more independent, for instance, it should obtain the status of a separate legal entity, with the procedural status of the head reinforced.

  1. Continue the public procurement reform. 

Procurement reform has made Ukraine famous worldwide. ProZorro is one of the biggest global innovations. But it cannot resolve corruption alone. It makes everything open and reduces the space for corruption, but an effective oversight system is required to make these innovations worth it.

The next logical step would be a reform of the State Audit Service, since it is exactly the agency tasked with effective oversight and monitoring of the procurement sector.

How Can You Ruin Everything?

Use political will when it benefits you personally.

In one day, on 12 May 2016, the Parliament amended a law to enable a close associate of the President to be appointed as the Prosecutor General.

To help Poroshenko nominate Lutsenko for PGO, a special urgent issue of the official parliamentary newspaper Holos Ukrainy was printed, including this law. It took the Parliament but half an hour to adopt the law.

Meanwhile, we spent almost three years on advocacy of the Anti-Corruption Court, all the while hearing the explanation that the issue was not with the absence of political will, it was just the circumstances.

Stop halfway

Ukraine saw a number of half-made decisions, such as the police reform with a pretty cover in the form of the patrol service and a number of isolated changes.

What about those who are in office? I cannot say the system has fully changed. Only about 15% are ready to be proactive, others, not so much.

Compromise and prioritize personal interests.

A compromise is when you say you will dismiss the head of Kherson oblast, but instead, he resigns by himself.

Or when deputy head of the National Defense and Security Council, your friend, is not fired after a scandal in the defense sector, but resigns instead.

Or when your political ally is not even remotely qualified, but you appoint him the head of the PGO.

Or when you recruit your billionaire friend as a deputy in the Administration.

These compromises, quite a few over the past five years, have become one of the key reasons for Poroshenko’s loss.

Afterword

The challenges and tasks that the new president will face are completely different from 2014. The course of action and the priorities will certainly be different. What will they be? We will find out soon enough.

We are ready to work with the new administration to reform the country, we are ready to listen to explanations about things that don’t work and help them overcome obstacles.

We should be ready to suggest alternative solutions, to implement them and to act often despite the unofficial political stance of public officials.

We should be ready to suggest alternative solutions, to implement them and to act often despite the unofficial political stance of public officials. 

Andrii Borovyk, ED