To tell about corruption is a very brave step because the whistleblower often depends financially or professionally on whom he exposes.
Our story is about how a successful manager of a large state-owned enterprise tried to report possible corruption on the part of the head at a large state-owned enterprise, but was unable to defend the truth to the end. Despite his long struggle and supposedly the protection of the state, he was fired.
This is the story of how Oleh Polishchuk became a whistleblower.
The first part — when everything is going well
In March 2014, Oleh Polishchuk started working at SE “NNEGC “Energoatom” as the director of preventing and countering corruption, and in addition, as an advisor to the company’s president.
The position is not a small one, since “Energoatom” is one of the largest state enterprises of Ukraine. It is the company responsible for the safe production of all nuclear energy in Ukraine and provides 55% of Ukrainians’ electricity needs (in autumn and winter period, this figure reaches 70%). And like any state enterprise with thousands of employees, “Energoatom” is a place with great potential for corruption.
Despite a number of challenges, there was no fear — from the very beginning, he became active and showed success.
For seven years, Polishchuk created and ensured the work of an effective anti-corruption compliance service. Thus, SE “NNEGC “Energoatom” became the first among state enterprises to sign a Memorandum with NGO “Transparent Procurement” for building a transparent and efficient public procurement system in Ukraine. This happened on October 31, 2014 — that is, before the Prozorro system was launched.
With Polishchuk in charge of the anti-corruption service, “Energoatom” was the first state-owned enterprise to independently develop and introduce an anti-corruption program — this happened as early as the summer of 2015.
In 2016, it was “Energoatom” that took the first place in Transparency International Ukraine’s study of the largest private and state companies “Corporate Reporting Transparency “. The anti-corruption program of SE “NNEGC “Energoatom” was recognized as the best among similar documents of Ukrainian SEs.
In July 2019 Oleh Polishchuk ensured the signing of the Memorandum of Partnership between “Energoatom” and the Ukrainian Network of Integrity and Compliance (UNIC), whose ideology is ethical and responsible business conduct. In 2019, the Directorate for Prevention and Counteraction of Corruption headed by Polishchuk won first place in the category “Best Compliance Department” in the rating of the publication “Legal Practice.” And Polishchuk himself won the “Best Compliance Officer” award in 2018 and 2020 as part of an annual competition from the same “Legal Practice”.
This would have continued if… Oleh Polishchuk had not decided to report facts of possible corruption at the company.
The second part — when something went wrong
On July 2, 2020, Polishchuk sent a report to the National Agency on Corruption Prevention and the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine about a possible violation of the Law of Ukraine “On the Prevention of Corruption” by Petro Kotin, interim president of “Energoatom”. The reaction came instantly, but not from the government — on the same day Kotin initiated an official investigation with simultaneous dismissal of Polishchuk.
Earlier, the situation might have been resolved quickly, sadly and predictably, at that time in Ukraine for six months, there was updated legislation that provided protection for all corruption whistleblowers. This law prohibits any discrimination against corruption whistleblowers, including their dismissal and release. This law should also protect Oleh Polishchuk.
First, everything was encouraging. The NACP took up the work. In August 2020, the Agency decided to review compliance with anticorruption legislation at SE “NNEGC “Energoatom”. But already on August 18, 2020, Petro Kotin violated the legislation again and didn’t allow NACP specialists to carry out the audit. In response, NACP issued two warrants, the Cabinet of Ministers, to which “Energoatom” directly reports, decided to conduct an official investigation against Petro Kotin.
But Kotin was never brought to justice. And in particular — thanks to the unfortunate decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine on October 27, 2020, when a number of NACP’s powers were revoked, including the conduct of inspections and protection of whistleblowers. Kotin remained in office, the investigation of his likely corruption offenses didn’t come to a logical end, and Polishchuk… was fired.
And that would be OK — has it ever happened before that too honest employee was fired for his honesty? Let me remind you that “Energoatom” is an enterprise that in recent years has been on every list of the most transparent and intolerant of corruption. And the illegal dismissal of the director for prevention and counteraction of corruption ruins the reputation of a large and seemingly progressive state company.
Apparently, because the leadership is ready to fight corruption, as long as this fight does not affect them.
Oleh Polishchuk is already preparing to appeal his dismissal in court and is generally optimistic. According to him, the National Police is investigating all the details of the unlawful dismissal of the corruption detector in “Energoatom,” and the court must set the record straight in this story.
The final part — when everything goes haywire
The decision to expose corruption is not an easy one. The norms on protection of whistleblowers in the Law “On Prevention of Corruption” should facilitate this process. However, even a year after entering into force, they are being violated, and Oleh Polishchuk’s story only confirms this.
An updated law on the protection of whistleblowers, which the Verkhovna Rada considered on February 4, could improve the situation. It envisaged the creation of a Single Whistleblower Portal, clarification the possibility of receiving rewards for reporting corruption, and a number of other useful things that would make the life of potential whistleblowers much easier.
However, in the parliamentary hall, everything changed dramatically, and the MPs voted for critical amendments, rejected by the profile committee, which could have crossed out all previous achievements at all. And this “corrected” document the MPs adopted by a majority vote.
And now, according to the law, the whistleblower must know “with certainty” and confirm the facts of corruption offense and to pass such information exactly to the head of the institution in which he works. At the same time, the whistleblower also must know “with certainty” that the head was not involved in the offense. That is, for example, now Oleh Polishchuk’s colleague will not be able to expose the violations of the head of the internal channel because the law does not provide another body of the highest level, where it would be possible to report internally! It turns out that the new law has actually destroyed the very possibility of such exposure.
A number of NGOs, including Transparency International Ukraine, have already called on the President to veto this law and send it back to the Parliament for revision. However, the problem with the attitude toward whistleblowers and even just compliance with the already prepared norms of the law on their protection remains extremely urgent.
It is not easy to be a whistleblower in Ukraine. Reports of possible corruption can change people’s lives in an unpleasant way, because corrupt officials will do anything to destroy the reputations and careers of such daredevils.
And the only way to effectively use such a tool in the fight against corruption is to prepare quality legislation to protect whistleblowers and ensure that all these legal provisions are in place. After all, whistleblowers are the real power that can change our country from the inside.
The material was co-authored with Viktoriia Karpinska