Radio Free Europe has prepared a detailed publication on this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index and talked to TI Ukraine’s legal advisor Oleksandr Kalitenko what are the reasons behind Ukraine’s score and what it means.

Every year in January, Transparency International publishes Corruption Perceptions Index — a ranking which assesses how ready countries of the world are to fight against corruption-related violations of their officials. This time Ukraine has scored 30 points out of 100, which is a 2-point drop compared to last year’s Index. The reasons of this dynamic, according to the organization’s experts, include the slow rate of the reforms and a certain transition period due to the 2019 elections. 

Corruption perception and the level of corruption are not the same thing, says legal advisor of Transparency International Ukraine Oleksandr Kalitenko; what is more, the latter is impossible to measure objectively, since corruption is always concealed.

“If we measure the number of convictions in corruption-related cases, we are mostly assessing the work of law enforcement and the judiciary. If we measure the number of mentions of corruption in the media, that’s more of an assessment of the media’s work, freedom of press, freedom of opinion, since there are countries which are considered quite corrupt but whose media stays silent on corruption, which creates a wrong impression.

That’s why, he says, what is measured is “perception of corruption” in the public sector — through surveys of experts, representatives of international organizations and business managers.

The maximum possible score is 100 points; the fewer points a country scores, the more corrupt the surveyed believe Ukraine to be. In the 2019 Index, Ukraine has scored 30 points and ranked 126th out of 180 countries, ending up in the group of “countries making effort to fight against corruption.” Other countries with the same score are Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Djibouti.

Looking at the previous score, though, we can see that Ukraine’s results in the Index have gotten worse: in CPI 2018, we scored 32 points.

What do these changes mean for Ukraine? Speaks Oleksandr Kalitenko.

Changes of one or two points are not significant: we basically went back to the 2017 level. It happened because sometimes, the index can reflect the changes in the country very slowly, since CPI takes into account the research for the past two years. And we see that since 2017-2018, the fight against corruption has been almost suspended in Ukraine. It wasn’t as effective as in 2014, when a set of anti-corruption laws was passed, like in 2015, when registers were opened and the NABU was established, or in 2016, when electronic declarations were launched. And the authorities, sadly, failed to listen to the civil society and international partners.

Last year, Transparency International provided 12 recommendations to Ukraine which could improve its CPI score. Only two of them were fully implemented as of the end of the year: the SBU’s monopoly over wiretapping was abolished and the discriminatory obligation of anti-corruption activists to declare assets was abolished by the Constitutional Court.

There were four more recommendations which were partially implemented, and even that happened in the last quarter of 2019. For instance, the reboot of the NACP, where the law came into effect on October 18, and the new Head of the NACP was only appointed on January 25, 2020. The recommended draft law on public procurement was passed on September 19, but it will only come into effect on April 19, 2020. Or, another example: in October, the Parliament lifted the prohibition and allowed privatization of 500 state-owned enterprises through the electronic auction system ProZorro.Sale. And the last thing is that the Code of Bankruptcy Procedures came into effect, and the practice of open budgets has become more widespread.

In fact, we can say that the new team headed by the President have received their power only after the Parliament elections, that is, in August 2019, so the results of their work will be better reflected in the next CPI.

We can rather compare Ukraine’s score with its 2013 level, when we had 25 points, and say that we have gained five points. This means that during the Revolution of Dignity, during the previous administration, Ukraine has slowly gained 5 points. This tempo is not consistent with the goal declared by the previous administration, who claimed that the primary goal was fighting against corruption.

What slows down the reforms that you are talking about?

Evidently, we can talk about the lack of political will. Among the recommendations that have not been implemented, we see restoring the credibility of the SAPO, which was undermined after the “aquarium scandal” featuring Nazar Kholodnytskyi. The recommendation to strip the SBU and the National Police of powers to fight against economic crime and corruption has not been fulfilled. Only symbolic steps were taken in 2019, such as dismissal of the economy protection department under the National Police, even though the respective provisions of the Criminal Procedural Code remain in force. The SBU also retains its uncharacteristic powers in this sphere. And the Bureau of Financial Investigations has not yet been created, the draft law hasn’t been passed.

Furthermore, the instigators of attacks against anti-corruption activists are yet to be identified and punished. There have been attempts to liven up the investigations, but in more than 50 cases, the investigation is slow and fails to meet people’s expectations. The case of Kateryna Handziuk’s murder remains a remarkable example.

If we compare the result with Ukraine’s neighbors, almost all of them have better results, apart from Russia. Are there some general trends that we can talk about this year? 

Yes, we have 30 points, and Russia has 28 points. All the other neighbors have better scores: Moldova 32, Belarus 45, Hungary and Romania 44, Slovakia 50. The leader is Poland with 58 points.

But if we look at the global trends, they are quite disappointing: the average score this year is just 43 points. In Ukraine’s region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the average score is 35 points, while the average score among EU countries is 64. We need to improve our results significantly to reach at least the average European score, not to mention the leaders, such as Denmark, which shares its pedestal with New Zealand this year.

Unfortunately, we see that more than two thirds of world countries have fewer than 50 points in the Index, and that’s a bad result. Last year we were saying that lower levels of democracy and freedom mean higher levels of corruption. And this year, the authors of the Index point out the lack of political integrity, which leads to corruption, including the negative impact of money on politics: countries with worse CPI scores have worse campaign finance oversight and unbalanced power which depends on somebody’s wallet. At the same time, countries with high CPI scores have a better balance of power, where the authorities listen to various stakeholders and not just wealthy or well-connected individuals.

The global recommendations this year include resolution of the conflict of interest, strengthening party finance regulations, protection of activists, whistleblowers and journalists and regulation of lobbying with the help of promotion of an open, equal and full access to decision.

What are the first things that Ukraine should do to improve its score?

We have prepared five recommendations for Ukraine for 2020. The first one is to form a professional and independent judiciary. This means that there should be a new procedure for appointing the members of the High Qualification Commission of Judges and the High Council of Justice, and that the system should be cleansed of dishonest judges at all levels with engagement of the public and international experts.

The second recommendation, as I said before, is stripping the SBU and the National Police of the powers to fight against economic and corruption-related crimes. Instead, an independent Bureau of Financial Investigations should be created.

Thirdly, prevention of political corruption should be made more effective. It’s about political parties. The principles of public and private funding of political parties should be established, and procedures of financial reporting of political parties should be optimized. All this must be under effective governmental control.
The fourth recommendation is to ensure the independence and operational capacity of the SAPO, the NABU and the SIB, to carry out independent external audit of their activity with the engagement of international partners.
We need to improve the legislation concerning MP immunity, protection of whistleblowers and the ARMA’s performance of its management functions. For instance, the law on whistleblowers has been passed in Ukraine and has come into effect since January 1, 2020, but it does not follow international standards and best global practices, since it applies only to corruption whistleblowers, not to everyone who reports publicly important information.

Finally, the fifth recommendation is to introduce an open accountable process of public property privatization. Both the preparation and the very privatization must be fully transparent, the law should be in place. The enterprises remaining in public domain should adhere to all the necessary accountability standards.