On May 6, the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy has gotten to the law “On Corruption Prevention” again and would again like to change the list of individuals obliged to file electronic declarations. You may recall that the last time they reconsidered the list was just before the lockdown. On March 4, MPs made electronic declarations mandatory for members of the National Bank Council.
The anti-corruption commitee has recommended to support draft law 3355-1 provisionally and overall. Before delving into the specifics of the document, let me vent a little. In the past six months (since October 18), there have been 10 (!) versions of this document. If (or when?) the Parliament supports it, it is going to be 11th version of the Law in six months.
Even the Head Scientific and Expert Directorate of the Parliament opines that you can hardly consider it legislatively efficient that “the same provision of the law is being reconsidered for the third time in a short period of time.”
Why the third time? Because the new Parliament first voted for changes in October, then MPs “edited” the list in March.
I’m sure that if MPs were asked about the standards of electronic declarations they support, we would have about the same infamous story as it happened with “what’s the name of the Prime Minister you have just voted for?”
This law applies not only to high-ranking officials, judges and law enforcement officers, but also to village councilors or head doctors of public hospitals. How can people keep track of the current version? Especially with all of this happening in the middle of a declaration wave, which started on January 1 and will continue until June 1.
Any “Traps” in the New Proposals?
First. Minors will be excluded from the list of individuals that have to be specified by the official filing the declaration, unless they live together with them and have mutual rights and obligations. What does an anti-corruption activist see in this provision? Public officials registering their property in the name of their children in spades. It’s hard to control something like that, even though it’s advisable, for the NACP, the NABU and the public.
Second. Officials of legal entities subject to public law. In this version, there are way fewer officials who have to file declarations in public enterprises. Only officials who are temporary or permanent managers, deputy managers and heads or deputy heads of structural units will be obliged to file declarations. If you try really hard, you can change official job descriptions or the charter of a public enterprise and weasel out of this category.
This is why serious work should be done to introduce unequivocal interpretation of such notions as “structural units” and define legal entities to which the law applies, as it was once done in the law “On Public Procurement.”
Third. Presidential advisors and assistants who do their job on a voluntary basis will not have to file electronic declarations.
Here, we need to step back and look at the big picture. Without any legislation on lobbying, such legislative changes may lead to abuse of power. No matter what the name of the entity on Bankova street, whether it’s the Administration, the Secretariat or the Office, these people are likely to serve as a channel for secret deals there. And nobody will know anything about their property.
Fourth. As I have already said, officials’ assistants were added to the list in October, and removed in March. Now, the committee supports the idea to include assistant judges of the Constitutional Court into the list. Why them specifically? Why them only? No explanation has been provided. Apart from them, heads and deputy heads of fully or mostly state-owned joint stock companies will start reporting on their property.
Fifth. Lawyers of Transparency International Ukraine point out risks connected with potential reversed application of the law in time, which is not permissible. If the changes come into effect in June, officials must be able to report on their finances starting from June, not in January. This is the job of the NACP.
Lastly. One of the reasons brought up by the authors of the draft law is this: the document will definitely contribute to effective fulfillment of their duties by subjects of the anti-corruption legislation, which includes measures to address COVID-19.
I understand the ambition to use the pandemic as a window of opportunity, even though I don’t approve of it. Given the endless and tireless work of MPs on the anti-corruption legislation, you want to remind them that sometimes, it’s better to look but not touch.
At least, not right now.