On August 27, on one of the Ukrainian TV channels, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he intended to submit a draft law to the parliament on equating corruption with treason in wartime.
We are convinced that this is a very bad idea. Let us explain why.
- Fighting corruption is a challenge for Ukraine, but not only for us. This is a problem for the whole world too. Therefore, it is impossible to reduce the level of corruption only by enhancing liability for corruption crimes. After all, systemic global issues require systemic, not populist and isolated solutions.
- One of the goals of corruption crimes is financial gain. Thus, we should prevent and counter such offenses by eliminating the opportunities for such gain and ensuring the inevitability of punishment for these crimes. The experience of countries with the most severe punishment for corruption, such as China, shows that even the threat of execution for bribery does not reduce the real level of corruption.
- Cases of high treason are the responsibility of the Security Service of Ukraine, and these investigations entail lengthy and difficult work. At the same time, such proceedings involve unprecedented restrictions on the rights of citizens, even when it is only about a suspicion of such crimes. The courts hear such cases for a very long time.
- In addition, the SSU has already investigated corruption crimes. Actually, it was the Security Service that investigated them for 23 years after Ukraine gained independence. However, in 2013, Ukraine had the lowest score in the Corruption Perceptions Index — only 25 points. There are also reservations as to the ability of the SSU to avoid influence, including on the part of the presidential vertical; therefore, the apolitical nature of its investigations may be questionable. In Ukraine, anti-corruption institutions have already been established; they have shown a successful start and effectiveness of their work. These bodies are independent and self-sufficient, and it is this unbiased nature that needs to be developed rather than sacrificed for quick and easy solutions.
- Equating corruption with treason, even for the time of martial law, can affect Ukraine’s future European integration. This can also negatively impact the strengthening of the rule of law in the state and the protection of human rights. After all, it looks as if, apart from classifying corruption cases, Ukraine is unable to overcome this problem in another way.
- The “simple solution” in the form of amendments to the Criminal Code of Ukraine has never led to a positive outcome. An example is criminal liability for non-personal voting; despite the identified facts, not a single MP has been prosecuted.
Thus, such initiatives are more about dealing with symptoms rather than with a disease. Corruption is high treason on a metaphorical level, not a legal one. Therefore, this beautiful slogan is extremely difficult to incorporate into the legislation in such a way that it does not destroy the long-term and comprehensive fight against corruption in Ukraine as a whole. This is a systemic problem to which there are no “simple solutions.” Ukraine is already working in the right direction, and we should not change it for the sake of seemingly quick, yet very risky decisions. Even during the war.
Such initiatives are more about dealing with symptoms rather than with a disease. Corruption is high treason on a metaphorical level, not a legal one. Therefore, this beautiful slogan is extremely difficult to incorporate into the legislation in such a way that it does not destroy the long-term and comprehensive fight against corruption in Ukraine as a whole.