How Authorities Lied about “Best International Practices” of Asset Declaration for Activists

Oleksandr Kalitenko, Transparency International Ukraine Policy Analysis Expert

“The best practices of EU Member States, as well as of the USA”. This is how the authorities tried to palm off the norm on compulsory electronic declaration of anti-corruption activists to the society.

The so-called “talking points” from the Presidential Office, which were published a year ago by Ukainska Pravda, mentioned the following:

“Persons involved in the implementation of […] international assistance programs, in the work of civil society associations in Ukraine […] have a decisive influence on the formation of state policy and on the activities of essential bodies for preventing and fighting corruption.”

Therefore, these individuals should be forced to file electronic declarations. Allegedly, such a principle operates in Latvia, Portugal and Romania, as well as in the United States, where the management personnel of non-profit organizations must publicize their income.

The Ukrainian chapter of the international anti-corruption network Transparency International has decided to check this pretentious statement. We have sent requests to Transparency International chapters in these countries but for the United States (where TI does not exist).

However, none of them has confirmed these ‘best practices’.

Answers were as follows:

– in Latvia, there are no requirements for heads of NGOs to file electronic declarations except in very rare cases. For example, when a civic activist is a member of an official Government Committee that makes binding decisions;

– in Portugal, there are no requirements for any special disclosure of the assets of non-governmental organizations. There, as it was only recently in Ukraine, only tax declarations and audits are stipulated;

– In Romania, representatives of any NGO also do not have to file such declarations.

The exception is the leadership of national trade unions, as well as representatives of civil society, who are members of the consultative or controlling state institutions of bodies. This rule applies to all NGOs, not just anti-corruption ones.

– In the United States, the government only requires publicizing the information on salaries of executives and essential workers of NGOs.

Thus, information on ‘effective modern forms of financial control of NGOs’, which obliges anti-corruption activists to file e-declarations, is a fake. There are no ‘best practices’.

NGOs can show their transparency and accountability to society on a voluntary basis in other ways.

For example, Transparency International Ukraine regularly publishes annual reports and financial audits on its website. In addition, the organization fully complies with Ukrainian legislation on the status of a non-profit public organization and files tax reports.

Also, TI Ukraine has internal standards of integrity, in particular conflicts of interest policy, a special ethics committee, etc. Election of governing bodies and the board also takes place on a transparent basis.

We believe that the President has to consistently adhere to the declared (including in a message to the Verkhovna Rada) position about the inadmissibility of pressure or restrictions on the activity of non-governmental organizations in Ukraine, and demonstrate the support of initiatives of CSOs in the fight against corruption, as well as cancel the electronic declaring for activists to resolve this ‘common mistake of the president and MPs’.

Moreover, these discriminatory legislative innovations caused concern of a number of international organizations. Thus, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development expressed its concern in its new report under the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan.

The Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), which in its recent report emphasized that the declaration of anti-corruption activists is discriminatory and aim to intimidate, supports the position of OECD, and the states call Ukrainian authorities to reconsider such requirements.

Freedom of a man to unite with like-minded people in order to realize their rights – this is the cornerstone of democracy and the basis of civil society. When forcing ordinary citizens to file an e-declaration, the authorities violate their right to privacy.

As for the state officials, such interference is reasonable. When taking a public office, a person agrees to certain publicity due to having access to the budget money.

However, the requirement for the civil society to declare is an obvious pressure, because they do not have access to the public money.

Therefore, we call the government to collect information on the activity, sources of funding and the structure of non-governmental organizations without interfering with the private lives of activists.

Besides, we encourage our colleagues to demonstrate transparency and accountability by publishing reports, audits, and disclosing the sources of funding for their organizations.

The authorities; references to the best European experience of transparency in the third sector have not again found their confirmation at the international level, now in another report from the international organization, the OECD.

Oleksandr Kalitenko, Policy Analysis Expert at Transparency International Ukraine for Ukrainska Pravda.