Yaroslav Yurchyshyn’s blog at Ukrainska Pravda
The idea to join all European countries into a network that would look for assets obtained through corruption in different countries and prevent lawbreakers from hiding stolen assets abroad appeared a long time ago. The first time it was formalized was back in 2007. It was then that the Council of the EU included the need to create such offices to uncover and search for assets in all EU countries in its decision. In fact, nobody hurried to create such an institution in Ukraine, as there was no political will. Which later helped bearers of this will to hide their fortune after fleeing the robbed country.
Only in February, 2016, did National Agency of Ukraine on the Issues of Research, Recovery and Management of Assets Obtained Through Corruption and Other Violations (sort version – Assets Recovery and Management Agency, or ARMA) start to work, after lengthy legislative battles and a long-lasting competition for the head of the institution. There are no analogues in the Ukrainian system of authorities when it comes to its purpose, extent of functions and legal status.
Naturally, the activity of an agency as powerful as ARMA involves a great number of risks. First of them is the risk of the agency falling under political influence. That is exactly why it was assigned a special status and created as a body of central government. Another risk, just as important, is the access of Ukrainian experts to international databases. ARMA will connect, on a two-way basis, to the international network, including CARIN (Camden Assets Recovery Interagency Network), which has 67 members and observers; the StAR initiative; the Asset Recovery Interagency Network Asia Pacific-ARIN-AP) etc. To avoid misuse of these data, international partners have to be absolutely certain of transparency and accountability of ARMA’s work. The biggest risk, however, is connected with the function of management of seized funds in Ukraine.
UAH 87.2 billion worth of damage caused to the state has been discovered in cases under the jurisdiction of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine announced discovered damage in the amount of over UAH 96 billion in the case of “Klymenko’s taxmen” alone. Mezhyhiria has been recently taken back into state ownership. All of this has to be transferred under ARMA’s management after its complete launch. Independently selected managers and evaluators will prevent the kind of situation that happened to “Kurchenko’s fuel,” whose performance number dropped significantly in the process of recovery and which was sold to a party in interest with the right to defer payment.
To enable effective work of the new agency of primary importance, at this point it is essential to choose a transparent and independent public council.
According to the law, National Agency’s Public Council:
- hears information on the activity, performance to plan and tasks of ARMA;
- executes public control over the expenditures of the National budget;
- offers insights based on the results of expert review of the draft regulations of the Agency;
- sends two representatives to participate in the sessions of the interagency committee on asset disposal and selection board for vacant positions of civil servants in the National Agency;
- has the right to receive documents and information that pertain to the activity of the National Agency (except those that constitute a state secret).
This is exactly the international standard of transparency and accountability – effective institutions of public monitoring with broad authority affiliated with such institutions.
Now, the competition for selection of ARMA Public Council is in progress. Every civic organization whose statutory activities involve anti-corruption or defense of human rights and which has been in operation for at least two years can recommend its candidate. There are 9 vacancies available. Potential applicants include scholars, foreigners, civil servants, activists, journalists and lawyers who are interested in the state’s development. The deadline is August 22. The requirements to the candidates and specifics of the voting process can be found here.
It is essential to keep this Public Council unbiased and free from the influence of political elites, which is why Transparency International Ukraine encourages everyone interested to apply or recommend worthy candidates.