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Ukraine: Government’s half-hearted approach undermines significant gains

A year has passed since new leadership has taken over in Ukraine. Many promising reforms are being implemented, but the government’s recent lack of commitment threatens to undermine these important achievements. Removing Ukraine from the group of the world’s most corrupt countries is proving to be an exceptionally difficult task.

In the past few weeks the government fell short of its commitments when it installed a hand-picked “puppet” selection committee for the leadership of a new anti-corruption agency, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption. The process looks to be a fraud, from beginning to end.

The government’s efforts to control the establishment of the agency risks undermining its future credibility. The National Corruption Prevention Agency will be responsible for developing and coordinating the anti-corruption policy of Ukraine, identifying and managing conflicts of interests, monitoring the lifestyle of government officials, and managing the transparency of an online database of asset declarations.

Several NGOs, including Transparency International Ukraine, the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, Centre for Political Studies and Analysis, and the anti-corruption group Reanimation Package of Reforms have strongly condemned the sham appointment process. Our Ukrainian chapter filed a lawsuit against the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to stop its attempts to create the "puppet" selection commission.

Getting the people’s money back

This event suggests a lacklustre effort to fight corruption in Ukraine since the departure of Viktor Yanukovych. After his fall, international sanctions were imposed against 32 people in 10 countries. All of them are former senior government officials and members of the family of the ex-president. Accounts have been blocked and some of these people were banned from entry into the Ukraine.

However, more efforts need to be made by the current government to get the people’s money back. The notable achievements of dismantling a number of large-scale corruption schemes need to be accompanied by real anti-corruption investigations that hold the perpetrators accountable. These have yet to appear.

Virtually every investigation of corruption crimes committed by Yanukovych and his allies was carried out by EU authorities, with both Ukraine and Russia, the two key countries most involved, contributing little. This is the main conclusion of the recently published report “One year after the fall of the Yanukovych regime: a legal analysis of the interstate cooperation” prepared by Transparency International Russia, with assistance from our chapter in Ukraine.

Another concern is getting all elected officials to come clean on their wealth. In 2015, Transparency International Ukraine, with partners, began monitoring the asset declarations by high-ranking officials. From the very start it was found that some authorities were not eager to provide legally required declarations. Well after the deadline has passed, a significant number of officials have not published their documents.

Corruption fight a marathon, not a sprint

Despite these birth pangs, Ukraine has made notable positive steps forward. These include a promising online system for public procurement “ProZorro”, developed and launched by Transparency International Ukraine in cooperation with civic activists and NGOs, and now in pilot usage by several ministries.

Also, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau was finally set up and has started to recruit staff. It is tasked with investigating “elite corruption” by senior officials, members of parliament, mayors, police, judges and prosecutors. It will also investigate high-value corruption-related crimes. The selection process of its director was both transparent and honest and he is displaying an openness to work with NGOs and activists.

Thus, recent developments serve as a reminder that the fight against corruption is a marathon, not a sprint. Transparency International is committed to both constructive cooperation when progress is being made and strict monitoring when officials are found wanting.

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