Recipe for success and lessons learned for the windows of opportunity

Back in 2013-2014, when the historic window of opportunity opened in Kyiv, to a large extent our anti-corruption fight was inspired by the examples of Georgia and Romania. Since then, new anti-corruption approaches, instruments and tools were tested in Ukraine, some have proved effective, some not. We, the Anti-corruption Action Center, would like to offer our analysis and vision of Ukraine’s anti-corruption theory of change. 

Our preliminary findings may be of use to leaders from transitional democracies who fight for freedom and need to be prepared to seize the momentum when history grants them a window of opportunity. This overview may also be useful to international partners while planning activities in other countries, which face similar challenges and democratic reform openings. 

In this memo, we outline key components of the Ukrainian anti-corruption transformation and explain the preconditions for success and lessons learnt. Specifically we: 

  • name the drivers of anti-corruption reform: active and strong civil society, including their potential to unite into issue-based coalitions, brave investigative journalists, and international partners with the leverage of conditionalities, explain their role and prerequisites to effective interaction;
  • describe transparency tools that Ukraine launched after the Revolution of Dignity and their wider impact on fighting against corruption;
  • explain the safeguards that need to be in place to ensure genuine independence of the newly established anti-corruption institutions and how to protect these agencies from external pressure;
  • stress on the reform areas which were initially overlooked, but posed a threat to the sustainability of the anti-corruption reform, like complex judicial reform or fighting against disinformation. 

AntAC believes that anti-corruption reform is a fundamental prerequisite for the successful transformation of countries transitioning from autocracy to democracy. However, historic moments for pushing for complicated anti-corruption policies can end fast, therefore quick but well-planned bold decisions have to be made to set up a strong ground for an anti-corruption framework.

The successful anti-corruption strategy should be based on elevating risks for corrupt actors and enabling civil society players to expose corrupt conducts and advocate in synergy for the reforms which are uncomfortable for the political elites. 

There are three major pillars for the anti-corruption reform: 

a) opening up state-controlled information about who owns what and how state funds are being spent thus enabling civil society actors to expose corruption by naming and shaming, 

b) supporting institutionally civil society actors who expose corruption and drive for complex change in a very unpredictable and sometimes dangerous environment,

c) establishing independent anti-corruption and judicial institutions to ensure state agencies are capable of investigating and prosecuting corruption. 

The selection of leadership for anti-corruption institutions is a cornerstone for their success. Ukrainian experience uncovered the crucial role of international high integrity independent professionals participating in the selection panels for such agencies. AntAC recommends the international community to consider establishing a pool of experts with high integrity and track record in anti-corruption/rule of law, who could be available for participating in such commissions in other countries too.

International partners, specifically the IMF, the EU, the U.S. and others, as well as international technical assistance projects have to coordinate their anti-corruption strategies with local watchdog groups who have deep expertise on the ground. International assistance to transitional democracies has to be conditioned on a set of precise anti-corruption deliverables. 

Our vision of Ukraine’s anti-corruption theory of change is summarized in the infographics below. 

We are convinced that with its thirty-year experience of electoral democracy Ukraine has a unique experience, potential and ambition to set reforms trends for other democracies in transition, well beyond the Eastern European region.

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