Daria Kaleniuk: These are 3 priorities in 2017 for Ukraine’s corruption fight
Ukraine is ranked 131 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s newest Corruption Perception Index — in the same league as such authoritarian post-Soviet nations as Russia and Kazakhstan. These nations, unlike Ukraine, are not even trying to integrate with Europe.
The status of anti-corruption loser is painful for Ukraine, coming three years after the EuroMaidan Revolution swept a kleptocratic dictator, Viktor Yanukovych, from power.
What does it take to change the rules in this country?
All is not lost. Reforms have made Ukraine one of the most open nations in Europe — helping to clearly reveal the rampant corruption.
Journalists have reported on hundreds of cases of vested interests, abuse of power, unexplained wealth and money laundering, allegedly by top officials in the country.
Extensive information exists. It can be found in e-declarations, public registries, vehicle registrations, declared beneficial owners of companies and land cadasters.
E-data on state spending and public procurement through Prozorro are extraordinary tools for citizens to identify corruption and for the news media to report about it.
While we know more than ever about corruption in Ukraine, the frustration is that the law enforcement and the judiciary are not doing anything about it. The top political leaders are not sincere about waging a crackdown or holding anyone accountable for the embezzlement, over the years, of billions of dollars from Ukraine in various public and private sector schemes.
Ukraine’s political leaders have obstructed justice. Progress has instead come only from a concerted effort by foreign donors to Ukraine and Ukrainian civil society. Together, important anti-corruption tools and institutions were created.
But the threat exists that these achievements will be rolled back in 2017. This is why we are focusing on three priorities this year:
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine already triggered criminal investigations against influential top officials thought to be untouchable.
We have to secure the right of NABU to conduct robust and independent investigations of top-level corruption without interference. This is guaranteed by exclusive jurisdiction of NABU, which should remain the only agency with power to trigger investigations against senior officials. Attempts by the Prosecutor General’s Office or any other agency to take such cases instead of NABU and/or change legislation pose a serious risk.
Moreover, NABU must have full access to the registry of pre-trial investigations conducted by the Prosecutor General’s Office. Instead, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko denied access in December.
Additionally, parliament must pass legislation granting independent wiretapping rights to NABU.
NABU must also undergo an international audit that also assesses the activity of specialized anti-corruption prosecutors, who control all cases investigated by detectives and present these cases in courts.
There are already a few publicly known examples when special prosecutors have blocked NABU investigations into senior politicians.
The parliament, the president and the government should appoint three auditors – professionals with track records and expertise in criminal justice. It is crucially important to ensure these auditors are independent. Parliament’s anti-corruption committee has voted for Robert Storch, deputy head of the U.S. Inspector General’s Office in the Department of Justice, to be appointed as an auditor. Yet in order for him to be officially nominated, 226 votes in the Verkhovna Rada are still needed. The government and president should nominate professionals with similar international credentials.
NABU alone can’t satisfy Ukraine’s hunger for convictions and asset confiscations of corrupt officials.
Anti-corruption prosecutors present evidence in unreformed courts. Corrupt judges are asked to render verdicts on cases involving the politically powerful and wealthy. Justice won’t happen this way.
Therefore, Ukraine must establish an Anti-Corruption Court, where judges will be transparently selected by a trustworthy special selection commission with nominees from international partners.
Legislation introduced by President Petro Poroshenko already prescribes creation of the High Anti-Corruption Court in Ukraine, but lacks details. Parliament must soon introduce a draft law, which will provide additional guarantees of independence for anti-corruption judges and ensure a competitive and fair process for their selection.
At the end of October, Ukraine shocked the world when officials declared enormous amounts of hard cash, luxury watches, collections of expensive wines, pictures and icons, luxurious residences and high-end cars. This information came to light due to the launch of e-declarations system, which is managed by National Anti-Corruption Preventive Commission.
It took more than two years of constant pressure to achieve this result.
However, the commission to prevent corruption has failed to verify and audit a single e-declaration. Instead, the commission is seeking to punish those who expose corruption and publicly criticize top politicians.
While failing to develop a regulation on e-declarations monitoring, the commission is hounding member of parliament Sergii Leshchenko, a prominent anti-corruption crusader, over a $300 free for a lecture at a university.
Moreover, authorities have to refrain from attempts to limit the scope of the electronic disclosures of assets, criminal liability for false statements and illicit enrichment, as well as the list of officials obliged to submit e-declarations. But lawmakers are trying to do just that – for example, seeking to carve out exemptions for managers of state-owned companies and top officials of the Security Service of Ukraine.
Finally, the Constitutional Court is still considering a request from a group of parliamentarians from the old Yanukovych-led Party of Regions to declare crucial parts of the e-declarations system as unconstitutional. As a majority of Constitutional Court judges are the same as in Yanukovych’s time, there is a high likelihood of a politically motivated ruling.
Ukraine’s active civil society will have to perform its watchdog role well to fend off all the threats to the nation’s anti-corruption drive. Political pressure of Ukraine’s foreign partners and donors, specifically the IMF, will significantly help us to resist rollbacks. Money and support in exchange for clear anti-corruption deliverables will be the strongest source of leverage for Ukraine’s foreign friends.
By Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center
First published on Jan.26 in KyivPost