Declaring anti-corruption action stories
Anti-corruption Action Centre leaders and experts involved in the anti-corruption NGO work submitted their 2017 electronic declarations.
The following can be found among the valuables declared by anti-corruption activists: installations from the AntAC street actions, a strait jacket and a t-shirt that says “F**k Corruption”, protest posters, autographed books, old prints, pets and the Constitution of Ukraine.
“We declared things of real value to us, symbols which we used to fight for systemic changes in the country, objects that are memorable and significant to each of us”, – explains Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the AntAC Board. He included the straitjacket in his 2017 assets declaration. The anti-corruption activist brought it with him to the campaign for the former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s resignation, now the activist is saving it for the incumbent head of the PGO.
In the reporting period, the Anti-corruption Action Centre involved over 20 experts for collaboration on projects, mostly lawyers, communication and advocacy experts. The AntAC members of the board and founders – all six of them – are staff employees, while external experts are involved for certain projects as self-employed individuals. They have to submit declarations as well – that’s the law.
“Many of those collaborating with the AntAC are still not clear on whether they have to submit declarations, – explains Daria Kaleniuk, the AntAC executive director. Law makers did not specify who and how should self-proclaim as the “anti-corruption activist”, while the NACP said that thousands of people have to submit declarations. Those that attended our anti-corruption actions, our trainings or picked up our reports or press release. In contrast, it is crystal-clear whom this requirement does not concern anymore. These are political party leaders, heads of Public JSCs, assistants to MPs and judges, heads of pocket NGOs financed by politicians. They will have nothing to do with e-declarations”, – explains Kaleniuk. She herself declared an art object – the “three-metre wide anti-corruption buttocks”, which the AntAC brought near the Verkhovna Rada in October of 2014. Then the activists demanded the new anti-corruption legislation, namely creation of the National Anti-corruption Bureau and e-declaration of assets for civil servants.
In 2017, average monthly income of AntAC board members was 1,900 USD before taxes (19.5%) at the average National Bank of Ukraine exchange rate; that of external expert working with the AntAC on more or less regular basis (individual entrepreneur) – about 1,000 USD a month, part of which also goes to taxes.
The AntAC members that declared their own vehicles usually have 7 or 10-year-old foreign cars, reside in their parents’ flats, less frequently – in their own ones, or else rent a flat. Far from all their families have savings accounts or cash savings, those that do, have them in the amounts commensurate with their incomes.
Objects missing from anti-corruption activists’ declarations: expensive jewelry, bars of gold, painting or wine collections, fur or bitcoin.
Objects present in their declarations: a 1911 “Kobzar” by Taras Shevchenko and a half-meter-big “Constitution of Ukraine” declared by the board member Tetiana Peklun, “priceless” Labrador by the name Kodi declared by another AntAC member of the board – Oleksandra Ustinova, two cats – Zhora and Marusia (declared by Ustinova and Krasnosilska respectively), famous photo-album with EuroMaidan photographs “Euromaidan. History of making”, presented to Vitaliy Shabunin by Volodymyr Kadyhrob, t-shirts that say “Ukraine F**k Corruption” declared by lawyers that cooperate with the AntAC.
“It is absurd to force activists whose anti-corruption projects are financed by international organizations and embassies to submit declarations along with officials getting rich off the budget money – explains Oleksandra Ustinova, the AntAC member of the board, – “But that is exactly the point – activists collect and save a totally different kind of valuables and not bars of gold or church relics. We could not disobey this dictatorship law which will enable even more persecution of activists, however, along with our possessions we declared objects of true value to us”, – explains Ustinova the AntAC’s “creative approach” to declarations.
For the record, changes to the anticorruption legislation, which equaled anti-corruption activists to civil servants and obliged them to submit e-declarations of their assets, were signed by President Petro Poroshenko on March 27, 2017.
European Commissioner Johannes Hahn,
G7 Ambassadors in Ukraine, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission as well as numerous Ukrainian and international human rights organizations repeatedly called for Ukrainian authorities to cancel discriminatory and unconstitutional requirements for activists to submit their declarations. However, in a year neither the Parliament, nor Mr. President himself summoned the political will to cancel the decision.
The Anti-corruption Action Centre is an NGO, whose projects are funded by international organizations and embassies through programmes in anti-corruption action domain. In 2017, the AntAC received funding from the International Renaissance Foundation, Governments of the USA and the Netherlands, the Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Ukraine, and the EU Delegation in Ukraine. Financial and project reports of the NGO are published on its site. The organization is annually audited by independent finance experts.
Declaration rules for the anti-corruption activists came into force on March 27, 2017. They concern individuals which “directly receive money or assets within realization in Ukraine of the programmes (projects) of technical or other kind of assistance, including non-repayable, in the sphere of corruption prevention and counteraction, as well as those who receive the said money or assets through the third parties or in any other way, provided it is stipulated by the applicable programme or project”.
Reporting period for the activists is 9 months of 2017. Activists may declare their income in two ways – for the whole year or 9 months only, but this cannot be specified in the e-declaration form.
Income and salary in declarations is listed before taxation. To calculate the monthly salary, one must keep in mind that an NGO, like any other legal entity, retains 19.5 % of taxes from the salary of any employee, which it then transfers to the state budget. Private entrepreneurs pay their taxes themselves, and organizations that cooperate with and engage such experts have no control over their paying taxes. Private entrepreneurs pay 5% of the unified tax and the Unified Social Contribution.
The NACP has explained rules for e-declaration for the anti-corruption NGO activists three times. However, these official explanations are contradictory in their definition of the group of people that these requirements concern. For instance, according to the NACP, those who participated in anti-corruption action trainings and conferences, especially if they received free presentation or training materials, stationery or reports, must submit declarations. This wide interpretation of the law also concerns journalists competing in anti-corruption investigation or cooperating with the NGOs. Also, individuals that “provide services, do works, supply goods which are not directly linked to corruption prevention or counteraction”, for instance, clean the office, must also submit their e-declarations. In the last days before the deadline of submitting declaration the NACP have changed their interpretation of individuals subject to declaration among the activists. Again.
As declarants must determine their “anticorruption level” themselves, it is not altogether clear which ones will be swept in this new wave of declaration and in what way verification of their declaration and life style will be conducted. Neither do the NACP give any explanation of how they will make sure whether all those subject to declaration submit them and how they will hold accountable those persons that have disobeyed the law and did not declare anything. Herein lies the main danger of e-declaration for the activists.
Legal vagueness enables the NACP to check e-declarations selectively and by hand, thus punishing those activists who are the most active and consistent in their corruption prevention and counteraction pursuits, who publicly criticize the authorities, including the NACP themselves and prevent them from stealing. The main danger is that a great number of the public may find themselves at risk, people who provide services to the anti-corruption organizations, cooperate with them from time to time or simply take interest in their activities. The authorities are doing it to intimidate citizens and discourage them from cooperating with the NGOs as well as to gain leverage over the anti-corruption activists.