On (not) fighting corruption: The President and Ministers don’t have to declare income
Public officials – from the President to heads of district administrations – have received a unique opportunity to not publish information about their income.
For the first time in the last 15 years high-ranking officials can with impunity spurn the established practice of publishing information about their property, income and financial obligations for the last year. From the middle of the 1990s the President, ministers, governors, and a number of other high-ranking officials had not only declared, but also published, on an annual basis, information about their financial position. This was published in the official media in accordance with the law on fighting corruption. As reported here already, that law was replaced by the package of anti-corruption laws whose entry into force the Verkhovna Rada managed to defer twice, before finally cancelling it in December 2010. The previous law in fact only ceased to be in force during the small number of days following 1 January 2011 when the new package of laws effectively came into force before the law annulling them.
The ruling majority promptly cancelled those laws to make way for a new (though look-alike) law proposed by the President. This law also requires high-ranking officials to publish information about their income and property, but, as reported, this has not yet been adopted, thus missing the deadline for handing in declarations of income.
The gap formed thus enables those in power to not divulge to the greater public information about their financial successes over the last year, even if the law due for its third reading on 7 April is adopted as soon as possible.
The anti-corruption document which the Deputies are only planning to adopt imposes strict timeframes for publishing this information – a maximum of 30 days from when the relevant declarations were submitted to the tax authorities (these need to be submitted by 1 April). Thus many high-ranking officials who submitted declarations at the very beginning of the year have already missed the deadline imposed by the new (draft) law for publication in the media. Yet the law is not retroactive, and nobody will bear responsibility for not publishing the information, which means there is no point in any of them being in a hurry.
In the Parliamentary Committee on Fighting Corruption they confirm that officials in 2011 do have the possibility of not publishing information about their income, etc for the previous year. A member of the Committee from the opposition BYuT faction, Yury Prokopchuk is convinced that this situation is convenient in the first instance for the previous regime which came to power last year. “The opportunity to not publish data about their personal wealth for 2010 will allow them in the future to avoid questions about where they got such income for a year’s work, and not think up a theory of phenomenal success”, he said.
The Deputies could regulate the situation by making amendments to the transitional provisions of the new law where they could include the requirement to publish such information for 2010. For now, however, there have been no such suggestions.
To be fair, it should be noted that financial discipline regarding declaration of income was always scratchy among officers. For example, among 450 National Deputies who were, according to the anti-corruption legislation, obliged to publish information about their income on a par with ministers and the President, only the isolated few actually did so. They incurred no penalties of any kind from the controlling bodies although the law envisaged administrative liability in the form of fines.
The newspaper Delo quotes one Party of the Regions Deputy, Ivan Mirny as saying that he has prepared his declaration and can publish it at any time. He notes however that such declarations are of little effect if officials don’t have to declare relatives’ incomes.
This is one of the most contentious parts of the draft law – the lack of a requirement for members of officials’ families to provide information about their income. Deputies cannot come to a compromise regarding whether or not to put the norm in. The law which existed from 1995 until the end of 2009 did have it.
The authors of the new version of the law – the Anti-Corruption Committee under the President and the Ministry of Justice explain the lack of a requirement to disclose relatives’ income as being due to European practice and the Constitutional Court judgment from last year in which the judges found publication of such information unconstitutional.
The Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Fighting Corruption, Oleksandr Budzherak believes that income declarations and publishing information in the media about officials’ wealth are meaningless without the creation of specialist and independent body to carry out control over the officials.
At present in Ukraine the State Civil Service Department together with the tax authorities can carry out such audits, but only at the initiative of the Cabinet of Ministers or the Head of the President’s Administration. This happens extremely rarely and not always about income. Often, for example, information about educational qualifications is checked.
From a report at Delo.ua