The Minimalist Approach to Fighting Corruption
All the roads point to corruption
On Tuesday Ukraine’s parliament adopted a law on implementing State anti-corruption policy, and rejected two draft bills aimed at strengthening that same anti-corruption policy. The authors of the first bill included a member of the ruling party while the two unsuccessful bills – on creating a National Anti-Corruption Bureau, and about “anti-corruption checks on officials at all levels” - were tabled by the opposition alone.
It would, however, be unwise to see a clear party division in the never-ending battle waged in Ukraine against proper anti-corruption measures.
There is little evidence, except in documents for EU consumption, of much real will to fight corruption. According to Viktor Chumak, head of the parliamentary profile committee (from UDAR) and one of the authors, the bill passed on Tuesday by a large majority was part of the negotiations for visa liberalization.
One positive move is that instead of publication in some obscure internal document which nobody in their right minds would think to look for, officials’ declarations will now be accessible on official websites, and stay there for the year. From 2014 the list of family members who must also declare income is broadened, while the amount above which spending must be declared has almost halved.
There will also be access to a unified register of people caught for corruption offences
Better than nothing?
This is debatable given the upbeat headlines early on Tuesday about parliament having supposedly toughened up anti-corruption measures. The latter could not have been flabbier, yet whether the new law will make much of a difference is seriously questionable.
Oleksy Khmara from Transparency International in Ukraine points out that the law in fact makes it possible to drag out the introduction of a unified register, and also assigns control over declarations to the same government departments in which the people making them work. He slams the large number of compromise provisions that need to be reworked and notes that no place has been allowed for civic anti-corruption assessments. It is precisely such independent experts and civic bodies that usually identify corruption.
The problems go very deep and it is hard to see the amendments as aimed at tackling them.
Even when the Single Register is up and running, it is unlikely to include those responsible for raking off vast profits through public procurement deals involving shady tenders, or none at all. In August 2012 the President signed into law a bill removing public procurement for most State enterprises from tender procedure altogether. Oleksy Shalaisky, Editor of the watchdog “Nashi Hroshi” [Our Money] estimates that about a quarter of the overall amount of 500 billion UAH spent on public procurement is siphoned off and notes that “99% of corrupt tenders are in accordance with legislation”. Such registers are likely to mainly include teachers, doctors, and the like, caught for taking bribes.
Those politicians, judges, prosecutors etc whose mega-expensive watches, cars, properties, etc bear no relation to their declared incomes are only touched when they annoy somebody in power. Otherwise there is no more than sardonic comment when for the second year running the President declares over 15 million UAH in „royalties” from a Donetsk printing firm with not one word actually published. Or when Edward Stavytsky, Minister for Energy and Coal is seen at a Cabinet Ministers’ meeting wearing a watch worth 30 thousand EUR - more than double his yearly – declared – income.
Laws on fighting corruption which provide mainly gloss and fine words, little substance, are as dangerous as dummy fire extinguishers during a heat wave. The problems are major and minimal compliance with EU requirements as good as none.