November 2016 marked 3 years since Euromaidan – the Revolution of Dignity – broke out in opposition to Yanukovych, his cronies and Ukraine’s corrupt and oligarchy power structure, in favour of democracy, civil society and freedom. Fast forward to May 2017 and new faces have emerged, but little has changed. Corruption and a monumental lack of transparency still remain entrenched in the political and judicial systems, dictating the speed and nature of reform.
According to the Transparency International 2016 index, who rank countries in matters of government; security; judicial; access to information; poverty; health and education, Ukraine ranks 131 out of 176, placing it behind Iran who state fund terrorism; Thailand who has a military junta and Belarus whose president is affectionately known as Europe’s last dictator.
As someone who has followed Ukrainian politics since the Orange Revolution in 2004/05 I was optimistic when Petro Poroshenko was elected president in 2014. A man who it seemed was unscathed by allegations of corruption; who had built a successful business empire in confectionary goods, earning him the endearing nickname Chocolate King. However, since his election there is nothing endearing about him or his so-called leadership. It seems Ukraine has a president who suffers from split personality disorder; one for the TV cameras and public events, spewing words of falsified hope and championing democracy and the other of blackmail, intimidation and an apparent loathing for change that weakens his presidency.
Poroshenko is just as incompetent to bring about reform as his predecessor and it shows in his approval ratings. A shocking 9% of Ukrainians are satisfied with him; 5% are satisfied with his government led by Volodymyr Groysman and a mere 2% are satisfied with parliament – never has support for Ukraine’s institutions been so low.
In 2014 Poroshenko established the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), tasked with investigating corruption and help prepare cases for prosecution. However, the bureau have no power to arrest or convict those suspected of corruption, therefore they rely on special prosecutors, who they themselves are corrupt. Prosecutors are also faced with high profile, politically powerful and wealthy suspects. In a recent bail hearing involving Mykola Martynenko, an ally of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yetsenuk, major political figures were in attendance, aimed at intimidating the judge – bail was later granted. The NABU has however been successful in bringing to trial Roman Nasirov, who embezzled €70million in tax revenue and Mykola Martynenko who received kickbacks.
Current satisfaction in judges is woefully low, in which 5% of Ukrainians have confidence in the courts. Apart from the formation of the NABU, long awaited judicial reform was introduced in June 2016, supported by 281 of 381 MP’s. Reform which includes stripping judges of their full immunity; the right to dismiss judges should they fail to prove the origins of their wealth, unsurprisingly this provision triggered mass resignations in the weeks following the reforms introduction by judges from the Yanukovych era. Other provisions include a more rigorous selection and examination process; judges will now have their lifestyle, level of expenditures, and family ties monitored, the latter is often used for financial manipulations; courts which are not reformed will face recertification.
I believe such reforms will go a long way in combatting corruption within the justice system, however, let us not be complacent – the proof of the pudding is in the eating – that is to say, we can only determine the success or failure of the reforms once put into practice.
In order to fight corruption greater transparency is essential. In October 2016, as part of Ukraine’s ‘Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan’, an e-declaration system was introduced in which more than 100,000 top officials, including the president, members of the cabinet, MPs, judges, prosecutors and civil servants, declared their assets, ranging from a $10,000 bottle of wine to prime real-estate. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, the e-declaration system allows us to draw a line between politicians of the past, who have never explained the origins of their assets, and politicians of the future.
On the 10th May 2017 the NABU received access to the e-declarations, in which they are investigating 40 cases.
The above anti-corruption reforms are only the start of hopefully many more to come; here are five of my own proposals in which I encourage readers to comment on:
Firstly, I propose that Ukraine repeals a provision in its e-declaration system which stipulates that NGO’s, charities and voluntary based organizations declare their assets. The provision is discriminatory and allows for selection repression of those most critical of President Poroshenko. By the way, this provision was an amendment put forth by Poroshenko and his government. Those who fail to declare their assets face hefty fines and even jail time which could deter NGO’s from operating in Ukraine. Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group said Poroshenko has allowed a law which his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych would be proud of. Now more than ever Ukraine needs NGO’s, charities and voluntary bodies to work with civil society and government in order to heal the wounds of Euromaidan.
Secondly, the immediate introduction of an anti-corruption court with independent, international judges, who will maintain objectivity aimed at speeding up the prosecution process. Without such a court, the NABU’s cases will go before an unreformed court.
Thirdly, legislation should be introduced aimed at protecting and encouraging whistle-blowers. Few witnesses and a lack of comprehensive protection for whistle-blowers hold back further corruption investigations. Karen Greenaway, a Supervisory Special Agent at the FBI, said “the biggest problem in investigating corruption cases is the lack of witnesses, the single thing that could move cases forward more quickly”. Legislation could include granting whistle-blowers immunity for their criminal activities in exchange for agreeing to provide witness testimonies against other conspirators.
Fourthly, after sufficient time has passed in which the justice system is deemed reformed and impartial, as decided by a special UN commission, parliamentary immunity should be lifted in order for the NABU to question and arrest those suspected of corruption. Currently parliament must vote on a case by case basis whether an MP should have their immunity revoked, it’s a bit like asking a mafia to give up one of their henchman; lifting parliamentary immunity is a hotly contested issue, but one that is supported by civil society in Ukraine. If rooting out corruption is such a priority and commitment for parties in parliament then why don’t they remove parliamentary immunity for all 423 MP’s? As the saying goes, you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide – though I suspect if immunity was lifted, many would have a lot to fear.
And finally, the investigation of the killings during Euromaidan on the 18th and 20th February 2014 must be resolved and those responsible brought to justice. The lack of progress is due to political inaction and judicial sabotage, in which 4 prosecutor generals have come and gone. Volodymyr Holodnyuk, the father of murdered Euromaidan protester Ustym said “I don’t even need to know who exactly pulled the trigger… I want justice… all of them should be held to account”. In the spirit of Volodymyr and in the memory of Ustym let us not be complacent in the fight against corruption.
Let us not forget the people of Ukraine!