A Pro-Reform Coalition: Speaker Hroisman, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk (REUTERS)

Ukraine’s Epic War On Corruption, Explained.

by Devin Ackles, Hromadske International, Case Ukraine

produced by Maxim Eristavi, Randy R. Potts

What You Need to Know:

✓ The previous Ukrainian parliament passed four anti-corruption laws before ending its work;

✓ Ukraine has one of the highest levels of corruption in the world;

✓ Ukraine already has many anti-corruption laws and governmental bodies responsible for dealing with corruption;

✓ The new laws are far from perfect, but the high level of pressure from the public to carry them out may help turn things around;

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How Bad Is It?

Corruption exists in every country of the world to some degree, though few countries in Europe have experienced the level of corruption that permeates the daily lives of Ukrainians. From small, almost unperceivable bribes given to doctors to ensure slightly better care or the crippling bribes that businesses have to hand over in order to make sure they will not be subject to a raid by the tax inspection police.

And Russia has played an important role in bolstering the system of corruption, whether it be through sweetheart gas deals to friendly oligarchs in Ukraine or showing it is willing to be a haven for former Ukrainian officials suspected of corruption. Check out this report, for example:

Ukrainians have been feeling the crunch of corruption for decades now. In the most recent Corruption Perception Index (2013) by Transparency International, Ukraine ranked as among not only the worst in the region, but the world. Ranking lower than both Russia and Belarus, Ukraine was only slightly above countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Haiti.

The 2013 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index

As is true with many other countries of the former Soviet Union, corruption can be found just about everywhere. To those not accustomed to it, it can be easy to overlook. Ever wonder why there is so much dashcam footage on YouTube in Russia and Ukraine? It is used to prove to traffic police that no traffic laws were broken, helping drivers to avoid paying a bribe (or a trumped up ticket).

The Yanukovych administration showed precisely how far unchecked corruption can go. Just watch this:

Video of former Ukrainian president Yanukovych’s empty luxury estate

Inside The Presidential Palace Of Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell (GETTY))

A Question of Cultural Values?

Corruption has deep roots in Ukrainian society. It dates back to the era of Russian domination and Czarist rule, but it grew much worse following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Shortly after independence in 1991 a new tradition developed in Ukraine. People entered the government, whether at the local or national level, primarily to find ways to improve their financial standing by milking the system. When MPs turn up to work in Range Rovers while sporting fancy tailor made suits and unfathomably expensive timepieces, no one is fooled for a second that they were able to pay for these luxuries on their meager state salaries.

The typical run around for officials when confronted publicly is a number of standard formulaic responses. For example, when asked how they could afford such expensive vehicles, they claim that the vehicle is not theirs. It is not at all uncommon for officials with senior level posts in the government to have incredibly financially ‘successful’ wives and children who happen to have several cars, a few homes and a thriving business or two.

After growing disillusioned with the Orange Revolution, many Ukrainians understood that it was not just a few bad apples in the system that were the problem, but rather that the whole barrel was rotten. All parties in the government were, on some level, complicit in perpetuating the system of corruption.

For many supporters of the Maidan Revolution in 2013–2014, the European Union symbolized a place where democracy was alive and well, the rule of law prevailed and people had a higher quality of living. This was possible because they had strong independent government institutions and the rules of the game were the same for everyone.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt quoted on Ukraine’s corruption problem

But with Maidan’s victory, surely things would change in quick order, no?

A Maidan self-defense member checks out a chess set at a hunting residence of Kedr, a hunting club set up for the pleasure of Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies. Photo: YanukovychLeaks

Why Is There No Progress After The Maidan Revolution?

After Yanukovych and all of his ministers fled the country, the opposition was able to quickly take over and set up a new government. From the beginning, it called itself the ‘kamikaze’ government — alluding to the fact that it would have to push through a number of unpopular reforms and change the country, even if it meant their own political suicide. Its new ministers were to be a mix of people who were very active on Maidan, including activists and MPs.

Their first days of work led to the passage of a series of important laws, the release of political prisoners and more than the occasional misstep. Yanukovych’s government had looted the state’s coffers, leaving the new government in a desperate position. Spectacular arrests and property seizures were made, and never without a full camera crew in tow. Yet, the dire economic situation was not improving and Ukraine needed help.

Revealed: The Palaces Of Ukraine’s Oil And Gas Men

As pressure mounted from Russian aggression and the annexation of Crimea, the ‘kamikaze’ government and parliament faltered. Besides a few stunts on camera, nothing of substance has been done. In fact, some of the officials suspected in bilking the budget for millions and millions of dollars are once again in parliament. Thanks in large part to renewed protests by civil society, parliament reluctantly passed both the so-called ‘lustration’ law and a package of anti-corruption laws.

Anne Applebaum: In the time you waste doing reforms slowly, you can become corrupt

The ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had dozens of luxury cars at his country estate outside the capital, Kiev. Ukraine has been plagued by widespread corruption and an economy that is near bankruptcy. Yuriy Dyachyshyn

The Latest Anti-Corruption Legislation, Explained

Ukraine has possessed anti-corruption legislation since it was a Soviet Republic. It has created official bodies, law enforcement agencies and amended its laws to combat corruption time and again. Instead of eliminating, or at least reducing, corruption, all of its half-hearted efforts have actually made the situation worse. Government controlled agencies set up to fight corruption are used as political tools in order threaten, extort and coerce otherwise above board businesses and individuals.

Questions have arisen about the new governments willingness to get tough on corruption. A video from activists of lifelong civil servant and General Prosectuor Yarema’s home

After the Maidan Revolution, the series of anti-corruption laws, four in all, were passed by parliament just days before it closed its doors for elections.

The most controversial and potentially potent of the laws is the “National Corruption Bureau” law, which creates a brand new, independent investigative body. In the law it is clearly stated that it cannot be used to further “party, group or individual interests” and strictly prohibits the Bureau from interfering in the affairs of political groups, government bodies and its officials as well as political parties, associations and other persons or entities. This redundant language is meant to safeguard society against the Bureau being abused for personal or political ends.

The second law, entitled “On the Prevention of Corruption” is meant to create a system for combating corruption that is in line with the best practices of other countries. The law creates something called the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, not to be confused with the Bureau, that is essentially a policymaking body that monitors the effectiveness of the government’s policies and how to make it more effective. Individuals who will serve in the new agency will be selected through open competition and the head of the agency cannot serve more than 2 years in a row at a time.

The third law which parliament passed is a series of amendments to the already existing anti-corruption laws. Perhaps the second most important law, it is designed to make everything much more transparent. It prescribes a series of entities and individuals that need to make all of their financial and property holdings, as well as business interests, public. All enterprises, except for state-owned enterprises, will be required to reveal whom the beneficiaries of their work are. If successful, it would eventually signal the end of an era of shell companies and hidden business interests that plague Ukraine.

The fourth and final law is a roadmap for the Ukrainian government up until the end of 2017. The law defines specific problems related to corruption and identifies clear steps that the government is to undertake in order to deal with them, including plugging up any possible gaps in the existing legislation (there are plenty). It will function as a kind of barometer against which civil society and parliament can assess the nation’s progress in its battle with corruption.

A anti-corruption protester shouts during clashes with pro-government forces at Independence Square in Kyiv August 7, 2014. REUTERS/KONSTANTIN CHERNICHKIN

Will It Work?

It is easy to overlook the fact that Ukraine already has a substantial, though clearly inadequate, number of instruments to deal with corruption. This latest attempt in a long series of anti-corruption initiatives possesses something that its predecessors did not: a high level of active public support and war waging in the east that leaves few alternatives but its success.

As Dan Peleschuk reports for The Global Post:

That’s the case with a new anti-corruption law passed in September and aimed at purging officials tied to the Yanukovych regime or otherwise found guilty of corruption.

Also known as “lustration,” it was one of the Maidan’s key demands and was seen as the best way to keep crooked officials out of office.

But some observers say the measure — which parliament passed under pressure from angry protesters — is both legally murky and overly sweeping, creating the potential for political score-settling and little room for its nuanced application.

They worry it may alienate a large swath of officials by excluding them for their past associations.

The creation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau may help the nation finally dismantle its long-standing system of corruption. Yet, there are already red flags that it also may become a tool of political convenience. Despite all the fanciful language used to describe the independence of the Bureau, it will be entirely dependent on the state budget. Its funding, and general standing, may be subject to the whims of those in power — a sad reality that Ukraine knows all too well.

Current unrest in Ukraine is, in part, a symptom of corruption. Outside powers [Russia] seized upon preexisting weaknesses to further corrode Ukraine’s already fragile political systems, said Tymofiy Mylovanov, assistant professor of economics, University of Pittsburgh during an interview on Hromadske International’s Sunday Show. Reforms will help protect Ukraine’s national sovereignty. Without wide-sweeping and lasting reforms, the country could crumble.

“The war should not be an excuse not to conduct reforms” — Mylovanov

There are signs that things may be on the cusp of really changing. In his first address to the new parliament, President Poroshenko proposed appointing a foreigner without ties to the Ukrainian political elite to head the new National Anti-Corruption Bureau. The EU Association Agreement also opens the door to bringing in technical expertise to make these and other forms a reality.

Hromadske International co-founder

The ‘kamikaze’ government’s failure to take any kind of meaningful steps towards dismantling Ukraine’s embedded system of corruption leaves a lot of questions about whether or not a new coalition government, headed by many of the same people, can succeed. More important than any future anti-corruption legislation is how, if at all, the government will make use of the substantial tools already at its disposal to rid the nation of its most damning illness.

Thanks to randy r. potts

    Hromadske International

    Written by

    Eastern Europe, explained.

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