Standing with Ukraine’s anti-corruption champions

What it will take to support a new wave of Ukrainian leaders in eradicating corruption

“…They say that everything breaks now and that sometimes, afterwards, many are stronger at the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Ukraine remains the most corrupt country in Europe. Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index recently ranked Ukraine 131st of 176 countries investigated. Grand and Petty corruption riddle policymaking and service delivery. It is telling that Ukraine scores 29 out of a possible 100 in TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, showed an increase of only 2 points since 2015; this is attributed to the recent launch of the new e-declaration of wealth and assets for politicians and senior civil servants[1].

Yet, as Hemingway might attest, weakness can bend into strength.

While Ukrainian citizens surveyed in the summer of 2016 overwhelmingly indicated that major government service institutions in Ukraine had become more corrupt, only 10% based that perception on actually having personally given a bribe, while 22% said someone close to them admitting to having given a bribe, and 53% based their perception on media reports. That same survey reports that citizens continue to place fighting corruption among the top priorities to be addressed by their national government.[2]

Ukrainian citizens have also shown their personal commitment to fighting corruption in Ukraine. Since the 2013–2014 EuroMaidan Revolution of Dignity, a new wave of leaders has been elected and appointed on the promise of eradicating grand and petty corruption. Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2014–2017 was, for the first time, adopted as a law and, after numerous revisions in 2013–2015, Ukraine has aligned its criminal law on corruption with applicable international standards. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine’s first 70 detectives started work in late 2015 and the agency is slated to employ 700 staff. Meanwhile, the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption is charged with preventing corruption by monitoring the declarations and lifestyles of government officials. This has public support- according to a 2016 survey, 53% of Ukrainian residents are aware of high-level corruption and 44% felt anti-corruption reform should be a priority for Ukrainian national authorities.[3]

With this proliferation of promising anti-corruption tools and clear societal demand for reform, it’s an opportune moment to ask: how can the global community stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine’s anti-corruption champions to finally deliver real, sustained progress in the fight against corruption? Our experience fighting corruption, around the world and right now in Ukraine, suggests that the recipe for success includes three key ingredients.

Ingredient # 1 — A clear theory of change to guide action

Durable anti-corruption work requires a clear theoretical framework for driving reform. In Ukraine, a supply and demand side model illustrates how the cycle of corruption in Ukraine can be broken. The core of this idea is that institutional changes and reforms must go hand-in-hand with a change in public perception of, and reduced tolerance for, corruption.

On the supply side, anti-corruption efforts with Government of Ukraine (GoU) partners need to focus on breaking institutional corruption by equipping state institutions with improved legal and policy frameworks and anti-corruption tools. On the demand side, sustainable progress hinges on successfully shifting public opinion and engaging citizens in fighting corruption. This demand side, where people want public officials to be held accountable, is based on the assumption that citizens are willing and able to participate actively in state-led anti-corruption efforts, and that the primary hindrance to their participation is a lack of awareness, knowledge, and tools about how to engage. Consistent communication, and venues for citizen engagement, are key to this effort. The more that Ukrainians see that these tools can be used effectively, the more likely they are to have increased confidence that the corruption cycle can be broken and that their own personal actions are important contributions to that effort.

Ingredient # 2 — A toolkit with the right skills

Delivering lasting anti-corruption gains in Ukraine will require a set of skills that includes, at least, the following:

Insider Outsiders. Ukraine’s anti-corruption champions need support from “insider outsiders” — people close enough to the system to understand its political economy and ecosystem of relationships, while remaining removed enough from the system to not be completely co-opted by it. One reason that Crown Agents has been able to work with the GoU to tackle corruption, and reduce the price of oncology drugs by 37%, is our ability to identify and partner with the many talented Ukrainians close enough to know the system intimately and committed enough to avoid engaging in corrupt procurement activities.

Integrity Beyond Reproach. Anti-corruption work, which requires trust from partners across the ecosystem, needs to be driven by leaders beyond reproach. This is particularly important in environments like Ukraine where anti-corruption progress has come in fits and starts, and is jeopardized by reform fatigue. For example, Stanford University’s Hoover Institute has called Crown Agents honesty for hire and, in Ukraine, we’ve been working alongside Health Minister Uliana Suprun, who was recently called “incorruptible” by Prime Minister Groysman. While explicit, published reputational feedback is not a practical standard of proof for integrity, the broader takeaway is that partner and team member reputations need to be sterling.

Rapid response dramatically improved coverage of GoU’s procurement reform from July-August 2016.

Rapid Response Capability. Anti-corruption initiatives can threaten entrenched interests, provoke a hostile response, and spill over into public battles. If public support is the demand side of anti-corruption work in Ukraine, then the outcomes of public battles matter, and the ability to respond rapidly to attacks from entrenched interests is key. One lesson we’ve learned through our ongoing anti-corruption work in Ukraine is that dedicated rapid response expertise needs to be available. In July 2016, when our work began to prompt public hostility from entrenched interests, we retained a talented local PR firm specifically to maintain public support for anti-corruption efforts. As the figure at left demonstrates, the number of negative articles dropped substantially, and the amount of even-handed coverage increased dramatically. By listening for and responding to attacks in real-time, we’ve been able to help GoU maintain momentum on key reforms.

Ingredient # 3 — Pre- and post-Euromaidan perspective

These days, Ukraine’s post-Euromaidan trajectory is seemingly chronicled moment-by-moment in a series of ominous news headlines. Durable anti-corruption results, like those Crown Agents has delivered in partnership with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, are few and far between. Navigating Ukraine’s already complicated political economy is becoming more complicated and more fraught.

In this intricate and high-stakes environment, it is more important than ever that Ukraine’s anti-corruption champions are supported by pre- and post-Euromaidan perspectives. Those who advocated for reform pre-Euromaidan know the challenges that have slowed previous reform efforts and have the relationships necessary to drive sustainable improvement. Post-Euromaidan experts are intimately familiar with the promising institutions and undergirding relationships solidified over the last three years. Those with pre- and post-Euromaidan expertise can do both.

Ukraine’s anti-corruption champions stand ready to prove that their country can be stronger in the places it’s been broken. We are proud to stand with them, and share what we’ve learned with others who would do the same.

Crown Agents has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, partnering with donors including USAID, DFID, the EU, and the World Bank, as well as Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Cabinet of Ministers, Parliament, NGOs, CSOs, and others. Dr. Sarah Tisch has led anti-corruption activities around the world, including Ukraine, where she has worked for more than two decades. Ms. Eleanor Valentine is governance expert with more than 30 years of global experience, including 11 years of experience leading local teams on USAID’s Parliamentary Development Project in Ukraine.

[1] See

[2] See Public Opinion of Survey Residents of Ukraine May 28-June 14, 2016, Center for Insights in Survey Research, the International Republic Institute . This survey is of 2,400 residents of Ukraine aged over 18 and registered to vote from 25 official administrative regions of Ukraine, and 1,185 respondents from Dnipropetrovsk.

[3] Ibid. This survey is of 2,400 residents of Ukraine aged over 18 and registered to vote from 25 official administrative regions of Ukraine, and 1,185 respondents from Dnipropetrovsk.

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