Should Ukrainian Anti-corruption Activists Declare Their Wealth?
27 March, 2017

The law which requires individuals who receive funds and/or property for anti-corruption activities to fill in e-declarations was signed by the President Petro Poroshenko on March, 27th.

The initiative was introduced by Ukrainian lawmaker Tetyana Chornovol from the “Narodnyi Front” (People’s Front party). The bill requires individuals who receive funds and/or property for anti-corruption activities to fill in e-declarations.

Previously, when the parliament approved the bill, the international community, along with some Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, have expressed a negative reaction. In particular, Ukrainian MP Serhiy Leschenko called the bill ‘the worst Russian practice in the fight against dissidents’. The Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, wrote on Twitter: “Changes to the law on e-declarations are a step back, not forward, and should be reconsidered.” At the same time, the initiator Tetyana Chornovol says, “...a person [who declares their wealth] should be proud of themselves because he/she will follow the main rule of anti-corruption, which is transparency.

Before the law was approved Hromadske's Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to the head of the Board at Civil Lustration Committee Oleksandra Drik from the Sunday Show, 26th March 2017.

Oleksandra, please, explain why this is serious? What do we need to know about it?

Well it is very serious. First of all it is a huge attack on anti-corruption NGOs and civil society in general. And also independent investigative journalists in the first instance. Because it not only obliges them to publish e-declarations, but it creates conditions under which they can be chased by law enforcement and by political controlled National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption. So it creates conditions under which we can basically be chased for doing what? For fighting against corruption and for demanding them to show their assets because it was exactly the civil society who was demanding the launch of the e-declaration system. And now they are fighting back. And secondly, using this scandal, understanding that we will be protecting ourselves, that we will not let this happen, they actually introduced some amendments to the law on corruption that creates new corruption risks. Basically, it was not mentioned, I don't remember anyone mentioning it, that they amended some of the key provisions that we were working on in the initial legislation, meaning the initial presidential legislation, that would create conditions under which certain military will not be obliged by the law on prevention of corruption, either to publish their declarations, or fall under any other provisions of the legislation.

I think it is important to explain where this draft law came from, what was the initial idea, and how we ended up in this situation. First of all it was the presidential draft law that was to solve a problem of the military declaring assets why they are in the ATO zone, that was the initial idea. However the initial presidential law contained a lot of corruption risks. so we spent one week trying to get rid of all those corruption risks in the presidential law.

With the working group of the anti-corruption parliamentary committee, with the participation of the representative of the president in parliament we created a draft law that was OK. It was solving the problem with the junior level of military who are in the ATO zone and who cannot declare because of that. It was not creating any new corruption risks, when the draft law was voted in parliament it only included 5 amendments to the law, but during the voting, 49 other amendments were submitted to parliament.

Oleksandra, we see the issues with the way in which it proceeded, but what matters is public opinion in Ukraine. That is how a lot is played out. I have read that a lot of people who are kind of defiantly not paid by somebody. They just thought why not what is the problem with that.

There is no problem at all with publishing declarations, provided that it is required without the violation of the constitution in a manner that corresponds with the current legislation, with guarantees that we will not be chased and provided that we are not equaled to the state officials. What is the problem with these particular norms adopted by parliament. They are violating the Constitution.

"A honest anti-corruption activist, honest journalist, honest community board council at governmental entity shouldn’t have problems with filling in the declaration. In return this person should be proud of themselves because he/she will follow the main rule of anti-corruption - transparency," wrote Tetyana Chornovol. 

Secondly, they are discriminating. What is the difference between anti-corruption NGO an NGO, for instance, that controls and monitors the reform of the judciary, or the state reform? What is the difference between these NGOs? Why are we supposed to submit this declaration and be subject to criminal liability the same as state officials? Are we receiving public money? It is us that are paying the taxes and who require the state officials to explain whether they live on their salary, or whether they are involved with corruption.

There was a huge condemnation of this law. Some key politicians have negatively commented on that. The government could count this as pressure from the western governments. But really can it influence anything. Can you explain what can be changed, can the president do anything? Can we rollback? There was an initiative to have the journalist and editors, but now just anti-corruption activists?

Yes, Chornovol, the author of the amendments actually said that during the session said that she would exclude the journalists from that law because this will be in a different law, so you can expect that to come also. The problem is that it does limit the capacity of NGOs working in the field because it obliges every single person who is working with an NGO to submit a declaration. That will require everybody to submit a declaration who is a third party receiving money from any technical support coming from international donors.

Can you explain what could be done and what we should follow to make sure this law in not enforced?

The president can veto the law and that is what he has to do because it violates the constitution. Tomorrow he will be meeting the Ambassadors of the G7. And they are all well aware of the situation, and you have read some of their tweets and they will be raising this question and it's something that the president should do tomorrow, he should veto the law then he has to address parliament, call for an extraordinary meet of parliament and propose the amendment that where created by the working group. Then the problem is solved and we do not have come back again to this issue.

//The article was updated on March, 27th.