Ukraine’s fight against corruption has been a long and stony one. Four years into the reform process, the officials and anti-corruption activists still don’t see eye to eye. The support of the West highly depends on the country’s success in fighting corruption and nepotism, which are considered to be its greatest burden.
Hromadske spoke to the Head of the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption Alina Mungiu-Pippidi about people’s perception of corruption and the best way to fight it.
After Euromaidan Ukraine had a complicated story of reforms. Some were successful, others not so much. What do you think is an indicator of successful reforms? And what is the best way to communicate this effectiveness to the public?
First, I think that it is very difficult, not just for Ukraine, but for any other country to realize if control of corruption and governance reforms in general change in the short run. These are things which take quite a lot of time. And the way to appreciate them is to notice that one day things that used to work in a certain way, a way you didn't like, suddenly work better. Let's say, you couldn’t get a passport, or you couldn't get a driver's license without paying a bribe. And then you notice that somebody, who just got this, let's say you got it 5 years ago, and somebody who got it these days didn't have to pay anything. And this is the way, how people perceive change. People underestimate change. So each time, when something like this happens, it has to be communicated a lot. I think it also helps to communicate because it tells people they should stop doing things. Sometimes, nobody asks people for a bribe, but people just continue, because they think that this is what is expected of them. They think: “everybody else does it, so why shouldn't I do it.” So when the rule really changes, because regulation changes, or because new leadership is there, who no longer asks these of people, then you have to have a communication campaign. But not a general one, when you tell people “Oh, corruption is bad”, or let's all be nice after a lot of us have been corrupt. But you have to tell people, that from now there is this new office, where you do this and this is your transparent cost. If you pay anything more than this, then you really are a sucker. And if you communicate in this way to people, people will learn and they will do things otherwise. So simply understanding what success is, putting it out in very qualitative terms, something which used to work this way - now works differently. And also encouraging people to contribute to this. Not just go there with the wrong information and behave the old way. It's part of this package which is really like communicating to people that norms have changed, and the practices have to follow norms and change as well.
And can you name the specific indicators of this effective reforms, what are they?
Well, I do not know the indicators of successful reforms in Ukraine. But the only one that impressed me, and I think that others should be like that is the energy sector. For instance, you had an energy market which was the reflection of what we call the privileged economy - an economy, where bad restrictive regulation actually creates winners, people who get economic rents and do not get rich by merit. And this market was dominated by a very few selected connected companies, which got a lot of money out of this, just because they had the privilege of being in the market and other people were denied this privilege. And the fact that this small number of companies has now grown to a significant number of companies, who are able to trade energy, shows that the market access has opened. this is how it should be. Then you can see more significant consequences of this reform, but you should take other markets as well and look how it happens. If monopolies or oligopolies, small cartels, which have gotten together in the virtue of privilege, are giving way to more competitive access, where more people can come in and deal on the basis of merit, hard work or better products.
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Despite starting with very harsh reforms, such as lustration in Ukraine, we are now facing the situation, when the reforms are mostly pushed by civil society groups, rather than the government. Do you think it suffices?
I am not aware of any country that has succeeded in radically changing the governance regime. For instance, from systematically corrupt to exceptionally corrupt, except if some enlightened elite comes to government either in the form of one party, or in the form of a coalition of parties, broadly supported by society: supported by businesses, who want competitive business environment, not a privileged business environment, supported by universities, by intellectuals and supported by a broader group of people. So I think it is absolutely heroic to fight from the civil society to change a country. But unless you have a broader civil society, and its political representation, a coalition of parties, which managed to get 51 % in parliament, and pass the necessary reforms. Because in countries such as Ukraine, corruption is not an isolated phenomenon. You cannot cure corruption in health or in education without radically reforming the system of health and education. A part of corruption is policy failure - its produced by bad policies in the way these systems are organized. And it's not going to disappear just by arresting doctors that received gifts, you really need to change the system and for this you need to have a majority in parliament. You also need to know what to do but you also need to win some elections. And this might take some time, but there is no avoidance of that. That is the way ahead.
There is now a visual battle between the anti-corruption activists and the government. Even the anti-corruption activists being made to declare their assets publicly now in Ukraine. Have you ever seen such a situation in any other country? And what is the way of the most effective communication between this two groups? is it constructive criticism or is it harsh criticism?
Unfortunately, I think that this situation is really ridiculous. I haven't heard of any other country in which anti-corruption activists, and by the way, an anti corruption activist doesn't have to be paid a salary as an anti-corruption activist, you can be a journalist, investigative journalist, or someone who writes in a column regularly. And you cannot go around and ask people, who are completely private individuals to declare their fortunes. The reason why we are asking for financial disclosures from officials is because officials in their official capacity have the opportunity to trespass between public authority and private profit. And this is why they have to declare their fortune. This opportunity doesn't exist for journalists. Journalists don't have any power and access to public persons, it doesn't exist for civil society activists. So this whole thing looks a little bit like a revenge to me and the form of harassment to civil society.
On the other hand, I think that also it might be that civil society conceives very narrowly anti corruption as just real time repression of this top people who might do something that civil society thinks is wrong. And i know this is very tempting, I am Romanian by birth and in my native country, a lot of ministers have been put to jail. And even former prime minister and former president are in danger. But corruption has not gotten better due to all this. And it has not gotten better because civil society and politicians never really work together to enact the necessary reforms for corruption not to be produced anymore. I can put a minister in jail today but if its very lucrative business, the minister would come tomorrow, would just take over the rent and do all over the same again. So you have to have some cooperation with politicians. And for this cooperation with politicians, who have the advantage of being elected. Maybe they are bad politicians, maybe they are corrupt politicians. God knows, that in many of these countries they tend to be corrupt politicians. Nevertheless, you have to meet in between at least for them to enact this preventive reforms. They might feel less threatened by these kind of reforms, by deregulation, by privatization, demonopolization. And these really are the reforms, that change a country. not just arresting people. Because how many people can you arrest?
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
In Romania, there is no sufficient room in prisons. At some point, there were really jokes that in the preventive arrest of the Bucharest police, since most of the important people tend to be in the capital, there was no room and they were putting 6-8 people in one room to sleep. But at the end of the day, this didn't really change much, change less than in other countries, where they managed to negotiate some reforms.
So, unfortunately, you have to have a little bit of diplomacy in anti-corruption and that would mean, however, that people step a little bit back, they do not repress their own anti-corruption civil society, but also anti-corruption civil society understands a little bit more comprehensively this anti-corruption, not just repression of people who are there in power.
I would like also to address the corruption tolerance issue, because nepotism is considered to be Ukraine’s burden. Do you think there is such a thing a “corruption gene”? Is it more of an individual behavior and choice or is it a social problem?
Well, I am not a great believer in the theory that corruption is in some country’s DNA, or it’s even a cultural thing. Because if you look around these days, you would see that one of the most corrupt countries in the world, when nepotism is concerned seemed to be France. And France is the country, from where we all copied our legal codes and recreated modern administration. At least for us in eastern europe, this was a model country. And last year I read in an op ed of a French newspaper that why is it such a big deal that we now need to pass anti nepotism regulations in the Senate. Because only 1/5th of senators in France are directly hiring some first degree relative and that's not a lot. It used to be more n the past. And that of course is ridiculous. Nobody should hire their direct relatives. And therefore what happens is that when in times of low normative constraints, when people simply don’t care, or they don’t watch politics, whoever is in power and has too much power, does, and this French politicians have done, somebody lost elections in France last year because he has hired his wife and his two children as his personal aids in his electoral campaign. So no, no nation is born corrupt. And no people want to be abused by their rulers. Not even the most primitive, illiterate people. People know, when they are abused, and they do not like it.
And what are the lessons for Ukraine to be learned within the example of the Eastern European countries, which been a successful case for combating corruption?
Well, I think Ukraine was very close this time from learning these lessons. I think Ukraine was very slowly learning these lessons. Because the successful east European examples which are, in particular, Estonia, have been around for quite a while. And if Ukrainian rulers would have wanted to do what Estonia had done, they had a pool of opportunities, but they didn't do it. Meanwhile, there is the most recent example of Georgia, and I know that Ukraine tried to learn from Georgia. But i think Ukraine actually should do more. And in particular should do more in terms of Georgian administrative revolution, administrative simplification and transparency. There are quite a lot of lessons that Ukraine can still do. There are very close examples which can be culturally transferred. It's not easy to do what whoever else did, but doing what is best in eastern european countries, is something that is accessible to Ukraine. And I would insist on this.
/By Mariia Ulianovska