Three anti-corruption government bodies, one anti-corruption committee within the Ukrainian Parliament, and long-discussed plans for an anti-corruption court — they’re all signs that Ukraine wants to fight corruption. At least on paper.
But in reality, creating an independent anti-corruption effort in Ukraine is no small feat and maintaining it seems to have become increasingly difficult.
With the hashtag #SaveNABU — referring to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine — trending on Twitter for days, many believe the government is targeting one of the country’s most efficient and independent anti-corruption agencies.
This week, parliament tried to pass a bill advanced by leaders of the two largest political factions that would allow the MPs to fire and hire the heads of anti-corruption bodies without an audit process. The move immediately attracted the U.S. and Europe’s ire.
But, on the morning of December 7, Ukrainian reformist lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem gleefully announced that the bill had been dropped from voting, thanks to international pressure and the overnight efforts of reformers.
“One day, the events of this night will go down in history textbooks,” Nayyem wrote on his Facebook page while breaking the news.
But the fight for the independence of Ukraine’s anti-corruption system is far from over. Only a few hours after the bill was dropped, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Yegor Sobolev — head of the parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee and an outspoken critic of President Petro Poroshenko — from office. Many believe that if an ally of Poroshenko steps into Sobolev’s position, that individual and the parliament would be able to influence the auditing process. And that could potentially give the parliament the ability to oust NABU head Artem Sytnyk too.
Former Head of the parliamentary Anti-Corruption committee Yegor Sobolev (L) and Director of the National Anti-Corrpution Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk (M). Photo credit: UNIAN
While the MPs prepared to vote on the contentious bill that would strengthen parliamentary control over anti-corruption agencies, all eyes were on Ukraine. As global experts and international organizations voiced their dissatisfaction, it looked like Poroshenko, who prides himself on his international partners in Europe and the U.S., risked losing this support.
“If the Rada [Parliament] votes to dismiss the head of the Anti-Corruption Committee and the head of the NABU, I will recommend cutting all US government assistance to Ukraine, including security assistance,” Michael Carpenter, a former foreign policy advisor to Joe Biden, warned on Twitter on December 6.
“This is a disgrace,” he stressed.
Carpenter was far from the only foreign expert to express outrage.
Transparency International earlier praised Sobolev’s work and urged Ukraine not to target him.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Ukraine expressed their concern about recent actions by the prosecutors and the government which they believe threaten anti-corruption bodies’ independence.
“We are deeply concerned about recent attacks on independent anti-corruption institutions such as NABU and SAPO [the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office] in Ukraine that threaten their ability to fight corruption and recover stolen assets,” World Bank Ukraine wrote on Facebook. “It’s critical they have the legislative framework and resources to fulfill their mandate,”
This allegation of government pressure comes less than a month after Anna Solomatina, the former head of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption’s financial control department, accused the current agency head, Natalia Korchak, of illegally enriching herself, falsifying electronic asset declaration results and blocking some aspects of the organization’s work.
Perhaps more alarmingly, Solomatina called the presidential administration out for controlling NAPC’s day-to-day operations. She named Oleksiy Horashchenkov, a lawyer and a former aide to Poroshenko, as the curator who “arrived at NAPC multiple times” and told them who “needs to be investigated.”
Later Solomatina told Hromadske that since becoming a whistleblower, she fears for her life.
“I asked NABU to provide me with security. I am scared for my life, scared of someone putting pressure on me,” she said, explaining why she has five security guards.
Solomatina’s former NAPC colleague Ruslan Ryaboshapka alleged that having NAPC under the president’s control was “beneficial” first and foremost to Poroshenko.
“The president was aware of the situation and judging from the fact that the curator didn’t get a scolding from Poroshenko, this situation was beneficial to him,” Ryaboshapka told Hromadske.
But while there are clear attempts to tame Ukraine’s anti-corruption institutions, some small progress indicates that not all is lost.
One reassuring change would be the creation of the much-anticipated anti-corruption court. And Poroshenko appeared to be on board with the idea when he called for the acceleration of the process this week.
“Tomorrow it will be a month since I proposed to the Parliament to speed up the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Court,” the president wrote on his Facebook page on December 7.
“...if I do not see progress at the beginning of the next week, I will prepare the relevant draft law myself and submit it to the parliament in 7-10 days,” he added.
/By Maria Romanenko