After vetoing a bill to reinstate the key anti-corruption e-declaration bill earlier this week, for failing to make the information public, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has proposed amendments on September 13 that will hold Ukraine’s public servants accountable to the public.
When the e-declaration law was first introduced several years ago it was hailed as a major step forward in the fight against corruption. Public servants, including the senior executives of state-owned companies, were required to declare their assets and income, and those of their immediate family, via the online system. The information was open to public scrutiny and the press for the sake of accountability.
However, after martial law was declared immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the requirement to declare was suspended. Acutely aware of the need to tackle Ukraine’s endemic corruption problem, Zelenskiy has been ramping up his anti-corruption drive over the last year, if Ukraine is to have any chance of attracting the tens of billions of dollars of investment from the private sector, which was the main theme of the Recovery conference held in London in June.
Zelenskiy’s amended version of the bill would restore open access to the registered assets of state and local government officials. His proposed amendments come in the wake of significant changes made to draft law no. 9534 by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, that wanted to suspend the public disclosure of the information for at least a year.
The Verkhovna Rada approved the legislation on September 5, but added the key amendments that temporarily allowed electronic asset declarations to remain private for one year.
Zelenskiy's proposal does make some exceptions to full disclosure, with some government employees in specific jobs related to national security being exempted, such as individuals working in the State Border Service of Ukraine, State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, the Department of State Security. Members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine would not have their registered assets accessible to the public.
Additionally, declarations submitted by special-purpose police involved in combat during martial law, as well as those of the injured, prisoners of war, and individuals in temporarily occupied territories, will remain confidential.
The National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) would be responsible for removing declarations from public access based on a written request from the respective head of the government agency where the declarant is employed.
However, Zelenskiy's proposed exceptions would not extend to military personnel holding ministerial or deputy ministerial positions, heads or deputy heads of central and local executive bodies, or various roles in government ministries, the justice system, and military defence procurement.
Ukraine’s military is riddled with corruption, and that led Zelenskiy to sack Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov recently on September 3, who had been mired in several corruption scandals. Zelenskiy also sacked all the heads of the regional recruitment offices for taking bribes of up to $15,000 to issue medical exemption from military service certificates to those that don’t want to serve in the army. In addition, the list of illnesses and afflictions that can give rise to exemptions was radically reduced.
Zelenskiy suggested that the NACP should be tasked with ensuring constant access to the Unified State Register of Declarations on a temporary basis as long as martial law remains in effect.
The passage of the amended law will be closely followed by Ukraine’s allies as a test of the current administration's ability to crack down on corruption.
In another significant signal of the seriousness of Zelenskiy's anti-corruption drive, oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky was arrested on September 2 and then later charged with embezzling $250mn from PrivatBank on September 8 in what should be a landmark case.
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