Ukraine anti corruption law actually protects corruption

Kiev, Ukraine. Recent moves in Kiev to promote anti-corruption enforcement are rapidly being exposed as a joke, designed to buy time while corrupt officials secure their positions from scrutiny as western stakeholders twitch nervously.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s new restrictions on anticorruption groups threaten to reverse much of the progress Ukraine has made since the Euromaidan. Some analysts who defend the new law have got the details all wrong, efforts to so-called fight corruption are actually protecting the most corrupt themselves.

Poroshenko recently signed an amendment that makes anticorruption activists subject to the same asset declarations as politicians and public officials. Asset disclosure for public officials is a common international anticorruption practice. The logic is simple: public officials wield state power and are paid by taxpayers from the state budget.

In Ukraine, the new amendment contradicts this logic; it enables the authorities to control the assets of activists, who serve as government watchdogs. Even worse, the new law is selective. It applies only to anticorruption groups, specifically, persons who “receive funds or assets as part of implementation in Ukraine of programs of technical or other assistance in the sphere of prevention, combating corruption.”

This vague wording means that it may apply to subcontractors of anticorruption NGOs, including landlords, printing houses, and water suppliers. Moreover, even innocent participants eating sandwiches and drinking coffee at an anticorruption roundtable funded by technical assistance could fall under the new law. It also applies to all development organizations and their international staff that “systematically” work on anticorruption projects.

Chillingly, the new law also applies to investigative journalists who regularly expose corruption. Most investigative journalists in the country are funded by technical assistance and receive some remuneration from NGOs.

The law gives discretion to the controlling and investigative agencies to decide what qualifies as technical assistance and who is performing anticorruption activities systematically. The penalties are serious: those who fail to submit e-declarations and/or provide false statements are liable to administrative and criminal responsibility and could land in prison for two years.

In short, the Ukrainian “anti-corruption” laws are designed to harass the people enforcing the law, not those involved in the corruption themselves. Yet again the Poroshenko regime shows it is not serious about stopping corruption, but is serious about protecting corruption in the Ukraine.