Ukraine’s fight against corruption is not new. It’s Still Trying: NPR
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KYIV, Ukraine – The recent firing of top Ukrainian officials has brought back the spotlight on the country’s decades-long battle against corruption.
Over the course of several days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and government cabinet members ordered the resignation of more than a dozen advisers, deputy ministers, prosecutors and regional administrators.
At least three of the officials are involved in various scandals exposed by the press. Ukrainian anti-corruption officials arrested one for bribery.
“We will never go back to the way things used to be, to the way of life bureaucrats used to, to the old way of chasing power,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday night. at the start of the refurbishment.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was not aware of its aid’s involvement in the allegations, but teams in Kiev and Washington were working to ensure the aid met its objectives.
Here are some of the keys to understanding how Ukraine got here and what is being done about it.
He went from the Soviet Union to the Wild West
When Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, control of the country’s economy shifted from the former communist leadership in Moscow to what watchdogs called “clans” — owned by private networks defined by intimidation, nepotism, and crime. The free market that President George HW Bush encouraged Ukraine when he visited Kiev in 1991 resulted in a “wild west” of loopholes and power grabs as high as the president’s desk.
“It was like the Middle Ages,” said Vasyl Zadvornyy, the former CEO of Prozorro, Ukraine’s public procurement service. Many international watchdog groups have declared Ukraine one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
But after Ukrainian police responded with excessive force to small pro-EU protests in 2013, millions of Ukrainians took to the streets to seek answers behind the government’s violence.
“It became very clear how much damage corruption had done to institutions,” says Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics. After months of protests culminating in further police brutality, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, himself a member of the “Donetsk clan”, fled the country.
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Immediately afterwards, Russia invaded Ukraine and supported separatist movements in the Donbass region. Mylovanov says the episode revealed how corrupt practices have undermined Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.
“The security services did nothing. They just weren’t capable,” he said. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014 in less than a month without firing a shot. The Ukrainians dug into their own pockets to replenish military arsenals emptied by years of embezzlement and bad contracts.
“A new community of civil society watchdogs has been established to provide a high level of transparency and accountability,” says Zadvornyy.
In 2015, his group teamed up with activists, software programmers, and the Ukrainian government to unveil a brand new public procurement system called Prozorro, which means “transparent” in Ukrainian. Meanwhile, all elected and appointed officials had to disclose all their finances or face severe punishment.
“Access to our data is much wider than in the United States,” said Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kiev-based non-governmental organization.
Detailed database adds control
In 2016, the Ukrainian parliament required companies and government agencies to use Prozorro, disclosing thousands of details about every transaction, right down to the price of a pencil in a rural school district, the pencil’s intended use, the competitive cost for the same pencil, and contact details. for buyer and seller.
“It is very popular among the business community,” says Zadvornyy, because it guaranteed fair market practices for the first time in Ukraine’s history.
Yet Western countries have urged Ukraine to do more as billions of dollars in public and private investment pour into the country still at war with separatists.
“It is not enough to pass laws to increase transparency around official revenue sources,” then-Vice President Joe Biden said ahead of a 2015 session of Ukraine’s parliament, where he pledged a $190 million package to fight corruption.
“Reform is not just good governance, it is self-preservation,” he added.
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But the kind of additional reforms Biden and European Union officials wanted to see in Ukraine, such as better law enforcement against publicly visible corruption, never came to fruition.
Responding to a damning 2016 op-ed by The New York Times headlined “Ukraine’s Intransigent Corruption,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused the newspaper of siding with Russia in its war against Ukraine. Poroshenko reiterated that the corruption allegations diverted attention from national defense during his ultimately unsuccessful 2019 presidential campaign against Zelensky.
Military purchases were secret
When Russia invaded Ukraine again in 2022, Ukraine temporarily suspended transparency requirements for reasons of national security.
Over the next few months, civilian expenditures reappeared in Prozorro’s database, but military purchases nevertheless remained secret. This has led some observers, including a group of US lawmakers, to demand even greater wartime transparency.
While this is debated, the issue of perception remains.
“The only way to restore confidence is to be as tough as possible,” Shabunin of the Anti-Corruption Action Center said of the government’s recent moves to fire senior officials over transparency.
“Yes, we have a lot of problems, but we are on the right track, but we know how to do it,” he said. “That’s why I remain optimistic.”
This also appears to be the EU’s assessment of Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts to date.
When the bloc of 27 countries accepted Ukraine’s application for membership in June 2022, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised the country’s recent reforms.
“Much has been achieved, but of course there is still important work to be done,” said von der Leyen.
Joanna Kakissis and Polina Lytvynova contributed to this story.
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