Fight against corruption put on hold

As reported here, all seemed in place for the anti-corruption laws passed by the Verkhovna Rada in June 2009 to come into force from 1 January 2010. Renate Wohlwend, Co-Rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, had issued a statement regarding the draft law introduced by O. Novikov which proposed deferring the force of these laws. That draft law had, on 23 December, been unable to gain a majority of votes in parliament.

However, as the New Year approaches, parliament has deferred the entry into effect of several anti-corruption laws for three months, promising to rework them. Their argument is that some of the norms could even be dangerous, however they have put not those norms on hold, but all three laws.

In her report for the BBC, Svitlana Dorosh points out that Ukraine in 2009 found itself in 146th place in Transparency International’s corruption index (where the greater the corruption, the higher ones rating), and that the anti-corruption laws were highly rated by international organizations fighting corruption, for being much more stern than anything thus far.

The laws would apply not only to public officials, but to judges, prosecutors, members of electoral commissions, foreign nationals working together with State bodies, Deputies’ assistants, the staff of civic organizations if they are even partly financed by the State, notaries, customs officers, police officers.

The laws envisage, among other things, the following:

–  that public officials must declare not only their income, but also their outgoings;

–  that public officials could not give jobs to their family and relatives, nor accept gifts worth more than 300 UAH.

–  a strict check when an official is taking up a post of his or her income, education, possible criminal record, state of health;

–  significantly higher fines and criminal liability for corrupt dealings, for example, taking or giving bribes.

Oleh Novikov told the BBC that he had been approached by the management of the Department for Fighting Organized Crime [UBOZ] who warned that the law was repressive and would be used not against high-ranking officials, but against teachers, bookkeepers, etc. He asserts that if the laws came into effect on 1 January, it would be possible to dismiss any public official, including the President. “A protocol on corruption is drawn up, three days, and in accordance with the law, a person should be dismissed. And what kind of instrument?”  Mr Novikov also maintains that many norms of the law are not linked with current legislation, the Criminal and Administrative Codes.

Parliamentarians now say that under the new law one could bring both university lecturers, teaching in more than one institute, and accountants working in several enterprises, to account.  Such situations where people work in more than one place are extremely common.

According to another National Deputy, Ruslan Knyazevych, previously a member of the Central Election Commission, there is danger in the fact that the laws can be applied to members of electoral commissions. This could be used by different parties to put pressure on members of the commissions: either they work for them, or they will look for compromising information to use against them.

During the debates, the Deputies acknowledged having read the law carefully only after they began to be approached by members of civic organizations, small business, lecturers and members of electoral commissions.

There is also scepticism among politicians as to whether such laws could radically change anything. Deputy Mayor of Kyiv, Yevhen Chervonenko has serious doubts as to whether those who break the law will be held to answer: “Here those who have stolen more, have more chance of paying their way out of liability.”

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