Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling, your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine with a focus on a main issue. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.
FOCUS INTERVIEW: Transparency International Ukraine Specialist Andriy Sliusar tells Bohdan Nahaylo how the Anti-Corruption Fight is Going.
CULTURE and MUSIC
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FOCUS INTERVIEW: Transparency International Ukraine Specialist Andriy Sliusar tells Bohdan Nahaylo how the Anti-Corruption Fight is Going.
Nahaylo: My guest this week is Andriy Sliusar who is Senior Specialist at Transparency International Ukraine, an organization, which is in a forefront of combating and exposing corruption as well as campaigning for greater transparency not just in Ukraine, but globally. He will tell us a little bit more about Transparency International. Let me begin by saying that last week we had a very interesting discussion with Yulia Marushevska about aspects of a battle against corruption in this country. We’ve seen even more dramatic developments during last week. We’ve seen searches of not only National Bank by NABU [National Anti-Corruption Bureau], but we have seen seemingly anti-corruption and civil society organizations being targeted in Parliament by being forced eventually to make e-declarations about their income and sources of revenues. Of course, this topic remains central for the international community as it expresses concern about what is going on. Andriy, welcome to Ukraine Calling! Maybe two words about yourself. What do you actually do for Transparency International? Remind our listeners what the mandate of this organization is.
Sliusar:Thank you for having me. Transparency International is a global anti-corruption network of civil society representatives and activists. It has its chapters in almost all countries.
Nahaylo: Where is the headquarters?
Sliusar: The headquarters is in Berlin, Germany. The chair of the board is Jose Ugaz, a former prosecutor from Peru, who is well known for prosecuting a lot of corruption offences, including former president of Peru. He lives in Lima, Peru and frequently comes to Berlin. He was in Kyiv last year.
Nahaylo: How long has Transparency International been in Ukraine?
Sliusar: Our organization became an official chapter starting from 2012. Before that we were cooperating with Transparency International Global movement without having this official status.
Nahaylo: So you were here during Yanukovych period? [Victor Yanukovych was President of Ukraine 2010-February 2014 when he fled to Russia.]
Sliusar: Yes. At that time I was not a part of the Transparency International team, but the organization was active.
Nahaylo: What do you do personally? What are you responsible for?
Sliusar: At TI I am a project manager for fighting top corruption in terms of criminal proceedings. The main objective of our project is to monitor and push forward the investigation against Yanukovych and his allies. So corruption crimes committed during his regime.
Nahaylo: Has it become easier after the Revolution of Dignity to expose and fight corruption? Or have you run into similar or more disguised, subtle barriers?
Sliusar: It has become easier, but not as easy as it was expected during, or just after, the Revolution. As time passes after the Revolution itself, it becomes harder to communicate with the law-enforcement and other state agencies. They are not so willing to share information, to start investigations, and to send cases to court when it comes to criminal investigations.
Nahaylo: Is this because the personnel and the culture of doing things have not been changed? Or is it also linked to a political will higher up?
Sliusar: I would say that the main reason is the lack of political will itself. The top personnel is not ready or not willing to change the hierarchical culture. The regular employees, the regular personnel, they act according to the main culture, to the main baseline of the agency. Changing of this culture and mind-set is up to the top personnel, to the heads of the agencies.
Nahaylo: It also involves an average individual on the street because many of them criticize the president and the parliamentarians and, yet, in everyday life take part or support forms of corruption.
Sliusar: Absolutely. This perception in the society that all state authorities are corrupt or are not willing to fight corruption, it frustrates regular people.
Nahaylo: Demoralises them…
Sliusar: Yes. They are more likely to remain part of the system because society does not see them as effective state servants. They are trying to get hold to the system, which is protecting them basically.
Nahaylo: And of course there is an issue of decent pay as a pre-emptive factor. I guess for many civil servants a temptation to take a little bit on the side, to supplement their earnings is understandable.
Sliusar: That is one of the very significant issues about salaries of public servants. It has been discussed at length during the last couple of years: to make them more efficient we need to pay them salaries in line with the market or at least close to that number.
Nahaylo: Could you briefly give us an idea about forces in civil society that are involved apart from Transparency International? There seem to be quite a lot of small and large NGOs representing civil society taking on these issues in recent years.
Sliusar: After the Revolution of Dignity the capacity of civil society was growing pretty stable. Now we have a coalition of NGOs, which is called “Reanimation of Package of Reforms.” It includes more than 60 NGOs in different spheres staring from ecological issues and reforms in medicine and …
Nahaylo: Are you part of this as an international NGO?
Sliusar: Yes. Transparency International Ukraine is a part of this coalition. Our experts participate in working groups of this coalition on different issues, especially on anti-corruption and law-enforcement reforms. So, that is the main think tank of the NGOs, which contains almost all the significant players in this field.
Nahaylo: Okay. Let’s look quickly at where we stand in terms of the advances in the struggle against corruption or attempts to curb corruption. We can certainly see signs of progress. Let’s take the reform of the legal system, such as trying to get rid of corruption among judges, for instance. We have this e-float so far of e-declaration system, which I would like you to comment on a little bit later. From time to time we have these raids and arrests of fairly senior officials. The Nasirov case is probably the best known. So, where do we stand in terms of the progress that is being made? Have we turned a corner yet or are we still at a fairly early stage?
Sliusar: We definitely have some progress in comparison with 2013, for instance. Adding to the list you mentioned, we also have the electronic procurement system, which I think is the best known measure abroad among other anticorruption reforms, because significant amount of state funds were lost in the procurements sphere. Such measures continue in different spheres. Now the same system has been developed for the sales of state entities,for any goods that should be sold by state. Additionally, several new agencies were established, such as the National Anti-corruption Bureau, which is supposed to investigate corruption cases committed by top level officials, or in terms of the amount of money involved in the crime.
Nahaylo: Andriy, NABU is very much in the news, on the cutting edge, in the forefront on the battleground against corruption. But is it sufficiently capacitated? Are there enough people? Are its powers and prerogatives sufficient?
Sliusar: Actually NABU is in a process of establishing the entire system. Currently they have only their head office here in Kyiv, and they are supposed to have 5 more regional offices, which are now being established. A few of them already have their directors. The main cases of top corruption are committed in the capital, so the capacity of the head office for now, I would say, is more or less enough for dealing with that amount of work and that amount of cases they need to investigate.
Nahaylo: How much more time do they need to be set up in the regions?
Sliusar: Well, this depends on the view of the leadership of NABU. I’ve heard that they might focus on the headquarters and to have their regional offices to be not so big, so they can just assist with the work of the investigators and detectives of the head office. In that case, this would not require a lot of time, I would say. By the end of this year they should completely form the system of NABU.
Nahaylo: Remind our listeners, which agencies are involved in the struggle against corruption?
Sliusar: We also have a Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, which is supposed to prosecute and present in the court cases investigated by NABU. This office is a part of the system of the General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) and the head of the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office is a Deputy General Prosecutor. But still it has much more independence than the regular departments of the GPO. So, it is not a totally independent body, but it is fairly independent part of the system of the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Nahaylo: What was the conflict of last year about when we saw those ugly scenes on the streets of Kyiv, where workers of the Procuracy were struggling physically with members of NABU? Was this simply about turf war, about trying to protect their spheres of influence, or prerogatives, or what?
Sliusar: Well, actually the issue was that the NABU detectives started investigations against prosecutors from the General Prosecutor’s Office and the General Prosecutor’s Office decided to fight back literally. They were trying to arrest those detectives and followed the employees. Special forces of both agencies were involved in that clash, so it was widely discussed.
Nahaylo:Has this friction continued? Were these “teething” problems of new institutions resolved?
Sliusar: I think that the conflict was not resolved totally, but it definitely was diffused. The heads of these agencies -the General Prosecutor and the head of NABU- had a few public discussions and they showed some level of agreement. After that we did not see significant clashes between them, but definitely there are some issues they need to resolve.
Nahaylo: Let’s move on quickly to what has been happening in the last days, a week or two. What are the most significant developments from your point of view?
Sliusar: I would not name it as a development, but the most significant issue was that the law on electronic declaration was amended with a few provisions that included members of civil society. According to which NGOs became obliged to submit those e-declarations. That was totally unexpected by the civil society and by part of the parliament.
Nahaylo: Who initiated this? Where did this come from?
Sliusar: The draft law submitted to the Parliament was not about the civil society. It was supposed to help the military servicemen, who were obliged to submit electronic income declarations while on the battlefield without any a proper Internet connection. So the goal of the draft law was to solve this problem and to let people not to fill out declarations while they do not have access to the Internet.So the goal of the draft law was to solve this problem and to let people not to fill out declarations while they do not have access to the Internet.So the goal of the draft law was to solve this problem and to let people not to fill out declarations while they do not have access to the Internet. But then the Member of Parliament Tatiana Chornovil established the amendments to that draft law, and actually she proposed these provisions, including NGOs –
Nahaylo: How do you understand that? Tatiana Chornovil, we remember, was such a leading campaigner against corruption in the Yanokuvych period — she suffered physically, etc., and now she is leading this. What do you think the rationale was behind this?
Sliusar: Actually, she used to be an investigative journalist and these provisions would influence an investigative journalists as well. They would be required to submit these declarations to declare assets, as well as all the civil activists, NGOs, and people who are receiving money from grant projects or technical support programs and a lot of investigative journalists are receiving money from that sources.
Nahaylo: So why do you think she would have come out with this initiative?
Sliusar: I don’t think that was her personal initiative, because she is a member of the Narodnyi Front Party which is the part of the ruling coalition. The way the Parliament was voting for that draft law, journalists spotted the fact that many MPs from the ruling coalition did not vote in person. So, I would say that that was the joint decision of the coalition.
Nahaylo: There was a meeting after this with the President and representatives of civil society who were expressing their concern. Apparently some kind of compromise was worked out in the sense that the President says, ‘Well, lets’ go with what we have now, and then we’ll return to this at a later stage.’ Is Transparency International and its allies content with this compromise or do you remain concerned?
Sliusar: Well, the main argument with the President was that he can’t use his veto right for that law because basically tomorrow there is a deadline for submitting the declaration. And if he would use that right, the army service personnel would be obliged to declare their assets. So, he proposed his vision that he would sign that document law and it was published yesterday, so now it’s part of legislation.
Nahaylo: Yeah, it’s in force.
Sliusar: And then he would initiate the creating of the working group, which is supposed to develop the draft law on amending the most questionable provisions of this law –
Nahaylo: I see it’s been criticized even by the Deputy Minister of Justice yesterday, Serhiy Petukhov, who said it’s ‘too vague’ and legally doesn’t hold any water.
Sliusar: Absolutely, that doesn’t match with the main idea of the electronic declaration system because the goal of the system is to monitor the income, the assets of the people empowered by state authorities, and people who are receiving money from state funds. The goal of this monitoring is to find whether these people are receiving unlawful wealth, unexplained assets during the year and compare this declaration to previous years. To include NGOs doesn’t make any sense because NGOs and civil activists cannot be charged for unlawful enrichment because it’s not a part of the criminal code. So, the main issue is just to oblige them to show their assets and that’s it. The coalition, the ruling parties, are giving some traction to this by using an argument ‘If you have nothing to hide, then why are you fighting against this provision?’ And it doesn’t make sense.
Nahaylo: Okay, and just before we end, a comment or two about the body responsible for setting up the e-declaration system has come under fire. In fact, key officials are asking for its members to resign. What is the issue here: lack of know-how, lack of capacity, will, incompetence?
Sliusar: Actually, there was also a new body established, the National Agency on Preventing Corruption, which is supposed to deal with basic declaration register. It is empowered to file administrative protocols against people who are violating those rules. The issue of the past week was that this body couldn’t provide the proper work for the registers. For the entire week, people couldn’t even enter into the system to submit the declaration, and the deadline is tomorrow. A lot of people haven’t even had the chance to do that.
Nahaylo: So what is going on? Have we been pushing too radically — expecting too much change and probing too deeply? Or is it, as we say, all connected to political will or is it connected to capacity and quality of personnel?
Sliusar: I would say that it is up to political will and also up to capacity. These agencies had almost a year to deal with these problems. They knew that they would face these problems, and the numbers of people having to declare. And they did nothing to solve this problem, nothing to get prepared for that amount of work. And actually, they received the first wave of these declarations in October of 2016, and they didn’t check any of that, they didn’t do any work on providing society with information on that, for very fine information submitted by at least top officials.
Nahaylo: Okay Andriy, and finally, your own personal view. Are you optimistic about the way things in this sphere of fighting corruption are going the next year, or are you pessimistic, or are you in some kind of ambiguous mood?
Sliusar: Well, if I had to choose, I would say I am rather optimistic, or realistic-optimistic. Not because of the actions of state authorities, but because of the mindset of society itself. It’s changing everyday, and it’s getting harder and harder for members of government or members of parliament to justify their actions when they are not showing proper commitment to fight corruption.
Nahaylo: Okay, thank you, Andriy. Thank you that we finish on a more optimistic note. Let me remind listeners that we have been listening to a discussion with Andriy Sliusar, who is a representative of Transparency International working in Ukraine with others to combat corruption. Thank you, Andriy.
Sliusar: Thank you.
E-declarations for NGOs
On 23 March, Ukraine’s Parliament, approved amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Corruption that require anti-corruption NGO’s and investigative journalists to file a public declaration of assets. There would be criminal penalties for failure to comply. A few days later, the President signed and approved the amendments.This move was criticized by many western countries, as well as by civic activists in Ukraine as constraining civil society, and putting pressure on anti-corruption NGOs. A year ago, the Parliament had passed a regulation requiring Ukrainian legislators to declare their assets. Many Deputies had complied and made e-declarations when the process started in October 2016. It had been part of a package of laws required in order to obtain visa-free EU travel.
In other developments, the Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman called on the whole of the Anti-corruption Agency to resign, due to technical problems arising on their website. The website is where government officials have to declare their assets before March 31. The Prime Minister pointed out that due to the technical problems, some officials may miss the deadline. Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau NABU has been carrying out new investigations and searches and its targets during the last week included the National Bank of Ukraine. For its part, the Prosecutors Office has searched the Anti-Monopoly Commission as part of its investigation of the giant tobacco monopolist company “Tedis”, owned by a Russian oligarch, suspected of, among other things, secretly funding Russian-backed separatists. More on these developments in the battle against corruption later as they are the main topic this week.
Attempts to disrupt Polish-Ukrainian relations
Poland temporarily closed its consulates in Ukraine this week. The Polish Consulate in Lutsk was fired on, late on 28 March. Judging by the damage close to the roof at the top of the building, a grenade launcher could have been used, according to media present at the site. The Polish Foreign Ministry said it would close all consulates in Ukraine until Ukraine provides effective 24 hour guards.President Poroshenko and FM Klimkin condemned the attack. The Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament stated that the enemy, through petty provocation, is trying to destroy the international anti-Putin coalition. This incident in Lutsk follows 5 other incidents since the beginning of the year, at various locations in Ukraine, where gravestones, of particular significance to the Polish community were defaced with offensive graffiti and damaged. The Co-Chair of Polish-Ukrainian Parliamentary Relations, Mykola Kniazhytsky commented, that there were a number of indications that the incidents were not instigated by Ukrainian extremists but by outside agents.
Also, this week, a group of 50 people attempted to block the international highway between L’viv in Western Ukraine and Poland. They held slogans in Polish that incited Polish-Ukrainian conflict but the SBU managed to intercede and prevented an incident. After questioning those involved, the SBU maintains that the group were individuals from various oblasts, who did not necessarily have a connection to the Polish community, but who were hired for a payment of 50 to 200 hryvnia.
NATO-Russia Council Session
The first NATO-Russia Council session of the year took place this week in Brussels and the topic of Ukraine dominated the session. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg commented that the session was frank and constructive although the two sides continued to be in disagreement.Secretary General Stoltenberg said the alliance urged Russia to influence the separatists in Eastern Ukraine to make them meet their obligations according to the Minsk process.And Russia’s Ambassador criticized NATO for continuing to provide political and practical support to Kyiv.
The Minsk trilateral negotiation group reached yet another agreement on 29 March to implement a new ceasefire. It should take effect from the 1st of April. President Poroshenko ordered the military to implement the ceasefire and weapons pullback. He commented that he was not very optimistic that the Russia-supported separatists in the two eastern regions will abide by the agreement. Observers on the frontline are reporting heavy shelling, in expectation of the coming ceasefire.
Ukraine’s war has really slipped from the international headlines, despite the fact that the fighting, destruction, and killing continue. Over the past week 9 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, and 28 were injured. Heavy bombardment continues in Svitlodarsk, Pavlopil, Shrokyno, Mariupol, and Avdiivika, where a residential neighbourhood was bombed on Tuesday. A military helicopter, an Mi-2, crashed on 26 March near Kramatorsk. Although not directly casualties of the frontline, 5 officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were killed as a result of the helicopter colliding with a power line. On 31 March a colonel in Ukraine’s counter-intelligence, Oleksandr Kharaberyush, was killed by a car bomb in the eastern front-line city of Mariupol. Ukraine’s military announced that they have extinguished fires in Balaklia. Ukraine Calling listeners will remember we reported that was the site of a major explosion and fire in a munitions depot. 70% of munitions there were destroyed. 20,000 civilians had to be evacuated. The de-mining operation continues.
On International Theatre Day, a newcomer theatre group, Dykyi Teater, which means Wild Theatre, won the Pectoral Prize for best theatre in Kyiv. The Wild Theatre was founded only a year ago and is breaking new ground in Ukraine, such as staging Michel Marc Bouchard’s “Tom at the Farm.” It is proving that theatre can be interesting to audiences, profitable to actors and can exist without government subsidies or a permanent address. Wild Theatre is a protest against the theatre of banal truths, and aims to be sharp and often be provocative. And with winning Kyiv’s Pectoral Award, it definitely seems to be a breath of fresh air in Ukraine’s theatre space.
There’s a new band in Dnipro, a major industrial city in central Ukraine. They call themselves Юнак, which means A Youth. Here’s their new single, Крила (Wings) which premiered on Hromadske Radio’s Music Show Pora Roku, hosted by Andriy Kulykov. Enjoy!
Next week we will be following the main stories in Ukraine again. Tune in for a new episode. And we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at:email@example.com. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks so much for listening.
Interview transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Ilona Szieventsev, and Nykole King. Headlines and Culture by Oksana Smerechuk. Music selected by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Natalia Kucheriava