The resumption of e-declarations for public officials, suspended in Ukraine with the start of Russia's large-scale invasion, is one of the seven steps required for Ukraine's accession to the EU. It is also a critical IMF structural benchmark that Ukraine was supposed to fulfill by the end of July. Although the Verkhovna Rada has passed the necessary bills, the norms adopted by lawmakers eliminate the Register of Corrupt Officials and close declarations to the public for another year, which contradicts EU principles and IMF requirements. Ukrinform analyzed how to improve the situation and who and why opposes open registers of officials' declarations.
DECLARATION: TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Recent votes in the Verkhovna Rada aimed at fulfilling the IMF's requirements, particularly the restoration of electronic declaration of civil servants and lawmakers during martial law, were problematic. At the request of its creditors, Ukraine promised to restore the declaration system and open public access to its register by July this year. However, only in September lawmakers voted on the necessary bills No. 9534 (on the restoration of electronic declaration) and No. 9587-D (on liability for failure to declare and late submission of declarations) on 5 September.
The first document was adopted with a provision that postpones the mandatory public opening of the declarations’ register for another year. Amendment No. 371 on the immediate opening of the register, which was proposed to a vote by Anastasia Radina, the head of the Verkhovna Rada's anti-corruption committee, received only 199 votes out of the 226 required. The declaration is returned but the register remains closed to the general public. At the same time, the military was allowed to submit declarations after the end of martial law or dismissal from service.
Ukrainians are clearly not happy about the lawmakers’ move with the closed registry, which remains non-public (amid numerous corruption scandals). The petition for the presidential veto of bill No. 9534 gained the required 25,000 votes in two hours, and over 50,000 people voted for it within the first day.
The National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NACP), in turn, appealed to President Zelensky to veto the bill 9587-D, which supports the provision that a person who has submitted knowingly false information in a declaration worth up to UAH 1.3 million (USD 34,000) will not be included in the Unified State Register of Persons Who Committed Corruption or Corruption-Related Offences if they pay a fine.
In other words, the register of corrupt officials, in this case, will be demolished. The NACP stressed that false declaration is one of the most socially dangerous corruption-related offenses. "Such changes have only one goal - to facilitate concealment of information about the wealth of civil servants who, after paying a fine of UAH 17,000 (USD 460) to UAH 42,000 (USD 1,100), will remain in their positions and will not receive any restrictions on access to the civil service in the future," the agency said in an appeal to the President.
ARGUMENT OF OPEN DECLARATIONS’ OPPONENTS: "WHAT IF THERE ARE RUSSIAN DIVERSIONISTS!"
It is no secret that many high-ranking officials in Ukraine are not very enthusiastic about publicizing their assets. However, most Ukrainian citizens, including the military and Ukraine's international partners from the G7 countries, support open registers of declarations.
Lawmakers who voted against opening asset declarations registry were Mykola Tyshchenko and Dmytro Mykysha. At the same time, the rest abstained from voting for the law.
The most critical of the opening of the registers is Danylo Hetmantsev, head of the Parliament’s Finance Committee, lawmaker Maksym Buzhanskyi of the Servant of the People faction and Serhiy Vlasenko, lawmaker of the Batkivshchyna faction (leaded by Yulia Tymoshenko), who claim that the war is the reason for refusing to open access to officials' assets. The lawmakers argue that many declarants are now targets of Russian intelligence, and disclosing any information about them (positions, property, personal information) poses real risks to their lives.
"We shouldn’t add unnecessary risk, for example, to the mayors of frontline cities or heads of the security sector. I am focusing on people who work or stay directly close to the front line, where the threat is objectively greater. We closed these data for security reasons at the beginning of the war. The war is on, and unfortunately, Russian saboteurs are still working," lawmaker Eduard Proshuk commented on Facebook.
"Most of the arguments for a closed register are manipulations aimed at delaying the moment when we will have to report on holidays in Dubai and new mansions in Pechersk [center of Kyiv]," Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy, comments.
According to MP Yaroslav Zheleznyak, the provision on immediate disclosure of declarations failed due to general irresponsibility, and there are no specific critics of this initiative. Still, one of the arguments is that the public will see which lawmakers’ children are currently abroad.
"The argument against it, which I heard, is that in the open registers of declarations, everyone will see whose children went abroad during the war," the lawmaker commented to Ukrinform.
CONSEQUENCES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS
Whatever the arguments of those who believe that it is too early to open the register of declarations, such a decision will be negatively perceived by Ukraine's Western partners. Failure to comply with the IMF's benchmarks in times of war (or partial compliance) means a delay in the next tranche and a deterioration in the country's reputation in general, as the IMF guides the rest of our donors.
In addition, we should remember that the EU Council, on the proposal of the European Commission, identified seven steps that Ukraine should take as priorities in its application for EU membership. To date, two of these seven steps have been completed: the reform of the judiciary with the establishment of the High Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges and harmonizing media legislation with the European standards. Back in January, the ambassadors of the G7 and EU countries stated the need to restore e-declarations for public officials and financial reporting by political parties in Ukraine.
According to lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak, the IMF will probably not credit us for fulfilling the beacon of restoring the declaration process precisely because the register is closed.
"I'm not sure that voted legislation will be counted as fulfilling one of the IMF's structural benchmarks because of the norm on declarations closed for a year. There will also be a problem because of the recently adopted draft law No. 9587-D on amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences on declarations," he wrote on Telegram.
Although there are no public statements from creditors, it is already clear that their mood is not changing for the better.
"I thought we would be guaranteed USD 1.25 billion in grant aid per month at least until September. That is, until the end of the U.S. fiscal year. But in August, something went wrong," CASE Ukraine Executive Director Dmytro Boyarchuk expressed concern on Facebook.
He reacted to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Finance, which shows that in August this year, partner grants were not included in budget revenues for some reason.
It's difficult to say that the delay in international aid last month and the second official visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kyiv were due to some "sabotage" of the IMF agreements. However, the facts remain. The IMF is planning another mission to Ukraine in September, so there is very little time left to rectify the situation with the officials’ declaration in Ukraine.
PRESIDENTIAL VETO IS A LAST HOPE
In an exclusive commentary to Ukrinform, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy, said that the fastest way to adopt the declaration rules that meet the EU and the IMF requirements is president's veto and submission of the laws to the Verkhovna Rada for re-vote. In his opinion, it's possible already in September.
"A presidential veto with a proposal to change the relevant rules for the laws 9534 and 9587-D is the easiest way, and it will require one session of the Verkhovna Rada, and it can be done in September," Yurchyshyn said.
According to him, registering new bills is a longer process than vetoing and carries certain risks of amendments by lawmakers.
"The registration of new bills will take more time, and Pandora's box is opening up - lawmakers may add the problems again with amendments," Yurchyshyn said.
Zheleznyak is quite confident that the president will veto the declaration bills and lawmakers will support open registers of declarations at the second attempt. "I am 100% sure that the president will veto the bills and that the Parliament will support them," the lawmaker said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky commented he would sign or veto the declaration laws only after consultations.
"I asked Deputy Prime Minister Stefanishyna to hold consultations. After that, I will make a decision," the president said.
It is useless for the lawmakers to resist the opening of declarations and the Register of Corrupt Officials, Ukraine needs to fulfill its obligations to the IMF and Western allies, especially during Russia’s full-scale war.
Sabotaging the open e-declaration of officials will reinforce Ukraine's corrupt image, which risks losing not only part of the financial assistance for social needs but also military support.
Aleksandra Klitina, Kyiv