Recently, the Verkhovna Rada passed in the first reading a draft law on the restoration of electronic declaration during martial law (No. 9534), as stipulated in the memorandum with the International Monetary Fund. Ukrinform spoke with Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy, MP from the Voice parliamentary faction, about the nuances of the relevant document, the attitude of MPs to the restoration of e-declaration, and the timing of its implementation after it comes into force.
SECURITY IS ONE OF THE KEY POINTS IN THE DRAFT LAW ON THE RESTORATION OF E-DECLARATION
- The international community has long insisted on the resumption of e-declarations. Last year, the Verkhovna Rada registered the corresponding draft law No. 8071, but it was never considered in the parliament. Just recently, the Parliament registered a second draft law No. 9534 to address this issue. This document was promptly reviewed by the Anti-Corruption Committee, after which the Parliament passed it in the first reading. What is the difference between these draft laws?
- Among the positive novelties, it is more clearly defined that Ukrainian servicemen do not have to declare their assets until the end of their military service or until the end of hostilities. This applies to both servicemen and their relatives. Military personnel are already fulfilling their public duty. It is clear that it is incorrect and unfair for the state to impose additional requirements while they are on military service. After the end of the war or military service, these individuals will have 90 days to file their declarations.
The security aspect is one of the key aspects of the project. By the way, the international community and the International Monetary Fund have emphasized that it is important to separate security issues for people directly affected by the war and officials who, thanks to the courage of our Defense Forces, are not in great danger now.
There are a number of technical issues that are being discussed by the IMF. They are all reflected in the draft law. For example, the limit for the valuation of real estate that needs to be declared. We understand that the standards of real estate valuation in Ukraine and in the countries of the International Monetary Fund differ significantly. The IMF has proposed not to declare real estate up to a certain valuation limit, which is criticized by the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, which sees this point as a possibility of abuse.
Another point of discussion is the level of publicity. In fact, the Law on Access to Public Information stipulates that personal data of an individual is information that can be disclosed under certain conditions and a certain procedure. This information was closed in our declarations even before the war, but now the Ministry of Justice and the IMF propose to slightly expand the list of information that will not be available to the public, for example, only the country, region, and district are proposed to be indicated regarding the location of the declarant's real estate. The second point is that third parties, i.e. relatives of the declarant, will be displayed as person one, person two, person three, without a clear link.
The provisions are criticized by investigative journalists, but on the other hand, there is a war going on in Ukraine, and there is legislation that regulates access to personal information about a person, which states that this kind of data can be disclosed only under a certain procedure when investigative actions are underway against the person involved. At the same time, the NACP will have access to full information for verification.
- As far as I understand, the draft law passed by the Verkhovna Rada in the first reading was agreed upon by the Ministry of Justice and the IMF?
- Yes, it is. When the requirements of the International Monetary Fund emerged, we had to communicate and coordinate every step with IMF experts to ensure that the draft law met certain frameworks.
The IMF's initial wording was quite general. It was noted that it was necessary to return the declarations and report to officials for 2021-2022. At the same time, the issue of ensuring certain security parameters so that there are no holes in the declaration was the most controversial.
- Why did the Ministry of Justice appear in this communication?
- Since the Cabinet of Ministers is a partner in communication with the International Monetary Fund, the Ministry of Justice, as the "chief government lawyer," was tasked with communicating with the IMF. Having realized that the IMF and society would not accept the "holes" I have already mentioned, it was decided to go through the process of prompt registration of the new draft law.
THE DECISION TO RESTORE E-DECLARATION WAS INFLUENCED BY PUBLIC DEMAND
- In general, what was the reason for the intensification of this process right now? Pressure from international partners, other reasons?
- International partners never get involved in a topic for which there is no public demand. The high level of public demand for the resumption of e-declaration has been shown by all opinion polls conducted on the territory of Ukraine that is not under occupation. That is, the vast majority of people demand public reporting by officials. The request for the return of e-declarations was also constantly raised during every conversation of the Ministry of Finance about raising funds for reconstruction. This is the most logical mechanism to control the integrity of officials. A voluntary declaration campaign has even been launched. As you know, it was possible to declare, but the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) had no mechanisms to verify this information. That is why the International Monetary Fund got involved.
- Why is the Parliament considering the draft law at such a fast pace?
- By July, we pledged to bring back e-declarations. We needed to take at least the first step, so the speed of the document's adoption was affected by the conditions set by our international partners. At the same time, the issue was more influenced by the public demand, because the government is sensitive to what society demands.
IT CANNOT BE SAID THAT MOST OFFICIALS ARE EAGER TO DECLARE.
- NAPC Chairman Oleksandr Novikov recently said that some MPs oppose the reintroduction of asset declarations. Do you see this trend?
- In fact, I cannot say that most MPs or most officials have a strong desire to file electronic declarations, because it brings certain inconveniences. I mean that your personal information as a public figure becomes more accessible than that of some of your fellow citizens. At the same time, we have to understand that it is reasonable that when citizens pay for public employees from the budget, they have the right to receive information about whether these managers are abusing budget funds or their powers.
As for MPs. The only outspoken statement about the untimely return of electronic declarations came from representatives of the banned "Opposition Platform - Za Zhittia". They said: "Well, we closed the declarations because there were security issues. Now they have not gone away. Maybe let's not declare until the end of the war?"
There are also certain legal nuances that were constantly emphasized by "Batkivshchyna" representatives. It is difficult to say for sure whether this is a delay in the process or an attempt to make the system more perfect. But the question still arises: why did the desire to make the system more perfect appear only when it was time to restore it?
In addition, there was a whole group within the "Servant of the People" who did not want to vote for this document until the very last moment. One of the ideological inspirers of this group was Maksym Buzhansky.
I will not say that there is a huge number of MPs who were happy to see the need to return the declaration. However, if we are conscious public figures and have to be accountable, the electronic declaration system is a great opportunity to show that the stories about total corruption in Ukraine are actually myths. According to statistics, 90% of declarants have no comments, questions arise to 10% of officials, and criminal cases are opened against less than 1% of declarants. That is, we can clearly see the proportion of honest and dishonest officials.
In general, there is dissatisfaction, there are arguments, there is discussion, but 299 real votes of MPs on the scoreboard clearly demonstrate that, at least at this stage, there are no politicians who do not understand the need to restore the declaration.
I would like to add something about the NAPC's work in the field of communications. To be honest, the NAPC's communication, which informs more about the number of open criminal cases rather than the number of honest officials, is somewhat alarming for the authorities. If you are honest, there are no comments on your declaration. Most likely, no one will remember you or use you as an example. However, if, God forbid, there is a mistake somewhere, you will have to explain the origin of your wealth and go through a long procedure to prove that you are actually honest.
In my opinion, in its communication, the NAPC should talk about the number of honest civil servants in Ukraine, thus popularizing integrity and anti-corruption.
One of the proposals we are currently working on is the following: if the NAPC does not comment on a public official's declaration for a certain period of time, the person is automatically recognized as having integrity. This will allow a person who, for example, has completed his or her work in a government agency, to claim that he or she is honest, responsible and has not had any questions about abuse of power during the years of public service. I am convinced that this step will be an important result of the declaration system.
THE DRAFT LAW ON THE RESTORATION OF E-DECLARATION MAY BE ADOPTED IN SEPTEMBER
- At what stage is this document being considered? Is the process of submitting amendments and proposals ongoing?
- The process of submitting amendments and proposals is currently underway. It is difficult to analyze how many of them there will be and what they will be about.
There are several sensitive issues. Firstly, we are studying the level of data protection of military personnel, their relatives, and prisoners of war.
Second, there will be a discussion among MPs about the level of publicity. A large number of public figures advocate that the addresses of Ukrainian officials should not be given by apartment number, but at least the street should be indicated, because there is a difference between fashionable areas in cities and ordinary residential ones. This may lead to a discussion on the level of security and privacy.
- When will you start working on the document for adoption in the second reading in the committee?
- Our committee plans to consider the amendments by the end of August or early September. We are currently collecting amendments.
We want to adopt this draft law as a law in mid-September at the latest. These deadlines have been agreed with our international partners.
- How do you plan to ensure the high quality and efficiency of the e-declaration system during a full-scale war?
- A lot of work has been done at the NAPC, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the maximum amount of information that the state already has can be automatically pulled into the system. This is done so that the declarant does not have to constantly enter information that is already known to the state. Currently, a working group is working within the NAPC, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, as well as registry holders, owners of property information, and owners of financial information. Everyone is working together to make the procedure more efficient and take less time.
- What steps will be taken to ensure the reliability and security of the e-declaration system, especially given the possible access of unauthorized persons to sensitive information?
- Since February 24, the Security Service of Ukraine, cyber police and other agencies working in this area have not recorded any successful interference or hacker attacks on the system, and accordingly, no information has been leaked from the system. Thus, we can currently guarantee the level of security.
- How will the resumption of the e-declaration system affect the fight against corruption and transparency of public officials?
- After the temporary suspension of the declaration system, it became much more difficult to identify those who abuse their positions and so on. But our specialized agencies manage to identify violators.
Let's take the example of the Odesa military commissar. As you know, he is accused of abuse of office and illicit enrichment. This is actually the area that is being investigated on the basis of declarations. Currently, law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies have pre-war declarations of officials, where you can clearly see the wealth and property owned by the person and his or her immediate family. While the declarations were not mandatory for two years, people decided to take advantage of this and thought that no one would find out. Thanks to our journalists, everything became known. We just need to prove that it was purchased with illegal funds, that neither the relatives nor the person involved had the resources to buy it legally. In fact, law enforcement agencies and anti-corruption structures need to prove this not by direct but by indirect factors. And it is good if there is enough information to do so. But it may be lacking, or it may be that the person involved is so sophisticated that the legal system of property ownership is so hidden that it is much more difficult to conduct an investigation.
So does the absence of a declaration affect the effectiveness of investigations? It has a very specific impact. I really hope that when the three-month period after the adoption of the relevant draft law expires, at the beginning of next year, virtually all officials will be required to submit their declarations for 2021-2023.
Maryna Shykarenko, Kyiv
Photo by Hennadii Minchenko