By Martina Boguslavets, Executive Director, Institute of Legislative Ideas
Over 500 days since the start of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine has been fighting the number-one enemy of the entire democratic world. Already this has resulted in enormous losses of human life—over 100,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians, destroyed cities, and what will be a very long recovery process. The damage caused to Ukraine is already estimated at over 700 billion USD.
Defeating Putin's Russia, however, will mean more than just returning Ukraine’s territories and the independence of Europe's largest country. It will also ensure greater security for Western democracies. Notably, Ukraine is fighting on two main battlefields at once: in addition to the external enemy, there is the insidious internal one—corruption.
According to a recent poll, the majority of Ukrainians consider corruption to be the No. 1 internal enemy. In second place are "politicians and propagandists who call for the unity of Ukraine with Russia, namely with the ‘Russian world.’" The Ukrainian government’s dismissal of government officials in January suspected of or tainted by corruption gives hope that Ukraine will become a story of eradicating corruption rather than a story of corruption. After the procurement scandal in the Ministry of Defense—dubbed “17-hryvnia eggs”—Kyiv undertook serious anti-corruption compliance.
As witnessed in June’s Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, each of the parties—both Ukraine and its Western partners who provide support—understand that to continue to increase military and financial aid, corruption must be vigorously fought.
Reconstruction architecture: what has Ukraine already done?
The State Agency for Recovery, headed by Mustafa Nayyem, is one of the primary authorities responsible for Ukraine’s reconstruction. This newly created institution will undoubtedly focus on anti-corruption. Major anti-corruption compliance is being prepared for the agency, and transparency of work and accountability will be among its main principles. For example, the Agency's Transparency and Accountability Council was established. The Agency also works with the Basel Institute.
The new institution pays close attention to the proposed anti-corruption mechanisms, engages the public and forms the Anti-Corruption Council. In 2023, the agency is expected to focus on rebuilding energy and social infrastructure, housing, roads and bridges in 11 of the 24 regions—in non-combat areas. The agency and its regional anti-corruption compliance offices will provide monitoring opportunities for experts. It will also disseminate an anti-corruption program with measures to increase integrity, assess risks, conduct audits, and implement CESMM; introduce new types of procedures with the use of non-price criteria; and, in cooperation with the World Bank, implement the Electronic Reconstruction Management System.
Why is the State Agency for Recovery promising to undertake this? In short, it wants to avoid corruption scandals that could threaten Ukraine’s recovery. Hence, the agency is prioritizing risk prevention and working with experts and the public.
5 types of weapons against corruption in reconstruction
The more money involved, the higher the temptation of corruption. Ukraine already needs USD 700 billion, and this total amount will undoubtedly grow after the end of hostilities and Ukraine’s victory. Such an enormous sum will require rigorous anti-corruption safeguards.
Here are 5 steps that will help us fight the enemy within and support effective reconstruction.
1. Launch of the Electronic Reconstruction Management System (DREAM).
Based on the principle of "everyone sees everything," DREAM works like a thermal imager to look for the enemy in the dark, highlighting recovery projects where something goes wrong and helping anti-corruption agencies target them.
DREAM is expected to become the main digital tool for monitoring reconstruction projects and de-risking them. All stages of implementation of reconstruction projects will be published and organized here in real time. Moreover, anyone from any part of the world can access the portal and monitor project implementation, use of funds, the precise construction stage or reporting. For example, a UK taxpayer will be able to see which projects are funded by the UK and at what stage of their implementation; this same UK taxpayer will have information from tenders, contractors, and estimates. The availability of estimates is the most important information for investigators.
DREAM’s ecosystem has two levels. The first is the already existing state registers, systems, and services that create a single route for the development of the project. The second level is the “umbrella” system, as it collects data from all first-level systems at each stage of the project and provides open access to them and management and control tools.
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The electronic tool is set forth in the State Anti-Corruption Program of Ukraine. The National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) believes that its use will mitigate corruption risks by ninety percent.
The tool's public interface was launched during the conference on 21 June in London.
2. Relaunch the Recovery Agency’s regional offices: Service for Restoration and Development of Infrastructure.
Since the Services can be the main administrators of funds and, accordingly, the chief procuring entities in the recovery process, the risk of corruption at this level increases. A complete reboot of management, advisory anti-corruption bodies and the introduction of integrity practices among employees is necessary to combat a system that has operated for years without consistent oversight.
The first stage of this process should be the competitive selection of Service for Restoration managers. Reconstruction in the regions should be led by highly motivated people with zero tolerance for corruption.
Instead of outdated public councils, the supervisory function should be transferred to Anti-Corruption Offices. The activity of Service for Restoration should also be fully public, and not only in terms of procurement and implementation of the Electronic Reconstruction Management System. The Service for Restoration reboot will become a “local weapon” to fight corruption
3. Engage local authorities as full-fledged reconstruction participants.
Thus far, decentralization is considered Ukraine’s most successful reform. Through decentralization, local governments and the public got the opportunity and resources to influence local development. The new agency promises to fully involve local authorities.
This step is necessary not only as an anti-corruption mechanism (which is important for eliminating the practice of consolidating tenders, thereby minimizing the possibility that a new class of oligarchs will form), but also for the effectiveness of reconstruction. Local authorities have greater influence with their community—and are also more aware of urgent needs.
By including local authorities in reconstruction, they will be an additional institutional force strengthening the reconstruction process.
4. Continue anti-corruption police reform.
Ukraine should receive all resources for reconstruction only in exchange for reforms. This must apply to ongoing anti-corruption reforms. Police reform, however, is currently stagnating. Ninety percent of police officers were able to return to their jobs after the failed reforms from 2015–2017. During this war with Russia, law enforcement officers have been suspected of over a thousand instances of corruption, treason, and other crimes. Rebooting the police requires independent competitive selection of the chief police commissioner and leaders of territorial agencies. Competitions should be established by law so that this practice does not again turn into a one-time stunt. Once police leadership has been replaced, the next step should be a detailed check of police officers’ integrity.
Twenty Ukrainian civil society organizations and think tanks supported our address to the Government and the Parliament of Ukraine demanding a competitive selection for the position of Ukraine’s chief police commissioner. Importantly, following public appeals, competitive selection for leaders of the national police has been included in the Anti-Corruption Program; the regulatory procedure should be developed this year.
To reform the National Police will be a long-range weapon against corruption. It is, after all, law enforcement agencies that often cover up corruption schemes on the ground.
5. Open registers and restore declarations.
The main obstacle remains, however, closed registers and the absence of mandatory income and property declarations of public officials during the war.
For instance, the register of corrupt officials, which is of no value to the enemy, has been removed from public access since the beginning of the full-scale war. It is valuable to investigators and was previously the most public register of corrupt officials in Europe.
The same goes for declarations of officials’ income and the register of declarations. These are considered the world's most advanced corruption prevention tools. In the situation of mandatory income declarations, the register automatically verifies all 700,000 declarations. Currently, this check is not carried out—the declarations have been suspended—and the register has been removed from public access.
Ukrainian anti-corruption groups like Rise Ukraine and ILI have repeatedly appealed to the authorities of the need to resume declarations and registers. This can be done without publishing data that could threaten the life and health of a person. In particular, you can omit publication of data about family members if they are located in the occupied territory or under occupation. As before, addresses of immovable property remain confidential in the declarations.
There must be a compromise so that the registers are opened before the end of the war, which may go on for years. Otherwise, it will be a step back from the anti-corruption results that Ukraine has already achieved.
By opening registers and restoring declarations, Ukraine can target corrupt officials who endanger confidence in the country’s future. Moreover, to ensure transparent reconstruction, our country must return to the anti-corruption practice of open registers and declarations. Anything less will risk losing the fight against the enemy within. Which is also a fight for Ukraine’s future.
Martina Boguslavets is the Executive Director and Founder of the Institute of Legislative Ideas and is an expert with more than ten years experience in GR, fighting corruption, and preventing corruption risks. Martina is leading the direction of transparent rebuilding of Ukraine without corruption and reforming law enforcement agencies. She is working on implementing mechanisms for accountable reconstruction, providing recommendations to public authorities and international partners to support the reforms.
Martina is a Ph.D. student at the National Academy of Science and an acting Board Member of Rise.Ukraine, a coalition of over 40 civil society organizations.