Corruption fight takes on new life in Ukraine ahead of election

Flickr_Max_Makarenko_620Chris Sanders spoke with Oleksii Khmara, Executive Director of TI Ukraine, during a recent trip to Berlin. Despite the unrest in his country, the fight against corruption continues and civil society have a stronger voice in future developments than ever before.

In less than a week Ukraine goes to the polls at a time when the country appears poised on the brink of a full-scale civil war.  But according to Oleksii Khmara, the Executive Director of Transparency International-Ukraine the elections will help prove to the world that it is  the people of Ukraine who are the legitimate rulers of their country.

They want their destiny to be in their own hands. “[People] want to live in their own country and they want to have a future and see what it could be. They don’t trust government or the legislature or law enforcement; they only trust themselves,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, the citizens of Ukraine realize Presidential elections alone are not enough to combat corruption and that local and parliamentary elections must be held in the next 12 months.

The upcoming election will show the world Ukrainians can move forward, on their own, without Russia or any other outside influence. It also means continuing the pressure to tackle the corruption that has discredited past governments and led to the Maidan protests.

For TI-Ukraine the election could also help lock into place an important new relationship that has been formed over the last few months. Civil society and the government have developed their strongest working relationship in years.

Government officials realise that “fighting corruption should now be more than a slogan, it must be a real agenda,” said Khmara. The government is responding  to three factors:  the demand for reform by Ukrainian citizens protesting in the Maidan over the last several months, the need to avert Ukraine from becoming a failed state, and external pressure from around the world.

Ukraine scored 25 out of 100 in the last Corruption Perceptions Index, and many fear the growing crisis with Russia will only make things worse. Khmara warned that Ukrainian officials have sung the anti-corruption song for the last 20 years while stealing the people blind, or looking the other way while others abused their power with impunity.

The corrupt still exploit the same loopholes, while many officials who were responsible for promoting anti-corruption in the past, especially in Ukraine’s parliament, claim to be corruption fighters today.

Still, Khmara sees real signs of change.  In the last two months lawmakers have passed five new laws, three of them focused on stopping corruption. This includes a new law on public procurement, a law promoting access to information and a law that makes legislators liable for their crimes.

There are also new faces among law enforcement and in the executive side of government.

“The new government understands there is no time, no money in the economy and no trust from society and are using the opportunity to start again,” Khmara said.

The government also realizes it doesn’t have the knowledge needed to create real change and in an unprecedented move, has helped create several platforms – like the Centre to Support Reforms — where officials can meet with civil society. The Centre, which is managed by TI-Ukraine, takes advantage of civil society’s extensive research into government reform and ability to write laws.

The mindset of the Ukrainian people has also changed. In the past when their country suffered such high levels of devastation, depression and lethargy set in as “people gave up”, Khmara said. This time they believe in themselves.

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