Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on March 27 signed into law a measure that delivers a severe blow to anti-corruption activists and free speech, according to international and national experts.
According to various interpretations of the vague and ambiguous amendments to the income declaration law, they require activists of anti-corruption non-governmental organizations, their contractors, donors, investigative journalists and potentially even anti-corruption protesters to file publicly accessible electronic asset declarations, similar to those now required of state officials.
People’s Front lawmaker Tetiana Chornovol, who introduced the amendments, along with Poroshenko and their supporters, claim that the legislation will increase the transparency and accountability of NGOs.
They argue that they are in line with Western practices, although the Kyiv Post has found that this argument does not stand up to scrutiny.
Given Ukraine’s extremely politicized and corrupt law enforcement, the amendments provide vast scope for abuse, and could be used to fabricate political cases against the
1 Declarations for anti-corruption activists improve their accountability and increase society’s trust in NGOs.
2 Ukraine is following the progressive experience of the United States and European countries like Latvia, Romania and Portugal, where top officials of NGOs disclose their income.
3 The move introduces civilized forms of electronic declarations and will prevent conflicts of interest at NGOs.
4 This is a tool to make civil society healthier and get rid of “fake” anti-corruption activists.
5 The declarations are useful for foreign donors because they increase NGOs’ accountability to donors.
6 The declarations are not a tool of political pressure on NGOs and do not reduce their independence from the government.
7 The new rules only apply to top officials of NGOs and do not affect their rank-and-file members.
8 The declarations do not equate NGO employees with state officials, because they do not ban them from receiving gifts or being employed elsewhere.
9 Top NGO officials will only have to file declarations in 2018. 10The amendments could not have been vetoed, because otherwise 169,000 rankand-file soldiers would have been required to file declarations.
Anti-corruption activists on April 13, 2016 protest against a law that they say would give government excessive powers in confiscating assets of people convicted of crimes. Nearly a year later, the introduction of asset declarations for activists, passed by parliament and signed into law by President Petro Poroshenko on March 27, is seen as revenge. Ukraine’s robust civil society is considered to be one of the nation’s greatest strengths. (Volodymyr Petrov)