Trea­sonous se­crecy

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

Many years from now, in a dif­fer­ent Ukraine, the cur­rent decade will be re­mem­bered for brazen and cyn­i­cal cor­rup­tion.

Sure, the 1990s and the early 2000s were plagued by cor­rup­tion, too. But it is one thing to rig the pri­va­ti­za­tion of a fac­tory. It’s a dif­fer­ent one to steal de­fense money from a na­tion at war with a much stronger en­emy, when the very ex­is­tence of the na­tion is at stake.

And yet that is ex­actly what has been hap­pen­ing over the past four years, ever since Rus­sia started its war against Ukraine.

Ev­ery week there is a re­port about a shady deal, in which some de­fense item is bought at an in­flated price or sold for a ridicu­lously low price. Off­shore in­ter­me­di­aries, sus­pi­cious firms and kick­backs are in­vari­ably part of the story.

But in­ves­ti­ga­tions into these deals go nowhere, for a sim­ple rea­son — they are shrouded by se­crecy un­der the name of "na­tional se­cu­rity."

While the rest of state pro­cure­ment can be mon­i­tored by the pub­lic, most de­fense pur­chases can­not. The gov­ern­ment de­cides which de­fense pur­chases are se­cret.

The ab­sur­dity was high­lighted again this week when a top news weekly, Novoye Vre­mya, came un­der fire for pub­lish­ing a story ac­cus­ing Ukraine’s of­fi­cials of buy­ing old ar­mored ve­hi­cles at in­flated prices. The mag­a­zine learned about the deal from doc­u­ments it re­ceived from a source in­volved in the sale. The state de­fense hold­ing be­hind the pur­chase, UkrOboronP­rom, slammed the story as a lie, cit­ing in­ac­cu­ra­cies.

The prob­lem is there is no way this can be checked, and they know it. The con­tracts are se­cret. UkrOboronP­rom can say what­ever it wants.

Mean­while, the coun­try keeps in­creas­ing its de­fense bud­get: In 2018, it will be 6 per­cent of GDP or $6 bil­lion. Tax­pay­ers have no way to know how the state spends their money. Ab­surd? Yes. But wait for it: it may be­come even worse. Ser­hiy Pashin­skiy, head of par­lia­ment’s de­fense and se­cu­rity com­mit­tee, whom Novoye Vre­mya named as a bene­fac­tor of the con­tract and who has been linked to other sus­pi­cious deals, wants to make it a crime to pub­lish in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion about the coun­try’s de­fense sec­tor. It’s bla­tant cen­sor­ship with a sin­gle pur­pose: al­low even more se­crecy that al­lows cor­rup­tion to flour­ish.

He will fail. We re­mem­ber then-lawmaker Vi­taly Zhu­ravskiy's push for a dra­co­nian li­bel law back in 2012. Ukraine’s top me­dia united against it. The Kyiv Post and oth­ers pub­lished a blank cover in protest. We won.

But the fact that Pashin­skiy wants to stop jour­nal­ists from writ­ing about de­fense cor­rup­tion tells us some­thing very wrong is go­ing on. This must stop. Ex­ces­sive se­crecy harms, not helps, the na­tion's de­fense.

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