What about your money?

What is wrong with new NGO in­come dec­la­ra­tion amend­ments

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Stanislav Ko­zliuk

Fight­ing cor­rup­tion has been the hot is­sue in the re­cent years, dis­cussed by just ev­ery­one: from or­di­nary cit­i­zens to cor­rupt of­fi­cials. The slo­gan, how­ever, was not al­ways used for the stated pur­pose, and the good in­ten­tions some­times cov­ered pri­vate in­ter­ests. The new NGO e-dec­la­ra­tion re­quire­ments put this "fight" on a new level. On March 23, the Par­lia­ment en­acted amend­ments to the law on the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of in­come dec­la­ra­tion for ATO ser­vice­men spon­sored by Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko. Their stated goal is to ex­empt sol­diers from fil­ing manda­tory elec­tronic dec­la­ra­tions, since they may ex­pe­ri­ence prob­lems with that for ob­jec­tive rea­sons: the ATO, as well as the lack of com­put­ers and In­ter­net safety con­cerns.

In par­al­lel, Ukrainian politi­cians held true to their tra­di­tions. Un­der the guise of the much­needed ini­tia­tive that makes life eas­ier for those serv­ing in the ATO, MPs added amend­ments that make fil­ing dec­la­ra­tions com­pul­sory for an­ticor­rup­tion civic ac­tivists and mem­bers of com­mu­nity boards in banks and com­pa­nies. What makes it even worse is that MPs be­lieve that those pro­vid­ing ser­vices to an­ticor­rup­tion NGOs, rang­ing from rent to clean­ing, should also file dec­la­ra­tions. Civic ac­tivists in­ter­pret this as re­venge of the Pres­i­dent and MPs. The amend­ments to the bill were ini­ti­ated by the Peo­ple's Front MP and for­mer civic ac­tivist Tetyana Chorno­vol.

"For an hon­est fighter against cor­rup­tion, hon­est me­dia di­rec­tor, or an hon­est mem­ber of a com­mu­nity board at a pub­lic agency, fil­ing an e-dec­la­ra­tion is not a prob­lem. To the con­trary, they can be proud of fol­low­ing the main anti-cor­rup­tion prin­ci­ple: trans­parency. I do not un­der­stand why our ‘most hon­est in the world’ cor­rup­tion fight­ers and fa­thers of e-dec­la­ra­tions re­act so hys­ter­i­cally," Chorno­vol wrote in her Face­book ac­count.

Ini­tially, her amend­ments to Bill 6172 pro­posed to make me­dia di­rec­tors file their e-dec­la­ra­tions, among oth­ers, but fol­low­ing the out­rage of me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives this clause was left out.

At the first glance, such par­lia­men­tary ini­tia­tives can be jus­ti­fied: Art. 67 of the Constitution man­dates that all cit­i­zens sub­mit their dec­la­ra­tions of prop­erty and in­come to tax au­thor­i­ties an­nu­ally. What is wrong with the pro­posed changes to the law on pre­vent­ing cor­rup­tion? Here lies per­haps the main in­tri­cacy of Chorno­vol’s amend­ments.

The bill de­fines cor­rup­tion as the use of power and of­fice to ob­tain im­proper ben­e­fits or ad­van­tage. Of­fi­cial power, as de­fined by law, is vested in the Pres­i­dent, min­is­ters, MPs, of­fi­cials of dif­fer­ent lev­els, judges, mem­bers of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, law en­forcers, etc. By en­act­ing the above amend­ments, MPs put an­ticor­rup­tion ac­tivists in the sta­tus of pub­lic of­fi­cials, i.e., per­sons au­tho­rized to per­form state func­tions.

The sec­ond in­tri­cacy is that one of the ob­jec­tives of the anti-cor­rup­tion leg­is­la­tion is to con­trol of­fi­cials whose salaries are paid by the tax­pay­ers. That is, the pub­lic was pro­vided with a tool to mon­i­tor the fi­nan­cial sta­tus of MPs, may­ors, judges and oth­ers, and to turn to com­pe­tent au­thor­i­ties, such as the Na­tional Agency on Cor­rup­tion Pre­ven­tion, Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau and the Spe­cial Anti-Cor­rup­tion Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice, in case of any dis­crep­an­cies be­tween their in­come and prop­erty.

The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent with the pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion of the in­come re­ceived by an­ticor­rup­tion ac­tivists. In­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists and


ac­tivists that de­sign draft laws work for NGOs that are funded not from the Ukrainian bud­get, but from grant pro­grams. NGO man­agers reg­u­larly re­port on the use of funds to their donors. How­ever, this does not hap­pen pub­li­cally. At the same time, MPs and the Pres­i­dent want ac­tivists not so much to re­port on the use of funds, as to make their in­comes pub­lic. This ini­tia­tive is pre­sented by them as the fight against cor­rup­tion. No one ever ex­plained what cor­rup­tion risks the work of civic ac­tivists car­ries. The pub­lic per­ceived these ini­tia­tives as an at­tempt of crack­down and re­venge. Ukraine’s civic in­sti­tu­tions and in­ter­na­tional part­ners alike crit­i­cized the adopted amend­ments.

"The law on elec­tronic dec­la­ra­tion will greatly com­pli­cate the work of jour­nal­ists, es­pe­cially those in­volved in in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It is no se­cret that cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­ducted by jour­nal­ists work­ing not for tra­di­tional me­dia owned by oli­garchs, but for me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions reg­is­tered as NGOs. These amend­ments are there­fore noth­ing else but pres­sure on jour­nal­ists and in­ter­fer­ence with their work," Iryna Zemlyana, me­dia ex­pert at the In­sti­tute of Mass

In­for­ma­tion, com­mented on the sit­u­a­tion to The Ukrainian Week.

"The new re­quire­ments are aimed at pro­tect­ing politi­cians, dis­sat­is­fied with pub­lic con­trol and give them the op­por­tu­nity to take re­venge on those who par­tic­i­pate in anti-cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions. More­over, the law clearly vi­o­lates the Coun­cil of Europe stan­dards pro­hibit­ing ar­bi­trary and dis­crim­i­na­tory in­ter­fer­ence in the in­de­pen­dent func­tion­ing of civil so­ci­ety,” Marc Behrendt, Di­rec­tor for Europe and Eurasia pro­grams at Free­dom House, re­acted to Chorno­vol’s amend­ments.

"E-dec­la­ra­tions for se­nior pub­lic ser­vants is a strong step for­ward for re­forms in Ukraine. Mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety play vi­tal role for trans­parency; tar­get­ing them is a step back­wards,” the US Em­bassy com­mented.

"Changes to the law on e-dec­la­ra­tions are a step back, not for­wards, and should be re­con­sid­ered," Com­mis­sioner for Euro­pean Neigh­bor­hood Pol­icy Johannes Hahn stated bluntly.

A closer look at the amend­ments pro­posed by the MPs re­veals that Chorno­vol’s ini­tia­tive is not new. In the fall of 2016, MPs al­ready tried to put the e-dec­la­ra­tions sys­tem to their ser­vice. Then, the Par­lia­ment was con­sid­er­ing Bill 5318 in­tro­duced by Yuriy Derevyanko, cur­rently un­aligned MP and pre­vi­ously mem­ber of Samopomich who left the fac­tion amidst a scan­dal around at- tempts to split up the party. This bill, too, pro­posed to in­sti­tute manda­tory elec­tronic dec­la­ra­tion for NGOs and con­trac­tors re­ceiv­ing funds from “in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance pro­grams aimed at pre­vent­ing and com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion.” Those leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives were even com­pared to the "cam­paign against for­eign agents" in Rus­sia.

Six months ago, the Par­lia­ment voted the bill down. To­day, it has emerged again, in­tro­duced by an­other MP and un­der a dif­fer­ent name. This, in turn, gives rea­son to doubt that the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion was un­aware of the prepa­ra­tion of such leg­isla­tive changes, es­pe­cially tak­ing into ac­count the talk­ing points for MPs is­sued by the PA that were sub­se­quently leaked to the Ukrainian me­dia. The Pres­i­dent is try­ing to do the splits. Dur­ing his meet­ing with ac­tivists to dis­cuss the pro­posed amend­ments, he said that he must sign the bill into law be­cause oth­er­wise it would jeop­ar­dize 160,000 Ukrainian sol­diers. How­ever, some­thing needs to be done with the con­tro­ver­sial amend­ments. Fi­nally, cor­rup­tion fight­ers were promised that the is­sue would be dealt with through other "ur­gent" leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives. Such prom­ises were re­ceived with skep­ti­cism. It re­mains to hope that the guar­an­tor of the Constitution with his MPs will keep his word, pay­ing heed if not to the civic ac­tivists, then to the Western part­ners.

Dam­age con­trol. Amidst harsh crit­i­cism of the e-dec­la­ra­tion amend­ments, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko meets with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of NGOs on March 27 to dis­cuss pos­si­ble re­sponse. He sug­gests set­ting up a work­ing group to pre­pare new changes. That leaves ac­tivists skep­ti­cal

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