Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” protests were driven by activists fed up with corruption. Can the new government turn things around?
When it comes to opportunity for anti-corruption reform on a massive scale, few countries have ever been as ripe for change as Ukraine today. Western countries and the International Monetary Fund are pushing hard for transparency and clean government. They enjoy unprecedented leverage over Ukraine’s political and economic elites, who need billions in loans to stave off economic ruin. Ukraine’s populace, which took to the streets a year ago to oust a president reviled for his flamboyant corruption, is maddened at the lack of a single, high-profile corruption prosecution since then. Investors, once attracted to Ukraine by a highly educated workforce, cheap industrial assets, and some of the world’s most fertile farmland, have made it clear that corruption is a deal breaker.
Freshly elected Ukrainian leaders committed to reform and European integration are taking seemingly drastic steps on the anti-corruption front. In October, they passed an impressive package of laws that provide the framework to investigate, prosecute and imprison wrongdoers. Just as important, the new laws require the training and monitoring of the tens of thousands of public servants – from traffic cops to school principals to MPs – who collectively represent the “demand side” of Ukraine’s corruption equation.
To implement these new laws and flesh out the details, Ukraine’s elected leaders are turning to technocrats from countries counted as anti-corruption success stories – mostly Georgia and Lithuania. They are laboring away this winter in various ministries and in the Presidential Administration, trying to figure out how to train and empower the men and women who, in the face of a decades-old corruption culture and vastly outnumbered by colleagues benefiting from the status quo, will be the shock troops of anti-corruption reform. Taken together, these are impressive, ambitious moves in a country of 45 million, by far the largest state in the post-Soviet space to attempt such a housecleaning.
All this was on display last week during a fact-finding mission by CIPE’s lead anti-corruption expert in Ukraine, Drago Kos, who also serves as the chairman of the Working Group on Bribery of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. Kos, a plainspoken man who began his career in the Slovenian police force, spent a week in Kyiv, building rapport and sharing opinions with the Ukrainians at the forefront of the anti-corruption effort.