European corruption watchdog praises Ukraine’s reforms, says more must be done

Ukraine has implemented satisfactorily, or dealt with in a satisfactory manner most of the recommendations made by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the Council of Europe’s corruption watchdog stated in a report published on July 10.

Established in 1999 to monitor anti-corruption efforts in Europe, GRECO said Ukraine had fulfilled 20 of the 25 of the group’s recommendations, and had made considerable progress over the past year.

The group’s report praised the recent reforms introduced by the Ukrainian government, referring especially to the so-called 2014 anti-corruption package adopted by parliament last October.

Specifically, the group praised the criminalization of corrupt activities and improvements made to Ukrainian legislation via the package of bills.

The group also said that four of its recommendations had only been partially implemented, and one had not implemented been at all. Ukraine still had much to do in administrative and judicial reform, the report stated.

GRECO issued its 25 recommendations to Ukraine back in 2007. In particular, it advised Ukraine to reform its legal system to make it more efficient, as well as to change its administration and create a clearly independent body to fight graft.

One measure that the watchdog welcomed was the establishment of an independent national corruption-fighting agency. However, the group criticized the limited role given to civil society in fighting corruption, saying this had to be improved. Other crucial points remain unaddressed, such as clearly defining the set of rules governing administrative processes, the GRECO report said. It said that the lack of such rules obstructed the coherence of public action, as well as the possibility for citizens toknow their rights and obligations, and thus required “further urgent attention.”

The auditing of the finances of local authorities is another area of concern, as it remains under the control of the executive branch through the State Finance Inspection, GRECO said, underlining its concern that civil society had to be represented in all institutions involved in this struggle.

The report did, however, highlight the efforts made by Ukraine to make sure corrupt activities fall under the criminal code. The anti-corruption law Ukraine adopted on May 2014 reinforced the liability of individuals for all types of corruption, contrary to previous versions. The text of the law also introduced a registration system for individuals convicted of corruption, another measure praised by the European watchdog.

Ukraine has furthermore enhanced the independence of public prosecutors by introducing new recruitment procedures and better defining their powers and responsibilities. The report noted transparency of public procurements was improved, an achievement that was supported by the European Union through funding and expertise, and one welcomed by the World Bank. The protection of whistle-blowers and informers has been improved as well, with the definition of procedures for anonymous reporting and more guarantees against retaliation.

Some approved measures still need to be pursued further, with GRECO especially noting the latest improvements to civil service. The group urged the Ukrainian government to continue its efforts in this field.

Still, the situation with corruption remains critical in the country, GRECO said. Quoting a July 2 report by another watchdog, Berlin-based Transparency International, GRECO said that before the Euromaidan Revolution, Ukraine ranked 142nd out of 174 countries in the group’s corruption perceptions index. Even though there have been legislative improvements, the judicial system is still perceived as highly corrupt, and remains to a large extent controlled by the executive branch of power.

The Transparency International report especially criticizes Ukraine’s “unaccountable executive,” with huge powers granted to the presidency: “The dominance of powerful political and business elites over the rest of the political system (…) are evidence that legal reforms alone are not sufficient to guarantee a corruption-free society.” GRECO agreed, noting that many of the legal reforms praised in its report are yet to come into force, and that this is a crucial challenge that needs support from Ukrainian society.

There must be “adequate representation of civil society in the overall policy work against corruption, as corruption in Ukraine affects society at large and cannot be seen as an isolated problem,” the conclusion of the group’s report reads.

20 July 2015