Wednesday, March 29 2017 19:02 EEST
Ukrainian president signs controversial law obligating anti-corruption NGOs to report on their income
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On March 27, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law to introduce changes to the anti-corruption law [which also regulates the electronic declaration of income by officials and politicians], which the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted on March 23. In connection with the new amendments, soldiers are exempt from filling in a declaration. However, NGO representatives are obligated to report on their income. After signing the law, the president suggested that NGO representatives form a working group to formulate new amendments to the law. Poroshenko gave his assurance that he is willing to introduce the relevant suggestions to parliament as urgent.

The news outlet “Ukrayinska Pravda” later learned that the presidential administration had dispatched “instructions” to the MPs of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BPP), concerning argumentation in favor of applying electronic declaration to the anti-corruption NGOs. The media outlet claims to possess the documents in question. The “instructions” specify that “entities participating in the implementation of the relevant international aid programs in Ukraine, work in public associations, and other business associations, the activity of which is directed towards preventing and opposing corruption, will have a decisive influence on the creation of state policy and on the activity of key organs for the prevention and opposition of corruption”. They also specify that today’s “members of the public are tomorrow’s politicians”.

When asked to comment on the document, the press service of the presidential administration told “Ukrayinska Pravda” that it “has not sent out any instructions”. At the same time, in one of the circulated files, which the publication received after the presidential administration’s comment, the author appears as Kostiantyn Yelisieiev [a person with this name is the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, who is responsible for international policy]. Previously, Tetiana Chornovol, parliamentarian from the “People’s Front” party proposed that e-declarations also be introduced for the founders and editors of the media. During the discussion, however, this suggestion was removed, because unlike civil servants, journalists do not receive salaries from the budget and do not live on tax payers’ money. With respect to NGOs, Chornovol pointed out that with state organs there are many public councils, and they all “influence the operation of the state organs”. In her opinion, the “involvement of members of these public councils in corrupt projects” must be prevented.

New amendments to the law “on the prevention of corruption” caused great outcry in the international community. Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, during his meeting with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, said that these changes must be revised. The British and US embassies noted that the law regarding amendments to the e-declaration is a “serious step backwards”. Judith Gough, British Ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on Twitter that this law could restrict the opportunities of NGOs, put them under pressure, and affect reform. The US Embassy to Kyiv pointed out on Twitter that “members of civil society play a vital role in transparency; targeting them is a step backwards”.

It was reiterated there that the e-declaration is important for high state officials, and this, in particular, is a big step forward in promoting reform in Ukraine.

The international human rights organization, Freedom House, stated that the amendments violate the standards of the European Union and undermine the work of activists, which is “necessary for renewing society’s trust in the government”.

“The new requirements protect politicians unhappy with public scrutiny and allow them to retaliate against those involved in anti-corruption investigations,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Eurasia programs at Freedom House.

The international public organization, Transparency International, and its departments in Ukraine also called on the Ukrainian authorities to annul the controversial amendments to the law. The organization believes that these amendments were devised to intimidate anti-corruption activists. José Ugaz, chairman of Transparency International, said that “If these amendments come into force, it will be clear that Ukrainian top officials are not serious about fighting corruption”.

Aside from the criticism from the international community, the first consequences of the changed law have already appeared. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ended its cooperation with the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC). Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Deputy Minister of Justice and member of the NAPC, made an announcement to this effect on his Facebook page. In his opinion, the major American donor USAID has stopped cooperation with the Agency on account of the adoption of controversial amendments to the e-declarations.

Earlier Ukrainian arrested for 15 days for participating in Minsk protests

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