As Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues to destroy lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure in the country, plans are being made for Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction. It is likely to cost over a trillion dollars. When that amount of money is involved, it is a given in any country that without sufficient anti-corruption defenses, a significant share risks being siphoned off rather than being used for citizens’ essential needs and sustainable recovery.
There are some practical actions that Ukraine can and must take – with the support of the international community – to strengthen its resilience against corruption.
In the lead-up to the Ukraine Recovery Conference on 4–5 July in Lugano, Switzerland, the Basel Institute on Governance and Transparency International Ukraine jointly released a set of practical anti-corruption recommendations for the delegates to consider building into their commitments.
As leaders of these organizations, we were both present at the Conference to advocate for the four key areas of reform. In brief:
Anti-corruption institutions should be allowed to do their work.
Ukraine and its allies have built a diverse and impressive institutional infrastructure to fight corruption, but it is today devoid of permanent leadership. The top positions at Ukraine’s institutions responsible for investigating, prosecuting, adjudicating corruption cases, and managing returned assets, are all vacant.
In any context and country, caretaker leaders typically lack the authority to fulfill their functions fully. This will negatively affect efforts to prevent misuse of funds and pursue those who will seek to illegally profit from Ukraine’s reconstruction.
In addition to prioritizing these institutions’ leadership selection and appointment processes, we recommend a series of measures to strengthen their operational independence and effectiveness. These include solidifying the jurisdiction of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau regarding high-profile cases and establishing a specialized forensic investigations unit. The agency’s wiretapping authority needs to be swiftly confirmed. The operational independence of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Office needs to be strengthened, its leadership authority expanded, and risks of unjustified interference minimized.
Strategic tools should be deployed to ensure a transparent reconstruction process.
Key among these is the award-winning e-procurement system Prozorro. The system has the power to make recovery-related procurement significantly fairer and more transparent if political support for its mainstreaming is revived.
Ukraine needs to empower the judiciary by implementing long-delayed reforms that will strengthen its legitimacy and integrity.
The judiciary has long been the Achilles’ heel of Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts. Unblocking the stalled judicial reform process is a crucial prerequisite for recovery.
This includes strengthening the integrity and legitimacy of the various courts by, among other things, filling the vacant spots of the High Council of Justice, which is responsible for judicial appointments and oversight of crucial courts. The stalled reform of the obstructionist Kyiv District Administrative Court needs to be speedily completed.
Note that reform of constitutional justice, based on the recommendations of the Venice Commission, is even among the conditionalities for Ukraine’s future membership of the European Union.
Asset recovery systems need to be strengthened so that money stolen through corruption in the past can be used to help fuel reconstruction efforts.
In the case of outstanding Ukrainian kleptocratic resources that await repatriation and where insufficient progress has been made since 2014, no new legal mechanisms are required: follow-through and the application of the right legal and international cooperation tools could deliver a much-needed financial boost.
In practice, this means re-invigorating stalled efforts to return illicit assets by completing domestic investigations and bringing the cases to court, ascertaining that confiscation provisions used in international cases are enforceable in foreign jurisdictions, and adjusting and adopting the Asset Recovery Strategy and Action Plan drafted before the war.
Ukraine also needs to ensure its legal tools are suitable for potential confiscation efforts undertaken by partner countries of Russian or other foreign-owned assets. For this, it needs to strengthen its non-conviction-based confiscation regime and align the confiscation powers provided for in Ukrainian laws with international standards.
This is just a start, and much more needs to be done. But it is also clear what needs to be done. Most of us don’t fight on the frontlines but sit safely in offices. The least we can do is honor heroic sacrifice by not allowing the reconstruction efforts – and Ukraine’s future – to be tainted with corruption.
Gretta Fenner, pictured above left, is the Managing Director of the Basel Institute on Governance, an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to countering corruption and other financial crimes and improving governance standards.
Andrii Borovyk, above right, is the Executive Director of Transparency International Ukraine, an accredited chapter of the global movement Transparency International.