A big leap for Ukrainians: the country marks e-declaration’s first anniversary

Sep 1, 2017

Denys Bihus (at the center), an investigative journalist and inspirer of the UNDP-supported Declarations platform, and his anti-corruption team are checking officials’ declarations. Photo credit: © Andrii Krepkikh / UNDP in Ukraine

Ukraine’s breakthrough instrument to root out entrenched corruption through publicly disclosing officials’ income and assets celebrates its one-year anniversary. It offers a look back at how the e-declaration system, pioneered last year in September, has matured.

Ukraine has made a bold move to phase out paper declaration forms in favour for an electronic system making officials’ declared gains open to public scrutiny. Anti-corruption civic activists have stepped these efforts up, helping to launch the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP), creating online tools for analyzing declarations, monitoring lifestyle of senior officials, and conducting training on e-declaration.

A revolutionary tool to stamp out corruption

Demonstrating an unprecedented transparency of civil servants’ earnings and property, the new online database marked a turning point in Ukrainian politics. For the first time in the country's history, Ukrainian officials have been obliged to declare their revenue and assets via the open electronic system.

After supporting the development of the e-declaration system, UNDP handed over the software package to NACP, upon the successful tests results, clarification of all legal safeguards, and validation by all State agencies involved in its development. The system was then launched and now formally operated by the agency.

Back in 2016, under the first wave of e-declaration, over 100,000 top-officials, including the President of Ukraine, members of the Cabinet of Ministers, MPs, judges, and prosecutors, pioneered this tool and disclosed their own wealth and immediate families' possessions.

In 2017, nearly 1 million government officials of all levels submitted detailed information on their private gains into this open-access system. From now on, all public officials are supposed to declare their income and assets via the electronic registry on the annual basis, setting an important milestone for transparency and integrity in the country.

The next important step to make the e-declaration system an effective tool for tackling corruption is to start the verification of uploaded declarations flagging any inconsistencies or false information and to launch investigations of corruption cases by the newly created anti-graft agencies.

In order to handle large amounts of information, NACP’s electronic system needs important add-ons for the automated data verification. Once it is in place, the automated analysis will be applied to all submitted declarations to detect any inconsistencies. Then, only a relatively small number of documents with discovered massive discrepancies will undergo a manual verification by NACP staff, considerably accelerating the pace of the process.

So far, NACP has launched over 300 inspections of 244 officials’ declarations. Since the beginning of the year, the agency has completed only 39 verifications, which resulted in 4 cases transferred to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) for the investigation.

In its turn, the prosecution sector has initiated more than 550 criminal proceedings on facts of illicit enrichment and submitting false information in declarations with over 20 cases brought to court, since the launch of the system. Moreover, data from e-declarations are used to check the background of candidates for different public positions, for example, candidates for positions of judges of the Supreme Court of Ukraine or candidates for MPs. This indicates that the e-declaration system is yielding its first results and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability.

An important pending step is the establishment of a specialized anti-corruption court to ensure transparent and politically impartial decisions and guarantee a proper handling of anti-corruption cases, bringing corrupt officials to justice.

Civil society holds steadfast to the path of the anti-corruption reform

Anti-corruption watchdogs were quick to back up the government’s efforts, developing an alternative online tool for analysing information from officials’ declarations based on NACP’s e-declaration registry’s data. The Declarations platform, supported by UNDP, is quickly gaining attention of citizens. It ensures a regular automatic import of new e-declarations directly from NACP’s system and conversion of old paper declarations submitted in 2013-2015 into machine-readable electronic records. Significantly simplifying the process of processing and analysing data, it allows to compare all declarations of any official and see the dynamics of their wealth growth.

Moreover, civic activists from the UNDP-supported Declarations under Control coalition, aimed at checking officials’ declarations as an effective tool to fight corruption, pushed for changing the existing procedure for the full verification of senior officials’ e-declarations. Activists’ proposals, focusing mainly on the criteria for launching verifications, are to be integrated by NACP in the updated version of the rules.

Local anti-corruption watchdogs are also actively engaged in the struggle against graft. Over a 3-year period, 48 civic groups, supported by UNDP with seed funding, have implemented their anti-corruption initiatives in local communities. Checking public procurement contracts in several oblasts of Ukraine and analysing a vast array of procurement open data, one of the local partners had some 60 public procurement contracts cancelled due to corruption risks involved. Another partner, thanks to scrutinising declarations of key city-level public officials, detected a conflict of interest and prevented potential fraud and corruption schemes in the local housing sector.

Reflecting on the e-declaration system’s impact on citizens

As part of activities for the e-declaration anniversary commemoration, UNDP will present findings of a nation-wide study on declarants’ and general population’s attitude towards e-declaration. This research is important for reflecting on the country’s first experience of introducing e-declaration, assessing the outcomes of the system, and distilling the lessons learnt for the future use.

The initiative is implemented under UNDP’s Enhanced Public Sector Transparency and Integrity project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

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