Photo credit: Sharon Mccutcheon / Unsplash

Ukrainians can now check public servants’ income and property online.

Denys Bihus, a watchdog journalist, has captured the attention of the country with his investigations, which have uncovered corruption, injustice, and deceit in Ukrainian politics.

Working together with muckraking activists to uncover corruption-related wrongdoing, ranging from taking bribes to stealing government money – that’s the thing I enjoy the most,” says Bihus.

Denys Bihus in his office. Photo credit: Andrey Krepkikh / UNDP Ukraine

The 2013-2014 EuroMaidan protests made the fight against corruption one of the top priorities on the new government’s agenda and gave impetus for greater transparency and accountability in the country.

As a result, Ukraine has taken the bold step of phasing out paper declaration forms in favour of an electronic system, making officials’ declared income open to public scrutiny.

Since 2016, for the first time in the country’s history, public servants have been obliged to declare their revenue and assets in the e-declaration system created by the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) with UNDP support.

Anti-corruption activists like Bihus were quick to back up the government’s efforts, developing online tools for analysing e-declarations and monitoring officials’ lifestyle.

Bihus and his team have developed an online database – declarations.com.ua – that imports information directly from the NACP’s registry and analyses it.

Journalist from Bihus.info project. Photo credit: Brendan Hartwig / UNDP Ukraine
Bihus' team during brainstorming session. Photo credit: Andriy Krepkikh / UNDP Ukraine

Have you seen some officials driving new expensive cars or buying luxurious goods? Now you can check whether they have declared those purchases in their e-declarations and whether they have enough money for such investments,” says Bihus.

Declarations.com.ua is the largest database of officials’ declared income and assets, and has additional convenient tools for monitoring changes in declarations and developing analytical materials.

Collecting and storing all entries from the official e-declaration website, the platform prevents data from being lost in case officials attempt to remove or hide it later.

The database is constantly updated as the team converts old paper declarations submitted before 2016 into machine-readable electronic records. Using crowd-sourcing, over 3,000 volunteers have been engaged in decoding and digitizing more than 30,000 paper declarations.

Prior to the e-system’s launch, officials’ handwritten or printed declarations were either gathering dust in office drawers with no easy access to them, or were scanned and uploaded online with hard-to-decipher data that could not be automatically read and processed by a computer,” Bihus says.

Ihor Stepanov, head of e-declaration department at the National Agency on Corruption Prevention. Photo credit: Andrey Krepkikh / UNDP Ukraine

Now, with UNDP support, all this information is easily accessible online in a user-friendly visualized format.

Significantly simplifying the processing and analysing of data, the tool now allows all of the declarations of any official to be compared, so that users can see the dynamics of their wealth growth.

Anyone can help the project and earn a “kitten,” a special currency for every decoded paper declaration equal in value to one hryvnia (USD 0.04). “Kittens” can be used to support a good cause through donating them to partner charity funds.

The declarations.com.ua project has also picked up lots of awards.

Among its honours are prizes from the Global Media Forum’s Bobs Awards 2016 Ceremony in Bonn, Germany, where DW awarded prizes to exemplary online activists. Out of four multilingual categories, Bihus’ team was featured in two – "Tech for Good" and "Citizen Journalism."

Moreover, Bihus was one of five anti-corruption activists in the world win the 2017 Democracy Award for their achievements in tackling graft.

Photo credit: Bihus.info

Every year, about 1 million Ukrainian public officials submit asset declarations online.

Four year later after e-declaration’s launch, the system contains 4 million documents, including 2.7 million annual asset e-declarations.

In order to check this large amount of information, in late 2018, NACP introduced an important add-on for automated data verification, developed with UNDP support.

The system was able to analyse 2.7 million e-declarations in five days, with 207,000 or 7.6% of the documents being red-flagged.

The automated analysis is applied to all submitted e-declarations to detect any inconsistencies or false information. Then, only red-flagged files assessed to have massive discrepancies and high corruption risks undergo a full verification, cross-checking information with 13 state databases.

Denys Bihus has discussion with his team Денис. Photo credit: Andriy Krepkikh / UNDP Ukraine

Today, e-declarations have become one of the primary ways to influence officials, as citizens can now see where corruption lies and withdraw their support for corrupt individuals. In turn, this makes politicians think twice before engaging in questionable activities, which often result in the accumulation of unethically acquired goods, and promotes a more just society in Ukraine.

You can’t always see change right away,” explains Dmytro Chaplynskyi, an IT-developer working with Bihus. “It took many years for women to obtain their right to vote. The same can be said about e-declaration – it plays a role in the bigger picture of change.”

This initiative was supported in the framework of UNDP project Enhanced Public Sector Transparency and Integrity funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affirs.  

Text: Tetiana Gritsenko

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