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Head of European Union's Anti-Corruption Initiative in Ukraine Eka Tkeshelashvili on Ukraine’s prospects in fighting corruption
In 2004-2012, Eka Tkeshelashvili has been a member of the Georgian reforms team. Her CV is really impressive: serving as Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of the National Security Council, and Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister for Reintegration of Georgia under President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Currently, she is heading European Union's Anti-Corruption Initiative in Ukraine. The EU has allocated 15 million euros for it, another 1.54 million were provided by Denmark. The project as launched in February.
It is not the first initiative, aimed at combating corruption in Ukraine. After the Revolution of Dignity, EU has been funding dozens of projects and programs that are somehow related to one of the main Ukrainian problems. Eka Tkeshelashvili unveiled Ukraine’s future prospects in this area.
Fighting corruption is a top issue for Ukraine and its relations with the EU, but people do not feel the improvement of the situation. What is wrong and what should Ukraine do?
On the one hand, it is clear that all are waiting for fast and noticeable results. Moreover, the counting of anti-corruption expectations in society began much earlier than in 2014.
On the other hand, 2-3 years are not enough to expect a dizzying success. Especially in such a large and complex country like Ukraine. The main thing now is to ensure the irreversibility of anti-corruption processes.
The system of corruption has some gaps. And they need to be expanded.
If Ukraine fails to quickly destroy the system - and it is very stable - it will be defeated gradually.
Therefore, the situation with the fight against corruption is not black and white. Do not forget about the work that is carried out by the newly formed anti-corruption institutions, such as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). I would not use the word "heroism," but these people are really struggling with corruption and they are already showing results. They are professionals who have very patriotic attitude to their work. We will try to strengthen the anti-corruption project structure.
What are the aims of the project?
We must increase the opportunities of the newly created anti-corruption institutions, including technical ones, improve the quality of their work and ensure independence.
The wider purpose is to create a new reality – inevitable punishment for corruption. Those involved in corruption should be punished, regardless of status or connections.
The inevitability of punishment must, in turn, serve for prevention of corruption. Not only punitive function of new anti-corruption bodies is important, but also preventive one.
They all are beneficiaries of our project. Including the newly established Agency for search and management of illegal assets. It is also very important. After all, when we talk about the effectiveness of punishment for corruption, it is important what happens to those confiscated means. Eventually, the money should go back to the state treasury.
We will work with anti-corruption structures by developing the human potential and management, as well as by improving the material base.
You mentioned the issue of independence of anti-corruption agencies - but this is more a political question. How can technical assistance project contribute to this?
The independence of anti-corruption agencies is not only the wages of their employees. Independence could be reached when you do your job professionally, efficiently. When, so to speak, there are no any faults.
That is, we perceive independence as professional growth of the structure. This makes it more stable and strong, and this can be countered by various attempts to establish control. And also, criticism from society or disappointment.
The hope that the anti-corruption bodies perform their functions, their relevance in society is important and palpable. There are already some examples where public support has played a positive role in the work of some anti-corruption institutions.
You mean Nasirov’s case?
Yes. And the main thing is that society believed in that – actions of NABU are truly reasonable.
Meanwhile, the society has rather skeptical attitude to National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC). Would it restore its confidence?
I think the very fact that of introduction of electronic declarations is very important. As a tool of transparency, and as a preventive measure, it is reducing the risks of corruption.
Hopefully, after accepting the order of examination of declarations, the system would work properly. International organizations together with NAPC aimed at making the work of the agency more efficient. Our first meeting with its representatives were open; as a result, we agreed to prepare a strategic plan of NAPC.
This applies to the areas of electronic declaration. We want to help, we have the respective resources for that. Of course, being the EU project, we cannot replace state agencies in the implementation of some functions. But we have an absolute willingness to help.
How exactly can the project help NAPC?
Mainly, in the field of implementation of the norms for declarations verification. Including the technical aspects. Declaration of electronic would be automatically checked by the modules, because it is impossible to do it manually.
This is only the beginning of the workflow. I think in the end of April, we would talk about our cooperation more certainty.
Returning to the NABU, Nasirov’s case is really encouraging. Would certain parties try to limit the authority of NABU and influence it? For example, with the future auditors?
Ukraine's international partners closely monitor the process of determining the auditors.
It is seen as an important part of the whole agency, including its independence. A clear signal was given in the joint statement of the US Embassy and representatives of the European Union. It was a clear expression of support for ensuring the independence of NABU and transparency of the whole process of combating corruption in Ukraine.
Do you believe that “destinations” have heard this signal?
We would like to suggest so. Because the signal is very clear.
We should remember that NABU and NAPC were created in terms of some obvious attempts to take them under political control. Probably, something similar might happen in the creation of anti-corruption court?
First, the Ukrainian society clearly requires establishment of this court, it is also the position of the international community, as well as Ukrainian legislation. There is already a bill filed by several MPs.
That process is proceeding. Creating an anti-corruption court has closed a string of anti-corruption institutions.
Confrontation, of course, as ways exists. When something fundamentally changed, it is always paralleled with resistance.
We must be able to withstand such a confrontation and strengthen agents of change, ready to fight for them. We should institutionally develop the public authorities and increase the support of society in them. Positive side is that people demand more. This is an engine of the development.
You have mentioned the anti-corruption court bill. How qualitative is it, and does it meet international practice?
I do not want to put some marks before assessment of the international partners of Ukraine.
This is a workflow, we cooperate with those who produce ideas. We expect the ideas to materialize and shoe the results.
The High Council of Justice and a number of judicial organizations criticized the draft law on anti-corruption court and did not recommend taking it. Many consider it a manifestation of the struggle for influence over the future authority.
It only underlines the importance of this structure.
We can assume that the process of establishing the court would initially be confrontational, but then it would go into a constructive direction. The main thing is not to delay, and to ensure the court’s independency and well technical potency.
Could you call the realistic terms of creation of anti-corruption court?
We hope that during the 2017 legislative work would be done. Then we will understand how we can help the newly established court.
One of the components of your project is a collaboration with NGOs. This is a recognition that the current anti-corruption NGO activities are successful and useful?
It means that they really fulfill a very important role. Our project will focus on the regional level. NGOs are also active on that level, but they need some help to work more effectively.
Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko called the new anti-corruption social activists "skunk activists"...
To be frank, I had a feeling of some unfair attitude. I work in government, thinking that I am doing a good job - but I hear this criticism in my address. They might just do not realize how much we do for the society! In Georgia, we really worked hard, changed the country, also we were criticized enough. After all, no one can work without errors.
Did you described your critics with such "epithets," when worked as Attorney General?
I do not like to use such "epithets", in private life too. Maybe because I am a woman. Before being involved into civil service, I have worked for the NGO.
I have returned to the non-governmental sector, and now I can retrospectively analyze my previous mistakes. I did not have enough time or understanding of the importance that civil society organizations should work more.
They do a lot to facilitate the government agencies.
Criticism is voiced personally against you or your structure. In fact, organized society of state agencies helps you to understand where is the problem.