In the face of strong international pressure Ukrainian lawmakers have backtracked on a controversial bill that would have allowed parliament to dismiss the heads of Ukraine’s anti-corruption bodies. The proposed amendment, tabled yesterday by deputies from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko and the People’s Front faction, would have granted the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) the power to hold no confidence votes in the leadership of the agencies tasked with combating the country’s endemic corruption problem. The bill was due to be voted on today, but was removed from the agenda after opposition lawmakers and reform activists, fearing the amendment would be used to frustrate corruption investigations, raised the alarm among Ukraine’s international donors.
The eleventh-hour campaign seemingly worked, as a chorus of condemnation poured in from key foreign allies urging Kiev not to backslide on its reform agenda. Michael Carpenter, senior director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement tweeted: “If the Rada votes to dismiss the head of the Anticorruption Committee and the head of the NABU, I will recommend cutting all US government assistance to #Ukraine, including security assistance. This is a disgrace.” Also via Twitter the Canadian ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, said that “independence was and is a cornerstone of NABU (the National Anti-Corruption Bureau)” and that removing that cornerstone would have “consequences for the structure of international economic support for Ukraine.” Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde said: “Fighting corruption is a key demand of the Ukrainian society, is crucial to achieving stronger and equitable growth and is part of the government’s commitment under the program with the IMF.”
The Washington-based fund has delayed some of the $17.5 billion bailout it offered to Ukraine to help its economy recover after the outbreak of hostilities in its eastern regions, because of Kiev’s stalled anti-graft drive.
The establishment of the NABU was cheered as one of the crowning achievements of the post-revolution reforms that were supposed to distinguish Petro Poroshenko’s presidency from the deeply corrupt administration of his Russian-backed predecessor Viktor Yanukovych. However, the agency has found itself fending off attacks from a political class that remains resistant to reform. Just last week the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) and Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) purposely broke up an undercover NABU investigation into a scheme being operated in the State Migration Service involving the sale of passports and residency permits. Several undercover NABU operatives were detained and their names released to the public, putting their jobs and possibly their lives in danger. It was widely expected that had the amendment been tabled today it would have easily passed and the director of NABU, Artem Sytnyk, would have been the first to be dismissed by the newly empowered parliamentarians.
On the amendments removal from the agenda the agency said “We thank our international partners for their trust in the work NABU and support in the fight against corruption in Ukraine.”