Ukraine’s internal enemy: corruption (+ lustration?)


External threats to Ukraine from Russia have dominated the news, but as that situation starts to stabilize the country will need to confront an old, internal enemy, the Peterson Institute’s Anders Åslund writes for the Wall Street Journal: 

Transparency International ranks Ukraine 144 out of 177 countries on its corruption-perception index. Corruption was at the heart of popular discontent with the deposed regime of Viktor Yanukovych, and widespread graft helps explain why the economy stalled in 2012 and 2013. Kiev must tackle this problem urgently, even as its leaders confront Russia’s territorial ambitions.

Cleansing Ukraine of its corruption will require several interrelated measures. In this regard, Estonia and Georgia have shown the way, he argues in an article adapted from a longer essay that appeared in the Journal of Democracy:

To begin with, the state needs to limit its regulatory role by abolishing or merging many state agencies. Minimizing state interference in the economy—whether by privatizing state-owned assets or cutting regulations—reduces opportunities for corruption in the first place.

The government should also cut public expenditures, and corrupted subsidies must be eliminated. The deregulation of gas and electricity prices in this case must be seen as a matter of combating corruption, not as a social issue. The poor can be given targeted cash compensation instead. The tax system also needs to be simplified and the tax police abolished, to shield taxpayers from lawless persecution. Ukraine has recently adopted a law on public procurement requiring open public tenders, and voters should demand their leaders follow that law to the letter.

Officials also must focus on delivering reliable rule of law. This should entail the creation of an independent commission scrutinizing all the top judges and prosecutors in Ukraine and dismissing those found to have engaged in graft.

“The people are angry as little is changing, reforms are not being implemented, and corruption is not being fought,” says Ukraine scholar Taras Kuzio, referring to a spate of violent attacks on politicians with strong ties to the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. “The anger unleashed by the Euromaidan remains, but elites are not implementing the changes that would reduce tension.”

But these attacks, by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector , do little to inspire confidence in a successful parliamentary election on October 26 and the reforms that are expected to follow, Linda Kinstler writes for the New Republic:

These so-called “people’s lustration” efforts could quickly unravel everything that the Maidan revolution accomplished. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a plea for an end to this variety of political activism: “Another couple of Shufrichs [with] smashed faces and lynched Pylypyshyns, and Europe will turn its back on the revolution we’ve won. I am afraid that America will, too.” Much to the delight of RT, the leader of Ukraine’s Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, responded by suggesting that perhaps it’s time for Avakov, too, to be thrown into a dumpster. 

“By signing the Association Agreement with the European Union, Ukraine has committed itself to adopting hundreds of reform laws, while the EU has committed itself to providing substantial technical assistance in drawing up new laws and reorganizing state agencies,” notes Åslund. “That deal is on hold for now, but Brussels and Kiev can still find ways to move forward. Those parts of the agreement that target corruption, for example, should be a priority; as should building a strong and independent judicial system.”

Mr. Åslund is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of “How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy” (Peterson Institute, 2009).


Democracies do best in fight against graft


In many countries, corruption is so endemic that it is considered impossible to eradicate. And yet India, Brazil and SA have created institutions and processes to fight at least some corruption, writes a prominent analyst.

Many of these tools would be impossible to use in the absence of the democratic institutions that support them, writes Ann Bernstein, head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise:

We also know much more about corruption in democratic societies than we do in authoritarian states, thanks to the efforts of citizens, parliaments, state institutions, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and the media. This does not mean corruption is more prevalent in democratic regimes. On the contrary, democracies provide more opportunities for people and institutions to expose and talk about corruption wherever it occurs and to fight for improvements.

In each one of these countries, the problem of corruption remains profound, and has not by any means been defeated, she suggests:

However, the possibility of reform lies in the nature of the three constitutional democracies. All of them have multiple self-correcting mechanisms; citizens do not depend upon the goodwill of the executive or of the ruling party for political reform. When Parliament itself is corrupt or unable to curb executive power, then individual citizens, civic organisations, the independent judiciary or specially created independent state institutions, all supported by a robust independent media, can take over the task of improving the quality of governance, as they have done in the past.

“The continuing battle against corruption ultimately requires more transparency, more effective democratic institutions and more accountable representative democracy, not less. It is hard to see how authoritarian states can compete with this,” Bernstein concludes.

• Bernstein is head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. This article is based on a new publication from the centre: The Democratic Alternative from the South: India, Brazil, and SA.


Isabel dos Santos, Her Father, George Soros and Me

rafael marquesSo desperate are pro-regime PR consultants to find a way of attacking Angolan civil society activist Rafael Marques de Morais that they have tried to find impropriety in his former links to the NY-based Open Society Institute (OSI), funded by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Their machinations offer an opportunity to consider the ways in which the Dos Santos regime has tried to neutralizing dissent, he writes.

The question of George Soros is simple. The regime led by Isabel dos Santos’s father has been the main beneficiary of his involvement. Subsequent events bore out what Marques, founder of the anti-corruption website Maka Angola, calls his “disillusionment with the modus operandi of international organisations and the superficial nature of their programs supporting democracy and the struggle for human rights.”

Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption through his journalism and his work with Maka Angola, an Angolan platform, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.


Afghanistan: nurturing political space

afghanpollwikicommonsAfghanistan has made major albeit uneven development progress since 2001 – high economic growth, improvements in social indicators, some investments in government institutions and infrastructure, but weaker performance in agriculture and the urban sector, and deteriorating governance, analyst William A Byrd writes in Afghanistan: Nurturing Political Space for Development, a briefing for Chatham House,  the Royal Institute for International Affairs.

Where progress has been achieved, the ingredients of success have been effective Afghan leadership and management teams in key ministries; ‘political space’ for them to take forward development initiatives; and containment of corruption in the sectors and activities concerned. However, political space for development has shrunk in recent years with the consolidation of an entrenched political elite and worsening corruption. 

The new Afghan administration may have a window of opportunity to arrest negative trends and restore or expand political space for development. Conducive political incentives, longer time horizons, and the appointment of competent, empowered leadership and management teams in key ministries will be crucial in this regard.

 The international community will need to support and help nurture political space for development and facilitate the necessary prioritization of increasingly limited aid resources. The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework could, through a focused set of policies and actions, provide a foundation to support progress, secure international funding and constructively hold the new Afghan government accountable for its commitments.

Overall, the international community needs to be supportive while encouraging the new Afghan government to engage in meaningful, even if modest, pro-development policies and investments. A ‘do no harm’ approach also is important – for example, avoiding inadvertent detraction from government efforts to prioritize development programmes and funding.

Preventing and responding effectively to corruption or other irregularities in its own ranks is an extremely important element of a ‘do no harm’ approach by the international community. More generally, donors must also ensure that the Afghan government’s responsiveness to the priorities and concerns of the international community does not detract from its accountability towards its own population.


How to help China’s anti-corruption reformers


Proposed new bilateral investment treaties would improve transparency and help tackle corruption in China, says Robert Zoellick, a former World Bank president, US trade representative and deputy secretary of state:

Chinese reformers believe that bilateral investment treaties will help them fight favouritism and corruption, remove onerous regulations that choke market competition, improve uneven law enforcement, and shrink the advantages enjoyed by state-owned enterprises. As one Chinese official told me, if the authorities offer equal and fair treatment to foreigners, China’s private sector can demand the same. Reformers recognise that small and medium-sized enterprises would be the biggest winners from fairly enforced economic rules.

“Bilateral treaties, technical though they might be, can be potent tools,” says Zoellick, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “They can assist China’s market reforms, deepen constructive economic ties with the west, and strengthen the international rule of law. They also offer a positive agenda to buffer inevitable differences,” he writes for The Financial Times.

But reports suggest that the ruling Communist Party is resorting to more familiar and less technocratic approaches to curbing corruption, while cracking down on grassroots anti-graft campaigners, including Xu Zhiyong, the “quiet lawyer holding Beijing to account” and the broader New Citizens Movement (see above).

Brutality yields graft confessions

The anti-corruption crackdown has netted officials at most levels of government, many of whom have been investigated and questioned under an internal disciplinary process called shuanggui, China Digital Times reports. While stories have emerged about mistreatment and harsh conditions in shuanggui facilities, the AP’s Gillian Wong gives a detailed account of torture from four local officials held in Hunan:

Zhou, land bureau director for the city of Liling, was confined in the party’s secret detention system at a compound in central Hunan, touted as a model center for anti-corruption efforts. Nobody on the outside could help him, because nobody knew where he was.

In a rare act of public defiance, Zhou and three other party members in Hunan described to The Associated Press the months of abuse they endured less than two years ago, in separate cases, while in detention. Zhou said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned, whipped with wires and forced to eat excrement. The others reported being turned into human punching bags, strung up by the wrists from high windows, or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet.

All said they talked to the AP despite the risk of retaliation because they were victims of political vendettas and wanted to expose what had happened. Party representatives contacted by the AP denied the abuses had taken place.

[…] Wang Qiuping, party secretary of an industrial park in Ningyuan, said he was slapped often and forced to stand and kneel for hours during a detention of 313 days. His deputy Xiao Yifei told the AP he was hooded for more than a month and beaten up by an interrogator who went by the nickname “Tang the Butcher.” Xiao provided the AP with a receipt from a local party discipline office showing his sister paid 35,000 yuan, or $5,700, in “violation fees” to secure his release after 208 days. And Fan Qiqing, a contractor, said he was kicked and lashed with a metal whip and wooden plank during his 431-day detention and forced to take hallucinogenic drugs.

A Ningyuan party official who refused to give his name said the investigation involving all three men was carried out in a “civilized manner” and no one was tortured.

In April, a suspect died during a shuanggui investigation. Read more about the anti-corruption drive and about shuanggui, via CDT.