Last week, to the surprise of many, President Poroshenko and his ruling coalition in Parliament passed legislation aimed at silencing anti-corruption activists and NGO’s. Despite his long professed dedication to rooting out Ukraine’s notorious and endemic levels of corruption within government, it is becoming obvious where his true colours lie. This latest move clearly shows he is more interested in silencing his critics and protecting the deep-rooted pilfering class, than he is in waging war on those that are stealing the country blind.
This all started late last year when anti-corruption legislation was enacted requiring all politicians and government officials to file online e-declarations giving details of all their wealth and assets. What these declarations revealed was stunning and graphically exposed how rich many of the ruling class had gotten despite their modest “official” salaries and compensation. This injected fresh vigor into the many citizen groups and NGO’s whose aim is to root out and prosecute those who have pilfered state coffers and otherwise benefited greatly from state malfeasance.
Although actual prosecutions continue to be slow in coming due to the unreformed nature of the prosecutorial and judiciary systems, anti-corruption activists have been ratcheting up the pressure and Poroshenko and his supporters have obviously been feeling the heat. Last week they decided to strike back.
In a vengeful mood, they engineered passage of amendments to the law that would force all individuals, organizations, journalists and NGOs that engage in any kind of anti-corruption activities to also file detailed declaration of all their wealth and assets as well as those of their immediate family. The move clearly serves no other purpose than to intimidate and curb the activities of those that have been holding the ruling politicians and government to task for their lack of progress on stamping out corruption.
It also opens the door wide for the still largely compromised prosecutorial services to legally persecute anyone that is involved in criticizing the government’s efforts in this area. The wording of the amendment is so vague that it could be interpreted to include anyone who voices any kind of critique of the government’s actions or lack of action on corruption. Voice an opinion that the government doesn’t like or take part in a protest against corruption, and the authorities can use the prosecutors, the tax police and all their bureaucratic might to make your life, your business, and your ability to make a living very problematic indeed. This has been a common tactic of the governments of the past few decades, and this piece of legislation would provide even greater license for the government to continue doing the same.
The e-declaration legislation was a bold and necessary move to bring to light the magnitude of the consequences of government corruption, and expose wrong doing. Although technically an invasion of privacy, most people would agree, and most legal systems would support the principle that when individuals commit criminal acts, they forfeit the right to keep those acts and their consequences private.
This move by the government has no similar ethical or practical basis. Anti-corruption activists and organizations pose no threat to civil society or the well-being of Ukraine. They have committed no criminal act and are in fact dedicated to seeking truth and justice. For the government to cynically try to impinge on their rights to privacy, is a blatant act of coercion and revenge. It is clearly an attempt to silence the critics, and restrict the rights of citizens to demand justice and transparency from their government. To argue otherwise is hypocrisy of the highest order.
Last week, former British Prime Minister David Cameron stated in a speech during a visit to Kyiv, that the level of corruption in Ukraine was “absolutely unacceptable”. Most Ukrainians as well as most other political leaders throughout the world would tend to agree. President Poroshenko must do more to address this existential threat to Ukraine’s future, rather than engage in the kind of vindictive and petty vengeful act that his government perpetrated last week.