Alexander Novikov spent the first two months of the Ukrainian war in the basement of the austere offices of the National Anti-Corruption Agency in Kyiv with a group of collaborators. “We were ready to fight in these streets, we have a battle room with machine guns,” Novikov says from the building’s third floor as he looks out his hall window. This is his fourth and last year at the head of the Anti-Corruption Agency of Ukraine.
Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122nd out of 180 in its 2021 annual index, making it one of the countries with the highest perception of corruption in the world, second only to Russia in Europe.
The pandemic shelter parliament removed the obligation of political parties to submit financial reports to Novikov’s agency. To protect civil servants in the occupied territories of Ukraine from Russian scrutiny, mandatory public registration of their identity and income was also suspended last year.
The relevance of the financial record was proven, he said, by the pending indictment of Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician and godfather of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, for failing to declare assets in Cyprus. Arrested last year on other charges, he was transferred to Russia in a prisoner exchange. Medvedchuk did not comment on this matter.
To this must be added billions of dollars and Euros of aid from Western countries. Some US Republican congressmen have called for an audit of the use of these funds.
Novikov’s job is to protect the money. However, a deadline for the government to adopt a three-year anti-corruption strategy that would impose new audit requirements on the country’s recovery and reconstruction projects expired on January 10. “I have all the necessary tools to guarantee transparency, accountability and integrity in the use of this money, but not all are activated,” he says.
Public tensions flared last year when Novikov suggested that Andrei Smirnov, deputy chief of staff of Volodymyr Zelensky, was behind the delay in publishing a list of individuals and organizations affected by Russian economic sanctions.
Smirnov claimed the delays were due to legal complications and accused Novikov of “spreading rumours” and “self-promotion”. Novikov says he just wants things done and the “Russian narrative” of Ukraine as a rogue state to disappear.
Since Saturday, several top officials at the national level have been removed amid corruption allegations, and several regional governors have resigned without explanation. “We will not return to what was usual in the past,” Zelensky said in one of his traditional evening speeches.
The first domino to fall was Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Vasyl Lozinsky, who was fired after being accused of inflating the price of winter equipment (including power generators) and allegedly embezzling $400,000. They say $38,000 in cash was found in his office and he is under house arrest. He has not made any statements.
Then Kirill Tymoshenko, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff and one of the president’s most influential and high-ranking advisers, resigned. He was being investigated for using a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV donated by General Motors for humanitarian purposes. He was also seen driving a $100,000 Porsche Taycan that belonged to an acquaintance. Tymoshenko denies any wrongdoing.
And perhaps most serious is the surprise with which the Ministry of Defense received a report published by a Ukrainian newspaper about overpayments in the purchase of food for soldiers in its procurement department, which led to fears of possible corruption. . Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov responded by calling on special services to investigate the leak and accusing critics of his ministry of “trying to undermine confidence in the Defense Ministry at a very crucial moment.” This did not prevent Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov from announcing his resignation on Tuesday.
Novikov calls Reznikov’s answer “inappropriate”. According to him, the anti-corruption agency had identified problems in the ministry’s procurement three months earlier, after its agents had hidden documents. Novikov has already officially asked the Prime Minister of Ukraine to discuss this issue.
“I don’t understand why the minister did not inform the public that he is currently working on all these issues and resolving them,” he says. “[El lunes] We sent an order to the minister requesting the resignation of the head of the department… I hope that the decision was not made in response to public opinion. [de Reznikov]But your communications team’s fault”.
“Ukrainians became more intolerant of corruption during the war,” he says. “If before the war only 40% of Ukrainians were ready to report corruption acts, today we have 84% of Ukrainians willing to do so; If before the war we had 44% of Ukrainians intolerant to any kind of corruption, today we have. 64%, so building a culture of integrity is a demand of Ukrainians, and the president has responded.”
This does not mean that Zelensky should not do more in the fight against corruption, as he promised during the election campaign, Novikov says. “I think he’s fully involved, but his central job is at the workplace [conseguir] arms and diplomatic and financial support for Ukraine; After weapons and financial support is the fight against corruption. Yes, we believe that these are the three main pillars to achieve victory.”
Novikov admits that there is resistance to change. “Not everyone in the government and the president’s office agrees with the president, as we see the president’s decision and the government’s decision,” he says.
But now that it has applied for EU membership, Ukraine has a chance to change. “We have seen that when everyone agrees with all the measures of the state anti-corruption program, it is because it is not a real state anti-corruption program.
According to Novikov, the expectation is that Ukraine will soon rise in Transparency International’s corruption index. “Corruption is the result of Russia’s decades of efforts to turn us into its ‘province’,” he says. The struggle is to change course.
Translated by Francisco de Zarate.
Source: El Diario