Are Ukraine’s anti-corruption reforms working?


Starting in 2014, Ukraine has undertaken significant reforms to address corruption in public life. So far, there has been greater success in restricting the opportunities for corruption than in bringing corrupt officials to justice. Corruption is a symptom of the poor system of governance in the country, not the cause of it. A decisive breakthrough will require opening the political system to more actors, creating greater competition and developing credible institutions to support the rule of law. Anti-corruption successes include the cleaning up of Naftogaz and reforms in administrative services, banking, the patrol police, procurement and taxation. Decentralization is also creating new opportunities for citizens to hold local authorities accountable for managing local public resources. Progress is lacking in priority areas such as customs, deregulation, privatization, demonopolization and the reform of public administration. Defence spending is particularly opaque. Corruption schemes remain untouched in some parts of the energy sector. An overhaul of the civil service is also essential. Reforms of the law enforcement agencies are proceeding slowly, if at all. It is too early to say whether judicial reform will lead to improvements in the functioning of the courts because of the deep underlying culture of corruption in the judicial system. The newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau has yet to achieve a high-level prosecution because of the influence of vested interests over the judiciary. This situation should change for the better after the formation of the High Anti-Corruption Court, but there is likely to be a risk of selective justice. Punitive measures on their own can only have a limited effect on reducing corruption. They must be part of a sustained and comprehensive strategy to reduce the space for corrupt practices and open the political and economic system to greater competition. This requires demonopolizing politics, and encouraging Ukraine’s power groups to accept new rules of the game. Citizens condemn high-level corruption but regard petty corruption as a justifiable evil. This perception needs to change, and citizens must accept their responsibilities for limiting the scope of corruption.

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