Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has said that any attempt to limit its independence will cause irreversible consequences for the country’s fight against corruption. On December 6, only the intervention of activists and reformist, mainly opposition MPs who worked tirelessly overnight to remove a bill from parliament that would have stripped NABU of its independence and unseated its boss, Artem Sytnyk. Pressure from western partners also appears to have been crucial in convincing the authors of the bill, mainly MPs from parties loyal to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, from withdrawing it.
“As a mechanism of control, the representatives of two factions of the ruling coalition have proposed a draft law that completely eliminates guarantees of NABU’s independence,” reads the NABU statement. “In particular, the draft law simplifies the procedure for dismissal of the NABU director by establishing the procedure of passing a no-confidence motion against him by a simple majority of votes in parliament. The same mechanism is proposed for the dismissal for the Head of the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), who conducts procedural guidance over the NABU investigations.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank both said late on December 6 that they were worried about attacks on Ukrainian anticorruption institutions.
“We are deeply concerned by recent events in Ukraine that could roll back progress that has been made in setting up independent institutions to tackle high-level corruption,” said IMF Director Christine Lagarde.
While the draft law has been withdrawn for now, Olena Halushka from the Anticorruption Action Centre warned that it could reappear at any time. “It looks like this specific battle for anticorruption is won,” she told RFE. “Though this is definitely not the end.”
NABU itself also remains wary: “We emphasize that the adoption of the draft law will destroy the independence of newly formed anti-corruption bodies and the achievements gained in the fight against corruption despite the systemic resistance of the ruling power. Unfortunately, there is still high probability that the draft law can still be adopted any time.”
“The threat to make NABU a politically dependent body is huge,” Anastasiya Kozlovtseva, head of the International Relations Department at Transparency International Ukraine told Emerging Europe. “On the one hand, the head of he parliamentary anti-corruption committee was dismissed, which means that parliament will nominate a dependent auditor for NABU. On the other hand, the draft law which enables parliament to dismiss the head of NABU by a simple vote is still registered, and can be voted any day.”
On December 10, several thousand people marched through central Kyiv to protest against the detention of former Georgian President and current Ukrainian opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili. They also called for the impeachment of Mr Poroshenko.
It was popular anger over corruption during months of protests in 2014 that drove Ukraine’s former Russia-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych from office in February 2014. Mr Poroshenko was elected in July of that year on an anti-Russian, anti-corruption ticket.