Artem Sytnyk, former director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), joined the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) in April 2022. Currently, he manages the department that oversees the mechanism for controlling and recording of the financial declarations of officials.
Currently the work of NACP is actually blocked as recent changes in the law removed the obligation on officials to make these declarations, with some taking advantage of the situation.
It appears that the people's representatives are in hurry to change the legislation. "We are back to the old days, when Ukraine only put anti-corruption measures in place under pressure from the public and our Western partners," Sytnyk said.
The new IMF memorandum obliges Ukraine to restore mandatory declaration as an important weapon in the fight against corruption. The former director of NABU dreams of the day when Ukraine’s fight against corruption will take place without the need for outside pressure.
How many declarations did the NACP receive from our officials and top government officials in 2021?
At the start of the war, it was appropriate to suspend declarations and the inspection process, although it should be noted that while the obligation to submit the declaration was deferred the submission process was not. Individuals could still submit declarations.
Once the Russians withdrew from Kyiv and the work of state agencies restarted, the situation changed. When I joined NACP in May, it was obvious that a decision had to be made on renewing the declaration. If Ukrainian parliamentarians can make laws, why can't they submit a declaration? If judges can make findings in cases, why can't they submit a declaration? This also applied to other categories of declarants.
I spoke about this with the head of the Servant of the People party, David Arakhamia, at that time. He initiated a draft law in the early fall of 2022, but it progressed slowly and, when it reached the parliamentary committee stage, the process stopped completely.
Photo by press service of NACP
I think that the main reason is that officials who hold positions where there is opportunity for corruption don’t want to transparently declare their wealth.
My experience is that officials who occupy lower positions do not feel the risks of declaration. In their case voluntary declaration is quite effective — more than half of those eligible submitted declarations for 2021. It seems much more problematic to get members of the government, People's Deputies, heads of regional military administrations and city military administrations to make declarations.
Once again, we are faced with representatives of the G7, the IMF and others constantly pushing for us to resume declarations. The draft law submitted by Arakhamia, which I hope will be adopted in the near future, contained certain safeguards. For instance, someone serving on the front line would be exempt from the obligation to submit a declaration.
But the old problem arises - a lack of political will and [false]excuses, such as such legislation is impossible while we are at war. The number of declarants who have failed to submit a declaration speaks for itself, if you have nothing to hide, file a declaration.
Did Arahamia personally submit the declaration?
He did not submit a declaration, but he submitted the bill. I think that in doing so he showed the political will to restore the declaration process.
Only three members of the Cabinet of Ministers submitted declarations: Oleksandr Kubrakov (Minister of Community Development and Infrastructure), Oleksiy Reznikov (Defense Minister), and Serhii Shkarlet (the former Minister of Education). Their declarations have already been checked; did it raise any issues?
Let's not forget that when the obligation to submit declaration was suspended so was the ability to carry out full checks. Where we can, we undertake lifestyle monitoring but declarations submitted for 2021-2022 cannot be fully checked. This isn’t really satisfactory, full checks are the best format for declaration verification that is most acceptable within the laws "On Prevention of Corruption".
Did the President submit a declaration?
There is a report that Ukrainian judge Bragina, was granted permission not to provide a declaration due to her religious beliefs by the Appeals Chamber of the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine (HACC). What is your view on this, considering that the decision was made in the HACC, which you spoke well of?
I follow the outcome of HACC verdicts closely. I believe in a democratic country, there cannot be 100% convictions. While this doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the anti-corruption court, each case needs to be viewed separately.
In the Judge Bragina case, we agreed with the verdict of the HACC which found her guilty of committing a crime for intentionally not submitting an electronic declaration, in January 2023. Fous the important thing was not the punishment it was the precedent that was being set. It was disappointing that the March decision of the Appeals Chamber of the VAX overturned that. I thought “here we go again.”.
NABU had similar cases in the past, where appeal courts in the Dnipropetrovsk region, had overturned cases against judges for the same reasons. At that time, we met with the former head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, Nazar Kholodnytsky, where we voiced our concerns that individuals who said they refused to submit on religious grounds would result in a a sharp increase in "believers” among members of parliament and the government. We had already seen a big rise in the number of divorces and claims that children were not really theirs among the judiciary.
Photo by press service of NABU
At that time Kholodnytsky agreed and these judges were found guilty of committing a crime.
This Bragina case is even worse. She had submitted declarations for several years and there are no church instruction prohibiting the use of an electronic declaration. Therefore, I hope that the cassation appeal filed by the anti-corruption prosecutor's office will be carefully evaluated by the Civil Court of Cassation. Because this is not just a matter of one declarant. This is a question for the whole system.
Does Ukraine's new memorandum with the IMF oblige to vote for the legislation on the return of declaration this year?
Yes. We have had interaction with representatives of the IMF and used the fact that more than half of the declarants submitted the declaration voluntarily helped us to convince them that things were not as bad as some partners suggested. Our argument. that the problems are associated with those who hold positions associated with a high corruption risk, worked quite effectively.
The IMF view remains that declaration is one of the effective anti-corruption tools and, I hope, that our parliament will make this decision soon.
In your personal opinion, could corruption in Ukraine becomes one of the reasons why the war between Russia and Ukraine took place?
When Putin announced the invasion, he identified Ukraine's anti-corruption agencies in a negative way, alleging that they were under Western influence and, therefore, agents of foreign countries on the territory of Ukraine.
To me Putin’s views show these agencies were effective in combating corruption and that Putin considers corruption to be his ally - it is always easier to subvert a state that is affected by corruption, something Russia counted on here in Ukraine.
The Ministry of Defense now receives a lot of public money for work, to support the army, etc. Recently, a series of scandals occurred, in which the leadership of the Ministry, led by Reznikov, was accused of earning money by purchasing products for the military. Journalists and society accused the minister of knowing all about it and hiding these schemes. How do you rate this story in general?
I can say that organizational measures were taken by the Ministry of Defense after this story. There was a department responsible for preventing corruption in the Ministry itself. We started cooperation with the audit department and the corruption prevention department of the Ministry of Defense. With the use of NACP’s technical capabilities, the Ministry of Defense conducted a selection for the public council. And a number of measures were taken, which demonstrated that there is a political will to detect corruption within the Ministry of Defense.
We are currently monitoring a number of schemes in the Ministry. And I can say that after this story that you mentioned, the speed of response to our requests has improved. Because sometimes we waited a long time for an answer. Protocols were even drawn up for providing unreliable information. And [former director of the procurement department of the Ministry of Defense Bohdan] Khmelnytsky was brought to administrative responsibility according to our protocol, precisely for providing unreliable data on requests to the NACP.
But it is too early to draw conclusions. Sometimes these organizational measures are only made to show and simulate activity so that we make some "correct" conclusions.
Do you generally see the government's desire to fight corruption? It's not just imitating and sometimes detaining someone or opening criminal cases.
A very valid question. The fight against corruption is not a series of events held on Friday, such as "let's arrest everyone on Friday". This is a much more complicated process, and without a proper anti-corruption plan, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to count on success. Ukraine's ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International speaks for itself - 116. We constantly gain a couple of positions and then lose.
If we compare it with what happened 10 years ago, maybe now is better. But in fact, next in the ranking are countries that are very difficult to call democratic: Russia and Belarus. This indicates to us that not everything is going right in Ukraine, specifically in terms of the fight against corruption. The fight against corruption needs us to eliminate the opportunities for corruption.
That's why we need a plan and why the NACP has developed the State Anti-Corruption Program (SACP) for 2023-2025. This document was approved by the government and is based on the anti-corruption strategy approved by the parliament in the summer of 2022.
It was a colossal effort on the part of the NACP. If it is implemented, it will improve Ukraine's position in the Transparency International rating by dozens of points. This is an opportunity to enter at least the first hundred countries.
But certain problems arose at the stage of approving the anti-corruption program. Once again, our foreign partners were only able to accept the SACP when civil society got involved.
The SACP provides for more than a thousand measures in 15 areas. It is a huge, systemic document, which is not aimed at punishment, but primarily at eliminating corruption risks. How will it be implemented? Time will tell.
Is it possible to fight corruption in Ukraine without pressure from international partners?
I really hope that this moment will come. If we talk about what makes it possible to implement anti-corruption measures, it is always two components: a conscious civil society that supports anti-corruption initiatives, and international partners who help us financially, and who, in my opinion, have the right to monitor how the state has ensured the transparency of the use of the resources they provide us.
Photo by press service of NAC
During your leadership at NABU, under which government was the greatest pressure on you — under President Petro Poroshenko or Volodymyr Zelensky?
Pressure is an indicator of efficiency. If you are not under pressure, then something is wrong. That's why my morning started with reading about myself and NABU abomination, and the day ended with me reading about myself and NABU abomination. This pressure and customized information campaigns are an indicator that the body is acting correctly and the authorities are not comfortable engaging in corruption.
On October 28, 2019, when Zelensky first came to NABU after being elected, he said: "We will not and do not want to influence you." Can you confirm that he kept his word?
I will not comment on the "we don't want" account. As for "we won't"... As early as 2016, there was an idea that there was no point in putting pressure on Sytnyk. But they pressured through information campaigns.
Are you already familiar with the new director of NABU Semen Kryvonos?
I was familiar with him even before his appointment.
What are the challenges before him now?
The main challenge is preserving the independence of NABU. And this is not just a challenge, it is a requirement of the law. Because the main duty of the director is to form and preserve the independence of the anti-corruption body. Of course, he is a person who is new to NABU, and it is also a challenge for him to preserve and strengthen the team, which is very powerful and which has formed the reputation of NABU. The main challenge for him, as well as for me, is to respond to the objections that arise.
I think that in the near future, by May-June, we will be able to form an opinion on whether the authorities managed to take control of NABU or not. I think that will be obvious enough.
The new director needs to be given time to show who he is, how he will ensure the independence of the agency, and whether he can ensure it. I hope that he will be strong enough to withstand the pressure that will be put on him if he manages to maintain his independence.
Back in 2016, he participated in the competition for the director of the Odesa branch of NABU, but then “Slidstvo Info” journalists discovered that his wealth did not correspond to his real salary. Have you been studying his declaration now? Is he virtuous in this matter?
This is a question that concerns the tender commission. There was a separate stage of evaluating the integrity of the candidate. He passed, and international experts voted for him.
Of course, you can write something about everyone. But now he realizes, as far as I understood from talking to him, the challenges we just talked about.
And I want to emphasize again: I hope he will have enough energy to cope with them.
After 7 years, are you ready to apply again for the directorship of NABU (the director of NABU can hold positions for only 7 years and no more than one term in a row)?
In 7 years, if NABU will work as it has been working, then, I hope, the level of corruption in Ukraine will be so low that the relevance of anti-corruption bodies will be much less than it is now. And the problem of corruption will no longer be on of the top 3 problems in the country.
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