President Poroshenko refused to veto the Draft Law that introduces e-declaration for civil society organizations combating corruption. This Draft Law outraged the civil society and international partners of Ukraine. At the same time, the authorities are trying to persuade the general public that such regulations are adequate and do not contravene the international law.
What are the main disadvantages of the "anti-corruption amendments" approved by the Parliament?
1. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" deteriorates the legal environment for CSOs.
Ukrainian government can tell the long stories about the need for such a mechanism, but it is obvious that it impairs the laws governing the CSOs since it introduces additional burdens for CSOs without any additional benefits or powers. That government forces CSOs to submit additional statements, but gives them nothing in exchange for these additional requirements.
For example, any civil society organization can get a non-profit status and do not pay income tax. This is the tax allowance from the state, so non-profit organizations submit annual statements to the public authorities. "Anti-corruption organization" gets nothing for filing e-declaration. No additional benefits, no additional powers.
2. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" contradicts to previous commitments of Ukrainian authorities.
In particular, just last year the President issued a decree No.68 «On the Promotion of Civil Society Development", where among the tasks that are to be addressed is the strengthening of the public control over the public authorities and reduction in bureaucracy in relations between the state and the civil society organizations.
In order to implement this Decree, Coordination Council for Promoting Civil Society Development was established and co-chaired by Rostyslav Pavlenko, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, and Hennadii Zubko, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine. Obviously, these provisions directly contradict the e-declaration for CSOs that monitor the government.
3. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" spoils the international image of the Ukrainian state.
"Chornovol amendments" have been criticized by most of the international partners of Ukraine who have been supporting our country in countering Russian aggression for the the last 3 years both politically and financially.
Attempts of Ukrainian authorities to present these amendments as international experience do not stand up to criticism. In most countries that serve as an example there is no special declaration for anti-corruption organizations. These countries have statements for CSOs similar to the statements in terms of the non-profit status in Ukraine that are filled annually by all CSOs and tax returns for individuals.
4. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" makes it difficult for businesses to cooperate with CSOs.
The law is written in such a way that it covers all those who provide services to ' anti-corruption CSOs", i.e. providers of office supplies, IT service providers, taxi, owners of offices and premises for events.
Under these circumstances, in order to provide services to "anti-corruption CSOs" all employees of the supplier will have to file e-declarations. This requirement is so much absurd that its fallacy was recognized by President Poroshenko during the meeting with representatives of the civil society.
If not abolished, it will be much harder for the civil society organizations to obtain basic services that are currently available to all other companies and institutions. At the same time, it will be much harder for businesses to get additional income by offering their services to CSOs.
5. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" creates discriminatory conditions for CSOs.
Isolating "anti-corruption" CSOs among others is a significant violation of the human rights. For no good reason, this places them in a much worse conditions compared to other representatives of the civil society.
Aside from this, the law affects only those "anti-corruption" organizations that are working in an honest manner. Its provisions are worded in such a way that e-declaration applies only to those initiatives that officially receive funds for their activities.
That is, if we assume that some oligarch decided to set up a captive anti-corruption organization and pay for its activities in cash "under the counter" and not through official donations or grants, this organization DOES NOT fall under e-declaration.
6. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" reduces the number of initiatives to counteract corruption.
Since it will become much harder to fight corruption, it will reduce the interest of pro-active citizens to this area. In the first place, this applies to the new and regional organizations that do not have sufficient resources to exist and operate in such a complex legal environment.
That is, the assumed "Center for Combating Corruption" and "Transparency International" can survive under such conditions as they have considerable experience, professional lawyers and good financing. However, hundreds and thousands of small regional initiatives would give up their ideas to fight corruption rather than they could adapt to such discriminatory legal environment. Given the important role of CSOs in fighting corruption this would badly affect all citizens of Ukraine.
7. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" distracts existing community initiatives combating corruption from their main operations.
Although "Center for Combating Corruption" and "Transparency International" would survive, clearly they and similar powerful anti-corruption CSOs would have to waste a lot of energy not on their core activities but to counter the negative consequences of "Chornovol amendments."
Given that these organizations have become the main driver behind the anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, stepping down their activities would make the life of high profile corrupt officials easier. So, Roman Nasirov may be the first and the last senior official who would find themselves in the dock because of the corruption offence.
8. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" creates thriving opportunities for speculation and conflicts.
Actually, finally you can understand why we use the term "anti-corruption organization" in quotes. The law gives wide definition of those who fall under the "e-declaration" - "members of anti-corruption measures." As Ukrainian experience shows, the wider the description, the more is the space for speculation and conflicts. In fact, any CSO can be defined as such that is involved in "anti-corruption measures," even if this organization is actually dealing with energy or decentralization.
And again, expect a huge number of conflicts at the regional level, where the local authorities would arbitrarily determine who fall under the e-declaration and who doesn't, and use this tool for political persecution of their opponents.
9. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" contradicts the logic of cooperation in a democratic state.
This mechanism violates the usual formula of cooperation between the government and the civil society. Power is people who get special powers. For example, a monopoly right on violence, the right to manage common funds and land. Therefore, the society must control the authorities so that to avoid the abuse of these powers.
"Chornovol amendments" flip this model upside down. In fact, the people who control the authorities are equated to officials, although they do not have any special powers. While the government itself creates the tools to control those who control have to control the authorities. This practice is more common for authoritarian regimes, but not the democracies.
10. "Anti-corruption e-declaration" threatens the recovery of dictatorship in Ukraine.
The procedures for adopting "anti-social" amendments to the anti-corruption legislation is even worse than the most changes themselves. In fact, the changes that have a negative connotation and affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens were adopted in violation of the regulations and without wide public discussion.
Opinion leaders were invited to the meeting where they were just put before the fact that the draft law would be signed and that the authorities were not interested in what they think.
Given that the decision contradicts to the commitments and declarations that were voiced by the Ukrainian government during the last 3 years, this causes a significant concern. It creates a dangerous precedent where individual desires of those in power prevail over the Law and regulations of social interaction.
This list does not exhaust all the issues facing the civil society; however, even they are enough to understand what a big mistake the Ukrainian authorities made. Now the only question is whether the authorities would correct it or whether they would continue along the same path as the Yanukovych regime with all its consequences?
(c) USAID "Citizen in Action" Project