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Digitalization has become an invariable companion in the fight for transparency in Ukraine, and here’s why

Register as an individual entrepreneur, do your taxes, obtain a license for construction, update your residence registration, and receive more than a hundred other services online without leaving your home – that is a reality in Ukraine.

It is convenient, quick, and efficient for everyone. And on a grander scale, the digitalization of public services, along with online registers, became a huge step towards transparency and accountability in Ukraine. The positive effects can even be measured in terms of money: in 2020-2021 alone, the economic and anti-corruption effects of introducing online services amounted to more than 16.3 billion (almost $419 million).

Presentation of the Diia app, which is the foundation stone of Ukraine’s digital ecosystem.
Photo: “Diia” press service

Russia’s full-scale invasion introduced new challenges to the idea of putting information out in the open and online, but it could not stop or reverse the innovations that transformed the way Ukrainians interact with the state over the past few years.

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After Ukraine irrevocably embarked on the path to European integration in 2014, the country launched an anti-corruption reform by adopting a package of relevant laws.

Since then, Ukraine’s anti-corruption infrastructure has been launched: The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC), the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine (HACC), and the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA).

In addition, the state introduced a system of electronic declaration, which became mandatory for all categories of public officials in 2017. It is a public report on all their earnings, major spending, property, and savings. The register of declarations became the world’s largest database of officials’ assets, available online.

Illustrative photo: the process of the declaration submission.
Photo: NAPC

The need for transparency and accountability were among the main drivers of setting this system in motion. Declarations help detect corruption schemes through discrepancies in some public officials’ income and their lifestyle. The reports are public — and therefore the tool proved to be useful not just for the established anti-corruption bodies but to journalists, activists, and civil society in general. 

The NAPC took over the verification of declarations to identify documents with inaccurate information and forward them to the relevant law enforcement agencies. In 2021 alone, the NAPC found inaccurate information worth more than UAH 1.2 billion from more than 1,000 declarations. 

Screenshot: NACP Anti-corruption Portal

The inspections concerned not only public officials but also political parties. To put it simply, political parties have to disclose where they get their funding from. In 2021, the NAPC launched the POLITDATA electronic register that simplified reporting for political parties and provided better access to this information for Ukrainian society and the expert community.

The state in a smartphone

Not only the declarations for politicians and public figures were digitalized, but also registers and services for Ukrainian citizens and companies. For example, the registration, amendment, and termination of individual entrepreneurs, maternity allowance, sick leave, police clearance certificate, motor vehicle licensing, construction start and completion, residence registration, and many others. 

The introduction of state-level electronic services had several goals: reducing the “human factor,” improving the quality of services, fighting corruption, and simplifying the processes themselves.

Diia provides access to many documents from the smartphone.
Photo: Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

To make e-services even more convenient, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine has developed the service Diia. It is also called “the state in a smartphone” because it allows users to receive government services online, even from their smartphones.

Currently, there are 107 e-services in Ukraine, ranging from declaration and business grants to applying for marriage registration, name changes, and even light bulb exchanges.

According to Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, the economic and anti-corruption effect of introducing online services in 2020-2021 alone is more than UAH 16.3 billion (nearly $436 million). Digitalization’s potential anti-corruption and economic effect over two years is UAH 48 billion ($1.3 billion).

One of the most prominent examples was the construction sector, which, in 2021, saw the launch of a new state-owned construction register and a new Unified State Electronic System. In 2022 alone, this digitalization resulted in UAH 1.5 billion of anti-corruption effect and UAH 9.6 billion of savings. Ukrainians can now get 14 construction services online: from a permit to start construction to a certificate of commissioning. No queues, no paperwork, and most importantly, no bribes.

Electronic sick leave is another case worth mentioning. On average, about 5.5 million Ukrainians apply for sick leave yearly and receive UAH 18 billion in payments. Only a doctor can issue a digital sick leave, so it is impossible to get it retroactively in the system. All payments are made for a defined purpose and can always be tracked and checked to see how effective they are.

Despite all the prejudices, doctors and patients quickly adapted to the new system, and 10 million electronic sick leave sheets were issued during the year of the service’s operation. Firstly, they have made life much easier for doctors and patients, and secondly, they save the state UAH 4 billion annually.

Anticorruption is on schedule despite Russia’s war 

Russia’s full-scale invasion brought a lot of new security risks. Therefore, access to the public part of the electronic declaration and some other registers has been temporarily restricted to protect the personal data of declarants and their family members under martial law. However, the NAPC has ensured their uninterrupted operation since the first days of the full-scale war. None of the registers was shut down completely, and the temporary suspension of mandatory declarations does not prevent the NAPC from checking the available data.

On September 20, 2023, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine re-adopted the law on the restoration of electronic declaration for state and local government officials. The law contains exceptions for military personnel, special police officers, as well as wounded, prisoners of war, peacekeepers, and persons in the temporarily occupied territories – their declarations will not be made public as of now.

Photo from the Verkhovna Rada meeting on June 20, 2022, during the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Strategy until 2025.
Photo: Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

Despite Russia’s full-scale invasion, 2022 was a landmark year for the state’s anti-corruption policy. The Anti-Corruption Strategy until 2025 was adopted, and the State Anti-Corruption Program for 2023-2025 (SAP) for its implementation was developed and approved. These documents are strategically important: when put into action, the Anti-Corruption Strategy will save up to UAH 200 billion annually and help ensure teamwork of all government agencies to overcome corruption.

Digitalization remains one of the main principles of the Anti-Corruption Strategy. It focuses on reducing the “human factor” in providing services and increasing transparency and efficiency in the state’s relations with citizens and organizations. By 2025, various ministries and state institutions plan to introduce 48 additional digital products. These include a unified electronic urban planning cadastre, an electronic register of cultural heritage sites, a comprehensive business start-up service, the Regulatory Dashboard, etc.

Russian military aggression has created another priority area where transparency is essential: post-war reconstruction. In 2022, the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the Ministry of Reconstruction created the Register of Damaged and Destroyed Property. The information stored in it will help to outline an effective recovery plan and compensate Ukrainians affected by the war.

In the future, an additional analytical system will also be created to ensure transparency of the process. Both Ukrainians and international partners who will help rebuild Ukraine will be able to see how the funds are allocated and what they are spent on.

Implementing electronic services at the state level makes life easier for citizens and builds their trust in the government. At the same time, it helps the state avoid corruption schemes and brings to justice those who organize and participate in them. 

And it works in Ukraine: despite some judgments, the country has managed to strive for transparency even in the face of full-scale war – and even export some solutions, like “Diia” abroad. Those are the important steps on the path to the European Union, but also – essential progress toward the future, where there is no room for money laundering, bribery, or profiteering from the state and its citizens.