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From prosecution to open data services: what progress has Ukraine made in the fight against corruption over the past 10 years

In 2024, corruption remains one of the most vital issues for Ukraine. In fact, with unprecedented defense spending and a large-scale reconstruction campaign, corruption risks are only growing, and a decade ago, the country would not have had a chance to withstand such challenges. However, the system has changed, and although corruption cases are still being exposed and the public attention to them continues to grow, the anti-corruption mechanism that has been built is holding up, and its improvement is linked to the growth of the state’s capacity. 

In the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine is marking the tenth anniversary of its anti-corruption reform. What has changed during this time, and how all-encompassing has the fight against corruption become?

Anti-corruption infrastructure and prosecution system

In 2015, three anti-corruption bodies were established in Ukraine: the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP), the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO).

The NACP is in charge of shaping the state’s anti-corruption policy in general, maintaining the Unified Register of Electronic Declarations of public officials, verifying them, and monitoring the correspondence of officials’ lifestyles with their official income. The agency also ensures that conflicts of interest in the public service are prevented and checks the transparency of political party funding

The NACP’s tools allow the Agency and the public to monitor the integrity of officials and detect signs of illegal enrichment. The detected corruption cases are then investigated by NABU detectives under the supervision of SAPO prosecutors. Only ministers, MPs, ex-presidents, judges and other high-level figures are involved in such cases. At the same time, the subject of such investigations should be corruption abuses involving huge amounts of money.

During their work, the NABU and the SAPO have opened dozens of criminal cases against representatives of the political and economic elites, who were practically untouchable before the Revolution of Dignity. For example, in 2017, despite fierce resistance from the system, NABU and SAPO arrested Roman Nasirov, former Head of the State Fiscal Service (the body responsible for customs and tax revenues), on suspicion of causing more than UAH 2 billion in losses to the state.

One of the country’s most high-profile investigations, the so-called Rotterdam+ case, which affects the interests of Ukraine’s wealthiest man, Rinat Akhmetov, is currently underway. In September 2023, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, another Ukrainian oligarch, was arrested. Just a few months prior, Vsevolod Kniazіev, then Head of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, was detained in a corruption case and is still in pre-trial detention. Moreover, in recent days, NABU detectives have served a notice of suspicion on Andrii Smyrnov, former Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. 

Thus, the new structures have proved in practice that they don’t take into regard the level of positions of corrupt officials, their political affiliation, or the amount of their wealth in their anti-corruption pursuit. 

However, the unreformed Ukrainian courts of general jurisdiction remained a challenge for a long time: they were unable to convert all these investigations into real verdicts. In the less than four years of cases investigated by NABU detectives (2016-2019), only 33 verdicts were handed down. At the same time, only a few cases were fully reviewed, and there were only two verdicts resulting in actual imprisonment.

This led to the creation of the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC), which has already passed more than 170 verdicts. That is, more verdicts in NABU cases from the HACC in a year than from the general courts in four.

Preventing corruption

When talking about fighting corruption, the international community and Ukrainians often primarily mean punishment for the crime. For many, putting as many corrupt officials behind bars as possible may seem like the best way to fight corruption. However, this approach can turn into an endless cycle, with one bribe-taker constantly being replaced by the other. 

And if we want to avoid this vicious cycle, it is essential to remove the causes of corruption and uproot the conditions in which it occurs. Although this process is rather lengthy and not as effective as arrests and imprisonment, only systematic measures to change the rules of the game in key areas of public life can truly cleanse the country of bribery. Therefore, Ukraine has focused its efforts on preventing corruption.

The NACP has designed and is now coordinating the implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy and the State Anti-Corruption Program up to 2025. In essence, this is a detailed national plan for sectoral reforms and the introduction of new services and procedures that promote digitalization and transparency of the state, increase its customer focus, and remove the most common corruption practices. 

The plan has strict deadlines and executors among more than 100 government agencies and includes about 1,100 specific measures in the areas of state regulation of the economy, customs and taxation, judicial and law enforcement, defense, construction, land relations, infrastructure, medicine, education, and science. 

In instance, a new system to automatically determine the priority of road construction is set to be launched; an electronic system for managing stocks of medicines and medical devices is to be introduced in the medical sector; an electronic personnel management system and a system for evaluating prosecutors’ work are being created in the Prosecutor’s General Office.

In general, the State Anti-Corruption Program foresees the introduction of 63 e-tools for citizens and businesses that minimize the influence of officials on decision-making. 

Notably, the process of implementing the program itself is a clear example of transparency and accountability. The NACP website has a publicly available Information System for Monitoring the progress of each agency on each of the tasks assigned to it. The public can follow the process of implementation of all measures, give their assessment, and leave feedback in the system, which is later processed by the NACP employees. 

Information System for Monitoring the implementation of the State Anti-Corruption Program

As a result, Ukraine has a plan of anti-corruption reforms, a well-organized process of their implementation, and administrative and public control over the implementation of hundreds of sectoral changes. 

In addition, the state is doing much work to reduce society’s tolerance for corruption and promote fair behavior. So-called integrity hubs are being created in Ukrainian schools, anti-corruption textbooks are being published for students, and relevant training courses are being piloted at universities. All of this should ensure the irreversibility of social transformations in the future.

Open data

The active control of the authorities by civil society, including numerous investigations by journalists, which often lead to criminal cases opened by the NABU, would not have been possible without open data. The level of accessibility of socially important information in Ukraine remains unprecedentedly high even during the war. 

Today, more than 7 million Ukrainians use open data products and services every month. Such services help track all state and municipal purchases, find out what property the state sells or rents out, who spends the state budget and local communities’ funds, and how. 

Any public or private company can easily analyze the risks of interacting with counterparties using the open register of court decisions, the register of violators of anti-corruption legislation, or by examining data on beneficial owners. The decisions of the authorities and the wealth of officials are on public display as well.

Open data also plays an important role in preventing corruption risks in the country’s recovery process. The DREAM digital ecosystem operates for detailed monitoring of reconstruction projects and allows tracking of all stages of reconstruction projects in real-time. 

As a result, Ukraine was included in the Open Data Maturity Ranking for the first time in 2020, and in 2023, it ranked third among 35 European countries. The level of open data maturity in Ukraine has reached 96%, while the European average is 83%. At the same time, Ukraine remains the only country in the world that develops open data amidst the war, which, in turn, helps it make progress in fighting corruption. 

Digital revolution in public services

Ten years ago, only 5% of Ukrainians positively rated the quality of public services in Ukraine. In 2014, the same share of citizens used administrative services online. In order to get the services they needed, the vast majority of the population had to visit various governmental agencies, spend long hours in lines at offices of public servants, and resort to widespread corruption practices to speed up the resolution of their problems. 

This tradition began to break down rapidly with the introduction of the Diia electronic portal and mobile app in 2020. Since then, more than 100 public services have been digitized, from building permits and court decisions to car registration and fines for administrative charges. 

The service allows users to change their place of residence, register a business online, receive money to restore housing damaged by hostilities, apply for unemployment status, and return deposits from a bank that has gone bankrupt. Users of the mobile app have access to 15 digital documents, including a citizen’s passport, driver’s license, educational documents, or vaccination certificate. In 2024, the Diia portal and mobile application were used by more than 20 million people, more than half of the country’s actual population. 

Diia.Business, the national online platform for entrepreneurs, reaches the international level and is available in English

In addition to this product, individual government agencies have introduced a number of their own e-services, such as an electronic taxpayer account, an e-driver account, or a personal patient account. In fact, in all the most important areas of public services, physical interaction between the state and citizens has become unnecessary, and with it, the need for deeply rooted corruption algorithms. 

It is not surprising that dramatic changes in the public’s attitude to government services were recorded: in 2023, 64% of citizens received state services online, and almost 80% of them gave a positive assessment of their experience. At the same time, Ukraine ranked 37th out of 193 countries in the E-Government Development Index in 2022. For comparison, in 2014, the country was 50 positions lower. 

Decentralization of power and deregulation of the economy

Along with creating anti-corruption bodies, Ukraine has launched another fundamental reform: the transfer of powers from the central government to the local level. 

Local authorities were provided with new functions, as well as financial resources, which were previously centrally distributed through the state budget. Before that, the implementation of local projects depended on the will of the central government in Kyiv, and now communities have the money and the legal ability to use those funds to improve the well-being of their residents. 

In 2014, local communities’ revenues in Ukraine were less than UAH 69 billion. In 2021, they more than tripled to UAH 248 billion. These resources were directly used to build roads, repair hospitals and schools in Ukrainian cities and villages. Local authorities no longer needed to request funds from state government officials and politicians in exchange, for example, for loyalty during elections.

At the same time, more power and resources at the local level require increased public control and the participation of community residents in making decisions. Various tools for monitoring, control, and direct democracy have become available to citizens, such as electronic petitions, community budgets, public hearings, etc. Most recently, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, signed a law on local government transparency, which provides for mandatory video recording of local government meetings. Each of these tools gives citizens the opportunity to initiate changes in the community and influence its development. 

The system of public and municipal services has undergone significant changes in the context of decentralization. Administrative Service Centers began to appear in localities, providing hundreds of services in one place. On the eve of the full-scale invasion, their network grew to 3,000 locations in Ukraine. 

Since the beginning of 2023, the Ukrainian government has launched a massive review of business regulatory instruments. The goal is to simplify licensing procedures, where corruption may occur, and make life easier for entrepreneurs.

Currently, government officials have processed more than 1,300 regulatory instruments for business. 100 of them were canceled, 584 were simplified or digitized, and 456 were decided to be canceled. The projected savings from deregulation for business are UAH 14 billion.

Corruption is inclusive in nature, meaning that it affects all areas and levels of social organization. It is not limited to top government officials, and it has more causes than imperfect laws. Aware of this, the state and civil society have launched a long-term and wide-ranging campaign that, in addition to bringing those responsible for corruption to justice, also involves deep institutional and mental transformations. 

As a result, since 2014, Ukraine has risen from 142nd to 104th place in the Corruption Perceptions Index. At the same time, one of the record jumps occurred in the second year of the full-scale war. Therefore, whenever you hear about hopeless corruption in Ukraine on the sidelines of some international forum, make sure that your counterpart’s knowledge of the topic goes beyond this stale narrative.

Ukraine scored 36 points out of 100 in the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI); now the country ranks 104th out of 180 countries

Authors: Olena Konoplia, Pavlo Buldovych