Photo by Tetiana Shevereva on Unsplash

The Anti-Corruption Reforms conference was held this week and while Ukraine has come far with reforms over the past seven years, a lot of work still remains. 

One of the main topics at the ‘Seven Years of Anti-Corruption Reforms’ conference in Kyiv was the status of the judicial reform, which was passed in mid-July and was supposed to reboot the system to a more transparent and legit version. The reform, however, has hit unstable ground and might even be cancelled. During the conference, Western diplomats urged the Ukrainian government to get back on track. 

The Kyiv Independent reports that Matti Maasikas, the EU ambassador to Ukraine, said that the judicial reform “should be concluded swiftly and with full thoroughness.” He also added that Ukraine also needs to begin a reform of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which is also accused of being corrupt like the judicial system overall. 

The judicial reform is important for several reasons. In general, the reform focuses on the powerful High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQC), which is in charge of the selection of judicial candidates and judicial qualifications assessment, and the High Council of Justice (HCJ), which is in charge of ensuring judicial independence. Both are said to be corrupt and they are the key to reforming the Ukrainian judiciary overall. 

The reform will give independent international experts a role in the future selection process of judges to the two instances, which hasn’t been well-received by them. 

You can see the full conference below in English:

The judicial problem

In the Atlantic Council, Olena Halushka and Tetiana Shevchuk from the Anticorruption Action Centre, AntAC, recently called the flawed judicial system in Ukraine’s “the Achilles heel of the country’s reform efforts.” Ukrainenu has also been reporting about the flaws in the judicial system and what it means for the Scandinavian businesses in Ukraine. 

“When I talk to foreign companies that are considering moving to Ukraine, they primarily mention two things. Firstly, the corruption of the judges and the lack of legal certainty,” said Kristian Andersson, director of the Swedish bank SEB, previously to Ukrainenu. 

Olena Halushka and Tetiana Shevchuk point out that the judicial problems lead to fewer foreign investors and to lower growth. 

“Since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, Ukraine has achieved progress in a range of reform areas including government procurement, corporate governance, banking industry transparency, and the fight against corruption. However, the dysfunctional Ukrainian court system has hung over this entire reform process like a sword of Damocles, threatening to reverse anti-corruption gains and undermine Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” wrote Halushka and Shevchuk.

After having been stalled since July, The Kyiv Independent points out that the reform again seems to move in the right direction. However, the further demands for reform of, for example, the Constitutional Court have been rejected by President Zelensky. 

That is a big mistake not to continue with all the reform of the judiciary, according to Mykhailo Zhernakov, who is chair of the board at the DEJURE Foundation. He wrote in the Atlantic Council that the West expects Zelensky to keep his promises of reforms. 

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has promised to succeed where his predecessors have failed and achieve a genuine judicial reform breakthrough towards the rule of law,” wrote Zhernakov, “… If he is serious about judicial reform, Zelenskyy must now focus all his authority and the resources of his office on achieving a decisive breakthrough. This may mean removing the Council of Judges and the High Council of Justice from decision-making roles within the broader judicial reform process.”

G7 diplomats also expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of progress with the judicial reform in September, according to Radio Free Europe

Corruption overall was also a topic

The conference in Kyiv also focussed on other topics such as the vacant seat as the chief anti-corruption prosecutor. It has been vacant since August 2020. Several experts have been speculating that the government is delaying the appointment on purpose. 

“Anti-corruption institutions started delivering tangible results, and vested interests are fighting back,” Maasikas said at the conference, according to The Kyiv Independent. “….Sustaining the independence and effectiveness of anti-corruption institutions – the NABU, NACP, anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (SAPO) and the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA), should be a clear priority.”

“It will be crucial that the selection process for the new head of SAPO will be concluded without any further delays,” Maasikas said, while NABU chief Artem Sytnyk said that there are “constant attempts to postpone or disrupt” the selection of the new chief.

“They have exhausted every opportunity to delay this selection process, and unacceptable and non-transparent things are going on,” he added. “I don’t rule out that there will be a decision of the Kyiv District Administrative Court (to cancel the selection results).”

Ukraine has come a long way

While some part of the conference was focused on the obstacles ahead, other parts were also praising the progress that Ukraine has made so far. Director of NABU, Artem Sytnyk, for example, also noted that “we have formed an effective anti-corruption structure and brought to justice those people whose criminal prosecution was considered impossible 7 years ago. Today, all anti-corruption bodies work as a whole,” according to TV-Channel 24

“Today, all anti-corruption bodies work together and are fused in some way, complement each other. We have reached the highest level of our work in cooperation,” Sytnyk also said, according to Interfax Ukraine, “… In the next year, I think we will receive an answer whether the anti-corruption reform in Ukraine is irreversible, whether the results we are getting in very difficult conditions are irreversible.”

Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova said that corruption is affecting the economic growth in Ukraine but added that Ukraine has come very far. She also said that the law enforcement system in Ukraine has a full carte blanche to fight corruption and that several reforms such as lifting parliamentary immunity, the electronic declaration system, the adoption of a law on remuneration and the process of de-oligarchization have given law enforcement all the needed tools to fight corruption.

“In total, over 5.6 thousand people, including 111 deputies of all levels, have been prosecuted for corruption offences over the past two years. These are real results that reflect the determination of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to combat corruption,” Venediktova said, according to TCN, “… “The effectiveness of the investigation of criminal proceedings by detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and the worthy presentation of charges in the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court depend on the independence and professionalism of its leader.”