On October 27, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court declared the powers of the re-booted National Agency on Corruption Prevention unconstitutional to verify the declarations of civil servant’s assets. This ruling eliminates an important link in the chain of established anti-corruption institutions. It also undermines the ability of Ukraine to launch an investigation against alleged illicit enrichments by officials.
The ruling has increased the risks in battles that the country is currently experiencing with regards to its future direction. Not forgetting the risk, this ruling has on political and short-term economic consequences.
This is because support offered by EU and IMF has close associations with anti-corruption reforms. Amid a global pandemic that is a threat to Ukrainians, there is no denying that the country’s economy needs this support.
After the Constitutional Court’s ruling in October, President Zelenskyy proposed a bill to dismiss the powers of the court’s composition. While Kyiv’s Western partners were critical about the ruling, they did not propose a solution.
On the other hand, the Council of Europe experts on the matters of rule of law warned that terminating the judges mandate would only be violating the Constitution of Ukraine. They argued that this will not results to respect for the rule of law, which is pursued in the fight against corruption.
To terminate the judges of the Constitutional Court, the bench must have a two-thirds majority. However, this is impossible to achieve since the number of judges that are reform-minded are limited in court.
Conflict of interests are evident even as the country’s highest court is filled with judges appointed by a corrupt system. In fact, some of the court’s occupants who rage against being pressured are among those who are currently being investigated by the official of agencies that they want to disband. Hence, there are conflict of interests like breach of mandatory disclosure of assets, among others.
The Ukraine government has determined that the court ruling on assets will not be put into effect. However, the impact on the ruling on assets has been immediate even as the High Anti-Corruption Court ended several asset disclosure cases. This includes cases against two judges in the Constitutional Court.
The process of verifying asset declarations has also come to an end and some of first graft convictions in Ukraine have been overturned.
The current challenge that Ukraine faces is immense and hope to restore the anti-corruption legislation is on the Ukrainian parliament. However, it is not that easy since most MPs may opt not to vote for fear of being subjected to investigation by the anti-corruption agencies. Others may not vote since they have close associations with powerful business groups that oppose government reforms.
About 30 deputies who are reform minded got into politics in 2014 and put together anti-corruption laws. However, their consideration was postponed after a recent hearing by the Legal Policy Committee of parliament.
While there are genuine deputies belonging to the President Zelensky Servant of the People Party, their limited number may be a hindering factor to re-establishing the Constitution Court and passing legislation to alter the Ukrainian Constitution.
Meanwhile, Ukraine remains at crossroads as anti-corruption drive vacillates.