Some Ukrainian Bodies Deny Asset Disclosures

7 October 2013

By Oleksii Khmara and Anatolii Stoian

Khmara is head of Transparency International Ukraine, an anti-corruption watchdog. Stoian is a representative of the same organization.

Just in time for the eleventh annual International Right to Know Day on September 28th, Ukrainian parliament members have again attempted to significantly limit the public’s access to information.

Four representatives of the parliamentary majority decided to legally prohibit citizens from making copies of government documents, as well as to adopt an obligatory payment “at a stated time” for any documents exceeding ten pages. In real terms, these allegedly technical changes are an attempt to legitimize the practice of selectively responses to citizens’ information request, and those requests regarding officials’ property and income in particular.

That selective responses are already an issue, and has been subject of research by the national monitoring campaign aimed at investigating the way of life of high-ranking officials, “Declarations without Decorations”. Their summer and early fall has been devoted to gathering data on asset declarations of ministers, heads of regional administrations, mayors of regional centers and their deputies. In total, around 400 high officials’ declared assets and income will be examined by civic controllers, to see if they match those officials’ actual lifestyles.

The first results of the civic activists’ and bureaucrats’ communication are disappointing, especially considering the fact that the openness of data in officials’ declarations is guaranteed by not just one, but two laws of Ukraine – “On Access to Public Information” and “On Prevention and Combat of Corruption.” Experienced bureaucrats systematically find more and more ways to deny people their right to know. For instance, Lutsk City Council and Mayor Mykola Romaniuk decided to classify information about the general city plan, the salaries of council staff, and data on asset declarations as inside information (therefore, restricted for society). According to the mayor’s opinion, disclosure of this information “can lead to violation of a human’s constitutional rights and freedoms, cause losses to the territorial community, and inhibit the council’s work”. It is two minutes’ work for a lawyer to prove that this initiative of Lutsk’s mayor goes against the law.

The Government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea went even further. The governors, headed by Anatoliy Mohyliov, decided not to provide information on Crimean high officials, reasoning that “asset, income, expenses declarations and financial obligations that have been compiled according to the Law of Ukraine On Prevention and Combat of Corruption have confidential personal data.” Hereby the civic controllers yellow-carded Mohyliov, and filed an administrative claim against him. In fact, a similar wording was used by the State Service of Statistics, which tuned out information requests and suggested the activists look for declarations in mass media. The State Archival Service and the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service first refused to provide information on their directors; however, having double-checked the law, they changed their mind and provided everything requested.

The most curious thing is the overcautious bodies’ position on the impossibility of personal data disclosure completely contradicts the position of the country’s main controller. The State Service of Ukraine on Personal Data Protection provided the civic activists with duly certified copies of declarations with all personal data of their heads (i.e. their passport series and numbers, postal codes and addresses).

It seems many officials feel the law is subject to their own personal interpretation.

What about the government, particularly, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine? The Cabinet’s Secretariat asked the civic activists to give them twenty additional working days to gather the declarations of Premier Minister Mykola Azarov, First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, and several other deputies. The countdown began on September 17th of this year.

Of course, regional bodies stay abreast of the actions of their senior colleagues. It is ironic that the least open declarations are the ones from the territories directly involved in the international Open Government Partnership initiative. Other than the aforementioned Lutsk, both Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration and Kyiv City State Administration blackout their declarations.

The first stage of monitoring shed light on one more problem: Ukrainian public bodies are as poor as church mice; there is no other explanation for the demand of Kherson City Council to pay Hr 5.74 per each page of a declaration. This, by the way, is the highest rate in Ukraine. Ternopil’s rate for this service is Hr 0.88, and the rate of Khmelnytskiy City Council is even less: Hr 0.18 per page. That’s probably the reason why Ukrainian authorities tell civic activists to get lost. Where? – in media. That’s exactly where they recommend to look for the declarations of ministers Dmytro Tabachnyk, Raisa Bohatyrova and Vitaliy Zakharchenko.

But there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. The first stage of monitoring has proven that not more than 5 percent of central public bodies, and not more than twenty percent of local ones try to blackout their assets.

It means that there’s still the right for Ukrainian people to know how primi inter pares (first among equal) live for the citizens’ money.

 

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