Role of Transparency in Fighting Corruption in Ukraine

Frequently, we see or hear words “transparency” and “corruption” together. For instance, OECD claims that“countries’ ability to address corruption, both domestically and internationally, is impaired by lack of transparency, accountability and integrity in the public and private sectors.” In this post, I will share my views on how does transparency affects corruption.

According to Dalai Lama, “a lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” As such, transparency in one of the instruments to enhance trust in both the organization and society. If everything and everyone is transparent, it is difficult, if not impossible, to hide a shady transaction or to conceal conflict of interest. A high probability that someone could check transaction will have a deterrent effect on potential wrongdoers. In a nutshell, transparency is one of the most significant contributor to eliminating bribery, since when information flow is free, open and integral, there is no place for “under the table” deals, and you can easily see the whole iceberg not just the tip.

Notwithstanding controversial views regarding reforms of the past decade in Ukraine, without any doubts, level of transparency has drastically improved. I will illustrate it through brief overview of state registers either created or opened for public access.

For instance, Unified State Register of Legal Entities, Individual Entrepreneurs and Civic Organizations provides information on shareholders, management, and other details on companies and private entrepreneurs. Basic information (which, by the way, includes most corporate details) are available free of charge, and full extract may be obtained within a few minutes for about two dollars. It is not a big deal these days, but I still remember times when people would stay in a queue for hours to obtain information from state registrars.

State Register of Property Rights on Real Estate provides information on owners and lessees of the real estate, including land plots. Results are available online and contain both location of the property and owner’s details. Needless to say that restricted access to the above two registers in the past created room for bribery and facilitating payments.

Unified State Register of Court Decisions allows tracking litigation history of the company, objects and checking status of litigation. This register became a basis for a number of commercial databases that, I believe, has significantly helped litigation lawyers. Recently launched Unified Register of Debtors contains information on individuals and legal entities who do not pay in accordance with court decisions in force, except for debtors that are state and local authorities.

Unified State Register of Corruption Offenders contains public information on persons who committed corruption-related wrongdoings. I believe, its deterrent effect should be quite high, since information about the wrongdoers is now available online and is publicly accessible. Businesses performing background checks of counterparties also may find the register useful.

Unified State Register of Declarations currently provides information on incomes and property of over 50 thousands government officials and their family members. It is anticipated that placement of declarations in the public domain should increase officials’ accountability towards the society.

Finally, Prozorro e-tender system for public procurement of goods and services shows complete information on tenders valued above UAH 200 thousands. There are different views with respect to its effectiveness, but according to 2016 Corruption Perception Survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine and highlighted in one of our previous posts, implementation of Prozorro is the biggest success in the anti-corruption fight of 2016 in Ukraine.

It is still a long way to go for Ukraine to eliminate corruption, so we should keep up maintaining existing instruments and continue development of new preventive tools (i.e., state spending tracking tool, etc.). I strongly believe that elimination of reasons and causes of corruption is much more effective then fighting its consequences. However, according to UNDP, “transparency and access to information are not an end in themselves, but a means for more effective accountability. That is the challenge that lies ahead of us in the years to come.” Therefore, transparency alone is not enough – it should be supported by accountability and enforcement, so that potential violators see and understand that what they are doing is wrong and the punishment for the wrongdoing is inevitable, so it is not worth even trying.

Please share your thoughts about which other areas lack transparency and would benefit from placement of the relevant data in the public domain.

And, in the meantime, stay tuned and be transparent!