Ukraine’s Rada votes through bill to dismiss anti-corruption investigator NABU’s director

Ukraine’s Rada votes through bill to dismiss anti-corruption investigator NABU’s director
Ukraine’s Rada votes through bill to dismiss anti-corruption investigator NABU’s director, Artem Sytnyk, on February 15. / wiki
By Ben Aris in Berlin February 15, 2021

Deputies of Ukraine’s Rada voted through a bill that empowers them to dismiss the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, on February 15.

Vested interests in the government have long wanted to dismiss Sytnyk, who heads the Ukrainian version of “the Untouchables,” a law enforcement agency tasked with investigating and indicting public officials for corruption that is entirely outside of government control.

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine has supported the bill, which could see Sytnyk, the first NABU director, fired.

The bill is only the latest slap in the face for Ukraine’s deal with the country’s biggest donor, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The move comes only a day after an IMF team ended its assessment of the government’s reform programme a part of a review of the $5bn stand-by agreement (SBA) and found the government wanting. As bne IntelliNews reported, the IMF team said that more has to be done on the fight against corruption and recommended more conditionality be attached to SBA programme before the next $700mn tranche is released.

The IMF programme has been de facto suspended after Ukraine’s Constitution Court nixed several key anti-corruption laws in November, which were implemented at the IMF’s insistence. That was followed by the government decision this year to reduce household tariffs for gas – another undoing of a key IMF demand, which had demanded domestic gas tariffs be set at market rates.

NABU is part of an anti-corruption triumvirate that carries out the investigations. Its sister organisation, the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), is the prosecutor and cases are held in the special Anti-Corruption Court (ACC) to hear the cases and convict wrongdoers. All three organisations exist outside of government control and are supposed to act autonomously. While NABU has indicted a few high-profile state bureaucrats, none of them have yet been convicted.

Both the political elite and the oligarchs have been resisting the IMF-backed anti-corruption drive sponsored by Ukraine’s donors. As bne IntelliNews has written elsewhere, corruption is the system and after three decades The Oligarch Problem in Ukraine has become acute.

While the Zelenskiy administration pays lip service to the need to end corruption, the president has pushed out one reformer after the other. The problem started with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy's decision to shake up the government last March with a major reshuffle that saw most of the technocratic reform-minded ministers fired, including Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk. That was followed later in the year by the exit of the well-respected and effective Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), Yakiv Smolii, who was pushed out by Zelenskiy. The NBU’s handling of the series of crises and its efforts to clean up the banking sector have won it universal praise from donors and analysts, but set the bank at odds with the oligarchs.

The bill to dismiss Sytnyk is only the latest blow to be struck against the cadre of reformers in the government and was introduced by one of the ministers. An oral proposal was added to the draft law, which changes the procedure for electing a new director of NABU, allowing the head of state to choose a "manual" leader – a new power that effectively would bring NABU under the control of the government.

The National Security and Defence Council, a government body, will now delegate three members to the competition committee for the selection of the director of the bureau, and six more will be chosen by the government.

“According to our information, Sytnyk's dismissal is a personal decision of Vladimir Zelenskiy. This is how he reacted to the start of an investigation into the purchase of vaccines against COVID-19,” according to local report.

According to those reports, the government is attempting to rebuff an investigation into corruption surrounding the procurement of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines conducted by NABU and turn the blame from the government’s failures on the NABU leader.