Archive for June 23rd, 2012


Ukraine – Social Media and Anti-Corruption

June 23, 2012

Whilst on Dnipropetrovsk 24 TV, a local channel, Prime Minister Azarov, a very frequent Facebook user, suggested that whilst he encourages anybody to inform authorities of corruption within their ranks, should they wish to do so, he encourages them to inform him personally via Facebook.

This idea was then given a national broadcast via the government website.

A waste of time many will immediately think, considering many consider the government corrupt as well, which indeed it is, as were all previous governments.

However, one has to suspect that this is not aimed at top level government corruption amongst the elite of the elite but at the regional fiefdoms and regional administrations that have the most direct and obvious interference and coercion in peoples lives via daily bureaucracy.

As I have written more times than I can remember here, when it comes to stifling reforms and robustly obstructing anything decreed by Kyiv that will interfere with regional administrations and regional agency graft, no Ukrainian government has ever come close to combating this problem.

All mightily fail where policy implementation is concerned if the regional patriarchy and administrations feel their corrupt practices are threatened by a diktat from those in Kyiv.  So entwined are the regional patriarchy, administration and State agencies, creating a problem for one can lead to severe consequences and retaliation via others seemingly completely unrelated for the vast majority of the citizenry.

Needless to say, formal complaints about corruption are made only by the very principled, quasi-powerful who have friends higher up the patriarchal chain, or who have simply nothing to lose and therefore nothing much to fear.

Complaining of local corruption to local officials about a specific local official or incident is therefore not normally something that is done and also reinforces the perception that all people within the local administrations are corrupt.

That perception is in fact false.  Not all local officials are corrupt.  There are those that will in any conversation, warn that attempting to bribe them is a crime and that they will not be bribed.  I have met many such people in such positions in Odessa and have have that very lecture myself on numerous occasions.

The media, like all media, are good for headlines for a day or two, but in a world of 24 hour news, they soon move on to the next scandal.

Anyway, returning to Prime Minister Azarov and what seems to be an attempt not only to show transparency and taking local corruption seriously in the run up to an election, it brings about a broader point of who to use social media and the Internet to combat corruption.

There are pros and cons to this naturally.  Allegations and the besmirching of character when there is indeed nothing untoward is a distinct possibility.  For administrative or regional agency entities who want to rid themselves of an overly principled individual, a social media campaign by minions of a patriarchal system wanting favours can easily create a storm from nowhere made of numerous groundless accusations.

Reliance on libel or defamation laws in an opaque and crooked legal system is not necessarily a place of redress.  Even if redress is found there, the damage to reputation has already been done.   This is but one example of the possible negative influences of the social media and Ukrainian media in general, who it has to be said, are not always as diligent in their fact checking or corroboration as they could and should be before going to print.

On the positive side, it would serve to draw the attention of more senior government to the actions of specific regional minions and specific allegations of corruption which could then be investigated giving the appearance of, and possibly actually taking on, the regional graft endemic in Ukraine.

If the regional corruption was successfully tackled it would probably remove 95% of all corruption faced directly by the average Ukrainian citizen.  Let’s be honest, there are not that many Ukrainians who play in the corrupt pool of the elite for big stakes and whilst the indirect corruption rife within the senior government naturally has an effect on all Ukrainians, it is not done on a face to face basis as it is with a local pencil pusher in an obscure administrative agency.

One possibility that comes to mind is those who have dealings with the local authorities as contractors and sub-contracts, make public their arrangements with the local authorities, at least as far as the value of those contracts goes.  They are then easily comparable to the figures city hall submit to Kyiv and any large divergence would be spotted quite simply.

The problem is not only clauses of non-disclosure, but also competitive edge when tenders are due in the future.  Any competition will undoubtedly have a keen interest in the value of a contract with the authorities should it be made public to aid transparency against corruption.

The question of anonymous  tip-offs or anonymous whistle blowers is of dubious use.  If the only evidence is an anonymous tip and none other is found, there is no chance of any action against a corrupt official with no witness prepared to given sworn evidence.  On the other hand, it may well cause the eyes of investigators to find enough to take action was their attention is drawn to a certain individual in the regional set up.

For sure, sting operations are a regular event with undercover police paying bribed to nefarious regional people in power.   Unfortunately, all to often they have not had any action taken against them, but the nefarious act has been held over them to make them subservient to those in power in Kyiv.

This I know for an absolute fact has occurred with a city mayor (not Odessa) accepting $2 million in cash in marked money and caught on camera hidden within a womans handbag who handed over the money, and also the director of a private Jewish school taking several thousand US$ to miraculously find a place for a child for the following school year when previously there were no spaces, captured doing the deed in the very same way.

Both caught red-handed, both had no criminal action taken against them, but both became far closer to the then government than they were before.  There is no reason to suspect the police modus operandi has changed any since the new government came in, or that the outcome has been any different when such successes in capturing corrupt officials with marked money and on camera occurs.

Where social media is different, is that such a thing caught on camera can be on You Tube within seconds and viral within a minute, making it far harder to avoid the courts and to use such incriminating evidence to the benefit of any sitting government (whilst leaving a now compliant corrupt official in place).

Already there are dedicated social media groups targeting the traffic police and bribe taking (quite rightly).  As yet none have taken to sting operations against officials who sit behind a desk.

Maybe that will come in due time.

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