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Another foreigner joins the anti-corruption battle – Ukraine

December 12, 2014

Clearly in approaching a well known foreign reformer in Eka Zgulatze to head the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, President Poroshenko was attempting to send a domestic message that (corrupt) “business as usual” is about to meet an experienced and robust wall head on, should it try to continue per bygone days.  The message externally is that there is somebody to talk to who has dealt with this before and who will not bow to internal shenanigans.

Time will tell whether Ms Zgulatze will be as effective in Ukraine as she was in her native Georgia of course.

Ukraine has now seen another foreigner appointed in an anti-corruption role.

Algirdas Semeta

Algirdas Semeta, a Lithuanian, is a former European Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Statistics, Audit and Anti-Fraud, and will assume the role of Business Ombudsman within the Ukraine Anti-Corruption Initiative.

This initiative was created via a Memorandum  of Understanding in May 2014 between Ukraine, the EBRD, OECD, ACC, EBA, Federation of Ukrainian Employers, UCC, League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and a good deal more of the alphabet soup relating to representative groups doing business in Ukraine.

As it is a fairly sensible thing to honour commitments made – particularly so after Ukraine requested assistance from the OECD regarding tax systems, competitiveness and tackling corruption – on 26th November, Cabinet Resolution 691 created created the Business Ombudsman Council, a permanent body, financed at least in part by the EBRD which has allocated Euro 1.5 million annually to the office of Business Ombudsman.

Thus the new Business Ombudsman creates a (foreign) independent person entitled to appeal publicly to the government if corruption in customs, tax services, public authorities or state regulators is being detected or where the rights of business and entrepreneurs are impaired, as well as keep the alphabet soup of interested business entities up to speed with any specific cases.

As the ombudsman’s office will apparently assess claims, will be able to request further investigation by the relevant bodies, and seek to have complaints addressed by governmental authorities where it believes wrongs have been committed, it does appear something of a major challenge for an ombudsman, two deputies and a sprinkling of employees from the secretariat.

It is quite easy to envisage an initial deluge of cases and a subsequent, ever-growing backlog.  Questions of administrative capability, and thus timeliness, may very well become issues that will effective the perceptions of effectiveness around this new office.

Nevertheless another small but positive step – and one that may become a major step if the new Business Ombudsman is actually allowed to do the job created and receive unquestioning political support when matters are raised.

What actually becomes of the cases brought to the attention of government by this new office remains to be seen – but if it is done publicly, then any inaction thereafter falls clearly at the governmental door.

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