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The Open Government Partnership (and stuff) – Ukraine

June 23, 2015

It has been some time since anything appeared here that is insightful and clear-eyed – or even particularly thoughtful.  Perhaps that is due to turning out daily entries for free when your author has a spare 20 minutes during the day.  Indeed anything approaching insightful and/or clear-eyed seems to be written for, and published by, other people on a paid basis.

Thus dear readers, you are left with free, less than erudite, and poorly structured rambling – You get what you pay for – or don’t pay for.

Yesterday the UK Embassy Kyiv launched a call for project proposals that generally sit under the umbrella of the “Open Government Partnership“.  As broadly as it can be termed, these project proposals to be funded by the UK, encompass the forthcoming local elections, protection of human rights and government transparency.

Of particular focus with regard to Odessa, the call for projects specifically mentions the Oblast in relation to the forthcoming local elections – and quite rightly, as it remains one of the most institutionally corrupt Oblasts in the country.  Under the newly passed (at its first reading) electoral laws (and undoubtedly it will pass its second reading unless there is an intervention to prevent such nonsense becoming statute) the ability to rig, corrupt, pervert, manipulate and generally deprive democracy of genuine outcomes, remains high.

Quite what the Venice Commission will make of the law remains to be seen – but that there will be “recommendations” seems absolutely guaranteed.  The new law may be an improvement on the existing law (or not), but it is far from being anything like a good law that would prevent any power vertical or other odious interests from being nefariously imposed at a local level.  Alternatively there is the possibility to produce clearly distabalising electoral outcomes by similar external engineering too.

Indeed, decentralisation/devolution of powers when they come do not remove the possibility of a power vertical, and the new election laws do not prevent a nefariously imposed/manipulated power vertical from being formed from the very bottom up should there be a desire to do so.  All that would change is the structure of the power vertical, as the organagram goes through a shape-shifting metamorphosis.  In short a more Kafkaesque metamorphosis around power at the heart of The State.

Efforts to prevent this unholy metamorphosis (regardless of who does the engineering) therefore fall within the parameters of the Open Government Partnership, under the broad banners of preventing and combating corruption, improving the quality of administrative services, and fostering the activities of civil society institutions.

Whether enough attention is paid to what impact civil society actually has is a different question.  To quote from a very courteous email from a respected Ukrainian civil society actor that recently spent several hours with your author “Our meeting left me with even more questions about what do we do as a civil society in Ukraine.”

Returning to the Open Government Partnership linked above, it is notable that there is but a single point from 23 that is the primary responsibility of the regions.  All else is led by, and dependent upon, the centre.  That singular point, is point 10:

10. Developing, with the involvement of members of the public, anti-corruption regional programmes.  The programmes to approved by Oblast/city councils and Kyiv City Council, partnering with the all-Ukrainian NGO “All-Ukrainian Special Board to Combat Corruption and Organised Crime”, other civil society institutions and international organisations (by consent).

The advantage to regional solutions is that they tend to target regional issues, regional trends and regional priorities, as opposed to broad (usually half-hearted) attempts to behead the corrupt national hydra that has for so long been central to undermining Ukrainian governance.

Thus perhaps, knowing full well that top-down attempts (or perhaps centre-out) will remain half-hearted and mindful of vested interests, bottom-up (or perhaps periphery-in) policies may meet with a little more success if they are targeted, aggressive, and have traction within the local community.  That requires a change in societal attitude toward the acceptance of corruption as a fact of everyday life within their local and regional State institutions.

So let’s look at Odessa.  Why not make it the home of anti-corruption pilot projects?  The goal should be that the Oblast becomes the anti-corruption capital of Ukraine after all.

What can be done for £10,000 or less?

It depends on what you want to achieve.  Something extremely focused with a concentration of participants, or something Oblast wide that is open to total inclusiveness?

To take the first option, it is possible to list a dozen or more specific issues, or future moments on the immediate Odessa time line where this money can be spent and have something of an impact.  In short, far too many to list.

Taking the second option of maximum inclusiveness, then we are talking about easy access platforms and connectivity, with common goals and the requirement for little leadership.  Something that can produce Oblast wide data driven by the constituency itself, that can then be used for more refined targeting.

A societal pride has to develop, and an admiration given, to those who say “No” when attempts are made to solicit bribes.  As Odessa collectively nodded its tacit approval and chortled around the collective kitchen table at corrupt officials being physically thrown into rubbish bins, it can also collectively laud those who publicly say “No”.  What is required is a public platform to show societal support for those that say “No” and monitor the local authorities response and actions towards those that did say “No”.

If India can achieve a website that lists attempts to solicit bribes, laud those that don’t pay bribes, and identify “hot-spots”, incidents, and particularly odious offices of institutional corruption, thus forming an accessible database for all, then  so can Odessa..  The costs of the Indian website falls within the UK project funding levels.

Particularly pronounced “hot-spots” can therefore be both avoided by society where possible, and also fall under increased official scrutiny.

In cases where legal action is taken and successful prosecution or plea bargains entered into, what prevents a “corruption prevention bonus” being paid to the whistle-blower?  Some form of community action trust reward?

There are several options to pursue with maximum participation/inclusiveness proposals.

But what can and should be done for free/anyway to combat regional corruption?

Is there anything to be gained or lost by having a regional anti-corruption bureau?  Can, or should, that which is based in Kyiv, be relied upon to tackle the regional hierarchy deemed “too small” or “less of a priority” to fit inside the national bureau remit?

What of “secret shoppers” or “Lay visitors”?  Is there a role for such citizens in policing the institutions and/or administrations?

What of regional differed prosecution agreements for early self-reporting within business and/or institutions?  Should there not be scope for a little leniency for those that notify law enforcement of something nefarious within their structure at the first possible opportunity?

Should not a monetary/value limit be placed upon official “gifts” to Oblast and regional institutional officials be publicly declared.  (The only gift every retained by your author was a rather nice Parker fountain pen emblazoned with the Raytheon logo in the late 1980’s – all else was either refused, given to others, or given to charity.)

A clear definition of what constitutes “corporate entertainment” and a value/monetary figure should be enshrined into Oblast and regional institutional policy.  Paying the restaurant bill, or a night at the jazz festival is one thing, but a harem full of nubile Ukrainian ladies, or holidays abroad in lieu of cash bribes has to be officially deemed as too extravagant, and thus unacceptable.

Is there an ISO or EU anti-corruption standard/compliance certification?  If so, should Odessa Oblast Administration not strive to achieve such certification?  If such standards exist, there will be best practice models to follow, benchmarks to meet, and audits to pass.  Would holding such certification (if it exists) not encourage FDI?

What about audits?  Whilst the move to e-governance (if not necessarily e-democracy) in Odessa is on-going, should the Oblast not commit itself to not only State audits but also external audits?  It could, for example and for the sake of randomness, open its books annually to whichever nation currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.  Would a clean bill of health from another national audit office again not encourage FDI?

Should the Oblast not publicly announce the parameters of a standard corruption risk review model for any tenders it places?  It takes little effort to then hold any successful bidder up to the publicly available risk review model.  We are all capable of being quality assurance and compliance officers given sufficient transparency.

With any EU/US/externally funded local/regional project, would it not be wise for the Oblast to proactively invite their project managers to fully participate, and be based in Odessa for the project duration?  Whether they accept such invitations is up to those partners, but should not such invitations be a standard part of any negotiations – offered rather than extracted?

If “third parties” are involved with any Oblast or regional institutions, should their contract not place a heavy emphasis upon due diligence and anti-corruption?  A claw-back clause in any contract should nefariousness come to light as standard?  If the Oblast cannot rely on a corrupt criminal justice system, then perhaps there is more chance of lessening corruption with a few clauses that would allow civil proceedings too.  (If necessary, nominate courts in London, Stockholm, (where ever) in contract and tenders, as having jurisdiction over any arbitration too.)

Whilst it must be appreciated that institutional design can and does accommodate corruption, and that the Odessa Administration cannot necessarily redesign all that is necessary with regional offices of State institutions in this regard, it can redesign itself internally to reduce the opportunities for graft.  When will an organagram of who is who and who is accountable for what be publicly and easily accessible?

Odessa is home to UN, OSCE and several EU missions, some of which come into very close contact with corrupt practices as part of their remit.  Some, such as EUBAM, have very clever and very experienced leaderships who have very good ideas about how to help tackle corruption locally.  Perhaps a little more time listening to their words of wisdom rather than simply reading their reports would be in order.

The issue with much of the above, even given political and societal will, is how to effectively combine value driven and compliance driven models – How does a  £10,000 proposal fit with existing or envisaged Oblast efforts?  Should it dovetail or be part of a bigger collaborative effort, or stand alone and risk being ignored/useless/or previously considered and dismissed as an option in the grander scheme of things?  Perhaps it needs to go where no proposals have gone before?

All that has been written above is also the tip of a very large corruption iceberg – it would be impractical to list all the issues and all the possible remedies – but they are all issues amongst many that can be addressed at costs below the project financing limits of the UK Embassy Kyiv, ranging from entirely gratis, to approaching the £10,000 limit.

Not being an NGO, NFP, or any other type of civil society actor (a free to read blog, written by an individual simply doesn’t cut the bureaucratic mustard as being classified as a civil society actor, and therefore by default results in being excluded from funding sadly) it remains to be seen if the very clever projects subsequently submitted and duly funded will come close to, or incorporate, some of the issues above.

Perhaps some of the thoughts above will be entertained by the Oblast leadership directly. – Who knows?

Corruption there will always be, no differently to any other nation – it is managing that corruption and reducing it from its currently chronic levels that Odessa (and Ukraine) has to wholeheartedly try to do.  Perhaps periphery-in rather than centre-out will have a greater effect.  When all is said and done, nobody has the monopoly on good ideas.

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