LEGACIES OF "CAPTURED STATE" AND CONTINUED STRUGGLE FOR THE RULE OF LAW: A BRIEFING WITH TETIANA CHERNOVOL AND OLENA TYSHCHENKO
By Peter Voitsekhovsky, Research Director - U.S.-Ukraine Foundation
August 20, 2015 - Tetiana Chernovol, a member of Ukraine's parliament, and Olena Tyshchenko, head of a newly formed Agency for Assets Recovery, met with a Friends of Ukraine audience on the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day for an outspoken and enlightening discussion. A year and a half after the fall of Yanukovych, Ukraine is bitterly struggling with the legacies of the old system. Does this mean a failure of the Maidan revolution? Not at all. Maidan is rightly called a revolution - but it was a revolution of the minds. It shattered systemic doublethink that permeated the state and society - but it could not instantly change the crooked practices of government and business administration. Tetiana and Olena presented a narrative about change in progress.
They emphasized that the society's tolerance to exposed corruption has drastically changed. Illicit private gain can no longer be made as openly as this used to be under Yanukovych. On the other hand, practices of shadow ownership and shady contracts have not been eradicated. Tetiana Chernovol described revealing examples of such practices in procurement of supplies for the Ministry of Defense as well as in the operations of the natural gas sector. She also explained how corrective action is applied, both by lawmakers and by civic activists who help exposing corrupt deals.
Tetiana Chernovol and Olena Tyshchenko. Photo: P. Voitsekhovsky
World Bank experts have categorized Ukraine as a "captured state" - a grand-scale corruption system where state institutions - legislative, executive and judiciary - are "captured through illicit and unobvious channels" by private interests ("the oligarchs") and work to their advantage. The system of state capture sprouted in Ukraine as a legacy of the Soviet rule. It solidified under president Kuchma, survived and evolved under Yushchenko, and reached its climax under Yanukovych. It could not evaporate overnight because so many people - including many officials on all levels -- have been involved, and huge amounts of illicit money circulated in bribes and kickbacks. There are still "bags of shadow cash" that continue to circulate among business tycoons, government office holders and even media editors, according to Tatiana Chernovol. Corrective action takes place incrementally, and the "big clean" is far from over. But it moves on, one step at a time.
A sign of change that is underway in Ukraine is the very fact that these two individuals are now working in their respective positions. Olena Tyshchenko has been a successful corporate lawyer working for big transnational business entities. But a short while ago, she switched gears to become a government official of Ukraine and head a newly established Agency for Assets Recovery. She is teaching a team of less experienced but capable and enthusiastic young lawyers to "go after the dirty money" that was taken out of Ukraine by Yanukovych and his cronies and is hiding in foreign bank accounts.
Tetiana Chernovol, a famous investigative journalist and an iconic leader of the Maidan, was elected a member of the Supreme Rada last fall. She continues anti-corruption investigations as a member of the Rada's Committee for Defense and National Security.
It was a particular privilege for us to meet with Tetiana Chernovol, a legendary activist famous for her inspirational and high-profile protest actions as well as high-profile investigative work. In her own words, she dedicated years of her life to "rocking the boat" - stirring public indignation with the corrupt and criminal regime that ultimately produced the Maidan. "I am a little soldier of the revolution whose loss will have no impact on the final outcome," she was saying in December of 2013 - days before the Yanukovych thugs attempted to kill her on a night road where she was beaten and left to die. Tetiana Chernovol's unbending courage is a true emblem of Ukraine's resilience and fortitude.
Tetiana Chernovol with Maidan protesters in 2013
Tetiana Chernovol climbing the walls of the City hall in Kyiv in 2012 to protest against corrupt rulings in a closed-door session.