Corruption! Corruption?

Arpine Avetisyan

At the end of February 2019, Ukrainian investigative journalists uncovered a corruption scheme connected to the previous president, Petro Poroshenko. This is the most wide-scale scheme since Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union. It is self-evident these days that corruption is a challenge for all of us, not least of which because it fundamentally undermines democratic systems, social trust, and cohesion.

The phenomenon of corruption has practically existed since the dawn of time, one that developed simultaneously with the advancement of economic systems. It is a human that acts in any economic system, however, so corruption is also connected with humanity’s aspirations and motives: humans create corrupted systems and humans devise mechanisms to fight it.

Thus, before analysing the Ukrainian case, let’s explore different types of corruption and how they undermine society and democracy. 

As you can see, we generally distinguish between three types of corruption related to shapes of loss and role players․ Petty corruption is connected with our everyday life which we must prevent in the process. The following two are connected with the government in general. These two must be discovered and controlled not only by law enforcement agencies but by investigative journalists.

Referring to the scheme in Ukraine: The materials of the case say that from 2016 to 2017, “Ukroboronprom” purchased parts from Russia to repair military equipment, the real cost of which is about US$85,000. The remarkable thing is also that the state purchases were done from Russia, purchased and delivered through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the form of spare parts for the means of civilian transport, and were purchased for about US$580,000. The dimensions of the spare parts were so large, that the organisers of the operation, Igor Gladkovsky and Vitaly Zhukov, were also confused by the means of transportation used.

As we can see from the picture, the Ukrainian corruption scheme is considered “Grand Corruption” because it is connected to the central functioning of the state, while the amount of money lost is massive – more than seven times more than might be via an official state purchase. It is considerable then that this investigation was undertaken by journalists, a critical bulwark against corruption, and not official law enforcement agencies. Only after their investigation did the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine begin its own investigation into the case.

Ukraine and the struggle against corruption

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, struggle against corruption has continued to gain momentum, so much so that the first promise of almost any political campaign is to fight against corruption. 

It is ironic then that this revelation in Ukraine took place before a highly covered presidential election. After this revelation and especially after the elections, corruption scandals in the defense industry flowed one after another. 

Anti-corruption tools are assessed year-by-year across the globe in the different industries. For instance, Transparency International has classified tools into three groups: (1) private sector tools, including the Business Principles for Countering Bribery; (2) public sector tools, including Integrity Pacts and state-owned enterprises principles; and (3) tools for activists, educators, and other members of civil society, including the Corruption Fighters’ Toolkits. 

The implementation of these tools is not enough, though. The government, along with its institutions, must have political will to counter a corrupted system and implement a more accountable one. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) must observe and monitor anti-corruption policies and the actions of the government, analyse them, and provide feedback and up-to-date assessments to both citizens and respective government institutions. NGOs should also provide suggestions about a relevant policy’s parameters based on their research and on international experience. Civil society must have the civic will, must be demanding and proactive, and informed about anti-corruption tools as well. Every citizen has to feel it is their responsibility to succeed in struggling against corruption.

As the image shows, democratic states tended to avoid at least overt forms of corruption. This means that even if a state or citizenry have all the necessary laws and structures, they will not necessarily be effective until you have real democracy – that is, a robust and active “culture” of democracy that prioritises citizen engagement and civic responsibility. Authoritarian states tend to be highly corrupted, and their economy monopolised an based on a singular source of wealth, such a natural resource (especially oil, gas, minerals, gold, etc.). So, needless to say, fighting corruption is also intrinsically connected to strengthening political and economic systems.

In closure, it is important to highlight how large corruption schemes are formed by individuals, so we must confront the mindset that enables corruption and then root out corruption in our societies. In this case, struggling against corruption will not be a dilemma, but an essential reality.

Based on the above-mentioned corruption scheme we can clearly state that corruption comes from individuals and by cooperation of individuals who are corrupted. Thus, for any real change, we must start with us, individually. Afterwards, we can change group of people at times. Let’s recall some interesting thoughts about our nature provided by Thomas Hobbes: “Specific desires and appetites arise in the human body, and are experienced as discomforts or pains that must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being.” (Leviathan I 6). Time is now to bring positive change individually and collectively.