With recent media and political attention on corruption in Ukraine, it is useful to bring some light to how the U.S. is helping Ukrainians deal with corruption in their country.
There is no question that corruption is prevalent. The 2018 Transparency International corruption index ranks Ukraine 120 out of 180 countries. The 2019-2024 USAID Country Development Cooperation Strategy for Ukraine categorizes Ukraine as the most corrupt country in Europe and sets anti-corruption as one of four strategic objectives for its assistance programs for Ukraine. However, there has been improvement, with its CPI (Corruption Perception Index) score improving from 27 in 2015 to 32 in 2018.
In 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) granted the Eurasia Foundation a 5-year, $13 million award for TAPAS (Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services Activity). Subsequently, UK AID made two contributions totaling $10.4 million and USAID an additional $960,00, bringing total funding to $24.4 million. The goal of the project is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government and reduce corruption through transparent, open electronic processes. The project has three objectives: deployment of large-scale electronic procurement; open data; and electronic services.
While the project is managed by Eurasia Foundation, it is delivered in close collaboration with and through local partners. In Ukraine, the project is staffed almost entirely by Ukrainian nationals who deliver technical assistance directly together with five local Ukrainian organizations. As a result, the project will leave behind considerable local capacity upon completion. The project has signed agreements with 18 government bodies, with which it works closely, and supports relevant legislative efforts by the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) and companion actions for five regional municipalities.
The e-procurement part of the project involves moving public procurements of goods and services away from traditional paper-based transactions and face-to-face meetings, which are always open to corrupt opportunities. The core of the project is enhancing and broadening ProZorro, a transparent online system supported by multiple organizations that removes such opportunities. Besides the hardware, software, and training that entails, the project also helps the Ukrainian government improve the enabling laws and implementing decrees to expand the use of e-procurement.
The project supports DOZORRO, an independent civil society watchdog network of civil society organizations. Over the past year, the DOZORRO network has identified over 12,000 high-risk tenders, and nearly 1,700 of these “red-flag” tenders have been cancelled or reversed. The Open Government Partnership recognized DOZORRO as one of the top 12 Star Reforms among member countries in 2018. The government reports e-procurement, through greater efficiency and reduced corruption, has saved more than $2.5 billion over 3 years.
The second objective of the project, open data, involves working at the national and regional level to provide the legal basis and training for publishing some 900 identified government-held datasets. As of September 2019, 346 datasets have been made public.
The third objective, e-services, involves software development and training and has resulted in 9 key government services already digitalized, with another 20 underway. Services converted include fire safety certificates, vehicle registration and license plates, water usage permits, certain medical licenses, and construction permits. As an example of the results, special water permitting now takes just 20 minutes and the cost to the applicant has fallen from roughly $115 to zero.
The USAID- and UK Aid-financed TAPAS program has received broad recognition and endorsement. It was supported by the former government, and now the current government. E-government has been widely covered in Ukraine, with some 560 media items identified since 2017, 47 percent of which mention TAPAS. The TAPAS website receives over 10,000 views a month.
$2.5 billion saved in the first three years of the project, buy-in from the highly respected UK Aid, broad government and public support—a considerable return for a USAID investment of $14 million. The Eurasia TAPAS Activity demonstrates how U.S. assistance can have a dramatic impact on advancing the efficiency and effectiveness of government of a key friend and ally while reducing corruption.
Other anti-corruption activities
TAPAS is not the only USAID project focused on reducing corruption in Ukraine. I have focused on TAPAS because of familiarity with the project from serving on the board of Eurasia Foundation. But there are two other activities in this arena:
ENGAGE (The Enhance Non-Governmental Actors and Grassroots Engagement program)—managed by Pact—works with local pro-reform civil society organizations to promote government transparency and accountability and civic involvement. It is designed to increase citizen awareness of and engagement in civic actions at the national, regional, and local levels. The 5-year program provides funding, capacity building, and networking among citizens, civic organizations, and coalitions on critical areas of democratic reform, with a special focus on anti-corruption. Notable successes of advocacy efforts led by Ukrainian anti-corruption civic activists include creation of the Anti-Corruption Court to hear high profile corruption cases. ENGAGE builds on the success of the former UNITER civil society strengthening project, which worked to empower Ukrainian civil society organizations to represent citizens’ interests and drive Ukraine’s reform agenda through more effective advocacy, monitoring, and activism.
ENGAGE has built an online, interactive visualization that allows users to analyze perceptions and experiences of corruption over the course of the last 11 years. It presents historical changes and data by geographical and demographic particularities. It also carries out informative surveys of public perceptions of corruption.
SACCI (The Support to Anti-Corruption Champion Institutions)—managed by Management Systems International (MSI), a TetraTech Company—is a USAID anti-corruption project assisting the government of Ukraine to reduce corruption and increase the accountability and transparency of governance. The project has three objectives: empower key government institutions to fight corruption; increase public support for, and engagement in, anti-corruption efforts; and reduce the public’s tolerance of corrupt practices.
SACCI has supported Ukraine by helping to strengthen its anti-corruption legal and institutional framework and aligning it with EU standards, as part of Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Among the most recent contributions of the project is legislation to relaunch the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and whistleblower legislation. SACCI works with several national, regional, and local level governmental institutions to identify and mitigate corruption risks in their operations through strengthening accountability and internal controls, and implementing policies to manage conflicts of interest and promote ethics.
SACCI is developing an online anti-corruption training and certification course as part of mandatory training for newly recruited civil servants (with an estimated 12,000 trainees annually). The project works with local partners to reduce corruption in road construction that has been notoriously known as one of the most corrupt sectors. SACCI supports the development of an electronic system for issuing sick leave certificates to combat widespread corruption in fake civil service sick leave payments, resulting in millions illegally paid out from the social benefit fund.
No single project can take credit for reducing the level of corruption in the country, but each project makes a contribution. In addition to Ukraine improving its scores in the global ratings, such as the TI Corruption Perception Index or the World Bank Doing Business rating, public polls show a positive trend that people are less frequently confronted with corruption, have become less tolerant of corruption, and are more engaged in activities to keep the government accountable.