The United States and the European Union have expressed frustration with Ukraine as the nation continues to drag its feet on electing the chief of a unit responsible for prosecuting corrupt officials.
Washington and Brussels have tied significant financial and military aid to Kyiv’s progress on reforms, including battling corruption, which many experts say is one of the major factors hindering Ukraine’s aspiration of joining the bloc.
On October 9, Ukraine again failed to move forward with the process for choosing the next head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) after several members of the selection committee did not show up, preventing a quorum.
The process of selecting a new head -- which activists say should have taken several months at best -- has now lasted more than a year due to repeated quorum failures and other excuses.
The latest delay resulted when three members selected by parliament failed to attend -- either in person or online, triggering anger in Western capitals.
In a joint statement issued on October 9, the United States and the EU described the latest delay “incomprehensible and unjustified” and called on the committee to “resume its work without further delay.
“Failure to move forward in the selection process undermines the work of anti-corruption agencies, established by Ukraine and its international partners,” they said.
Following the rebuke by the West, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took to Twitter to criticize the delay.
“The members of the competition commission must perform their duties properly. For [Ukraine], the effectiveness of anti-corruption institutions is a priority,” he said in a tweet.
Tetiana Shevchuk, legal counsel for the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, told RFE/RL that Zelenskiy should not have waited for the West to react before speaking about the long-delayed selection.
He had plenty of opportunities to speak out in the past following similar delays, she said.
Control Of SAPO
The SAPO selection committee consists of 11 members, including seven selected by parliament.
The remaining four are independent members selected by the Prosecutor-General’s Office from a list submitted by Ukraine’s Western backers. Three of the four independent members are foreigners.
Following the lengthy selection process, which includes various tests, the committee has narrowed down its choice to two candidates, one of whom is an investigator at the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) behind a failed probe into a member of Zelenskiy’s team.
SAPO oversees investigations carried out by NABU and is independent of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, potentially making it a very powerful tool in combating graft.
SAPO also prosecutes cases in court brought forward against an individual by NABU. As of December 31, 2020, SAPO and NABU had achieved 43 convictions against 50 people.
SAPO and NABU were created after the 2013-14 revolution that toppled Kremlin-leaning former President Viktor Yanukovych amid a push to fight corruption that had left Ukraine among the poorest nations in Europe despite vast natural resources and bountiful agricultural land.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office has been viewed as historically ineffective in the fight against corruption and under the control of vested interests, thus requiring the creation of SAPO and NABU.
Shevchuk said those special interests fear a SAPO head “they can not control.”
Those vested interests fear the appointment of a tough head of SAPO and are seeking to undermine the process, anti-corruption activists say.
It isn’t the only crucial reform measure currently facing sabotage, they say.
Ukraine’s Council of Judges has dragged its feet on appointing members to a panel that will help vet judges.
The panel is a central element of judicial reform that the United States, the EU, and Ukrainian activists say is vital to cleaning up endemic corruption in courts.