Ukraine’s uphill battle against graft as election looms


Tanya WILLMER, AFP

Seven months on, the new leaders who took office after the toppling of the Kremlin-backed president have done woefully little to tackle corruption, diverted they say by the deadly conflict in the east. In a country where the average monthly salary is barely US$250 (200 euros), Ukrainians were stunned at the grotesque opulence at the residence of the disgraced former president, accused of syphoning off billions of dollars from the public purse.

But commentators say graft still permeates all walks of life, from traffic police to customs officials to top judges, and almost no form of business is possible without bribes or kickbacks. “The prevailing opinion in Ukraine is that corruption is good,” former economy minister Pavlo Sheremeta acknowledged this month. “A man of integrity is an exception.” Sheremeta resigned in frustration at the slow pace of reform, failing to push through plans to slash red tape and eradicate the Soviet-era mismanagement and corrupt practices that have sent Ukraine to the brink of bankruptcy. The justice minister said this month that the Yanukovych regime had stolen US$11 billion through the abuse of government tenders alone in the last four years. Transparency International still ranks Ukraine at a lowly 144 out of 177 countries on its corruption perceptions index, on a par with Nigeria and Papua New Guinea.

And international lenders behind a massive US$27 billion lifeline to head off total economic collapse say stamping out corruption is a must if Kiev wants to keep the aid flowing.