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Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

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  • Ukraine

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    CARDIN. Mr. President, today is International Anti-Corruption Day. As the United States works to support good governance and anti- corruption efforts around the world, I wish to highlight one country, Ukraine, where these efforts are vital to the future viability of that state. The U.S. Congress has stood by the people of Ukraine since the Maidan demonstrations in November of 2013.

    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed two landmark pieces of legislation that are now law. This sent a clear signal to Kiev, Moscow, and the capitals of Europe that the United States stands squarely for the development, democratic aspirations, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine and its people.

    However, Ukraine's political leadership must also continue to hold up its end of the bargain. Ukraine is a country that has been plagued for many years by weak democratic institutions and rampant corruption. This internal threat of corrupt institutions poses the greatest long-term threat to Ukraine's future.

    Ukraine's reformers have made some progress. Last year Ukraine ratified an association agreement with the EU, which includes extensive commitments to governance reforms. The Parliament adopted a broad package of anti-corruption laws and established a set of institutions to fight corruption. The government made changes to the tax and budget codes and is starting to clean up its banking system. The government has also made reforms of the energy sector a top priority, adopting legislation to harmonize its natural gas markets with the EU's and raising tariffs to incentivize more efficient energy usage.

    Importantly, on Monday, November 30, a new special anti-corruption prosecutor was appointed with the backing of the civil society, which is a big step forward in the fight against corruption.

    Despite progress on these fronts, much work remains, and the political commitment to combat corruption among Ukraine's leaders is uneven. I acknowledge the pressure faced by the government. We all want to support Ukraine's positive path, but the Ukrainian people need more concrete anti-corruption results--not just legislation, not just commissions, as important as these are, but actual results.

    For example, there remain thousands of allegedly corrupt officials in the judicial branch, where judges and prosecutors are susceptible to bribes. While corruption in Ukraine's legal system cannot be resolved overnight, I urge Ukrainian officials to take measures that would remove these most egregious violators from the judicial branch and prosecutorial ranks and to retrain those who are not corrupt to build the next generation of jurists.

    The Government of Ukraine has taken positive steps in this regard, including the establishment of a constitutional commission tasked with recalibrating the checks and balances between the judiciary and the rest of the government. In September, the commission submitted new draft amendments to the Constitution on the justice system. However, concerns remain regarding the independence and integrity of the judicial institutions, including the newly established institution, the High Council of Justice, or HCJ, which has been called the ``gatekeeper to the court system.'' It is critical that the civil society and watchdog organizations are empowered to continue their work of holding the HCJ and elected officials accountable to ensure that any weakness in the checks and balances of the judicial system are not exploited for personal gain.

    I am also concerned about the process for vetting the current pool of judges. The Government of Ukraine is developing standards for judicial reappointment, which will be conducted by the HCJ. This process will test the political will of both the Government of Ukraine and the HCJ itself. Unfortunately, initial results are not positive. As of June of this year, the HCJ had received 2,200 complaints of judicial misconduct. Of this number, only 47 judges were disciplined and none were dismissed.

    Ukrainian citizens expect a clean government that abides by the rule of law. In July, I wrote to President Poroshenko, urging him to make anti-corruption reforms a priority by considering the appointment of a special anti-corruption prosecutor and special anti-corruption courts. While the government recently selected a special anti-corruption prosecutor with the backing of the civil society, the government must now ensure that this office remains free from state influence and interference to fulfill its mandate to root out corruption within Ukraine.

    I commend President Poroshenko for listening to the demands of civil society and amending the composition of the selection committee to include two candidates backed by civil society, which led to the selection of Nazar Kholodnytskiy. This was a step in the right direction. However, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine itself is still woefully understaffed, which impacts its ability to fulfill its mandate to prosecute corrupt acts. I call on the Government of Ukraine to ensure that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine is fully staffed and prosecuting cases without delay.

    Polls show that most Ukrainians confront petty corruption in their daily lives, and our focus on corruption at the national level should not diminish the importance of programming that addresses corruption at the municipal and local levels. The Government of Ukraine must invest in training and education to identify and root out petty corruption in higher education, health care, and law enforcement. A clear commitment to attacking corruption in health care, education, and law enforcement within a measurable framework will pay dividends for citizens across the country and will help to restore faith in Ukraine's democratic institutions.

    The United States is prepared to make a long-term commitment to Ukraine and, along with our European partners, we can provide support to Ukraine's efforts to tackle corruption within the judiciary, the civil service, and law enforcement while preparing these institutions to attract and retain talented individuals who are committed to eradicating graft and entitlement.

    I firmly believe that Ukraine could be a case study for how a country with the political will can work with the international community to root out pervasive corruption, but that political will must manifest itself concretely and soon. When you look at public opinion polls in Ukraine, fighting corruption is the Ukrainian people's No. 1 demand. On this International Anti-Corruption Day, I look forward to supporting Ukraine's leaders if they are willing and committed to answering this demand.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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