On June 7, Ukraine’s parliament passed long-awaited legislation establishing a special anti-corruption court. Our country took another important move forward on its path toward building a European state where all are equal under the law. This was not the first step in this journey, and it won’t be the last. But I believe it showed that our journey toward a genuine democracy is now irreversible.
Nobody would argue that our reform process has been easy. Over the past two decades, Ukrainians have become skeptical that there could be any progress in the fight against the scourge of corruption. Nevertheless, the Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity gave Ukrainians hope for a new future of accountable leaders and the rule of law.
Upon being elected in May 2014, I set out to build a completely new architecture to fight corruption. My allies in this endeavor were Ukraine’s vibrant civil society and its volunteer networks, together with our international partners in the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and North America.
The task would have been colossal at the best of times, but Ukraine’s efforts to build this new future have been stymied at every turn by enemies within and without.
Russia’s wrecking tactics and its hybrid warfare have sought to deny Ukrainians the right to determine their own future. Moscow instigated the war in Donbas, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives and has internally displaced more than 2 million people. All of this has meant a loss of an estimated $100 billion through economic destruction and occupation.
But Ukraine’s fight against corruption also has its internal enemies, ranging from populists to vested interests.
Like their allies elsewhere in Europe, Ukraine’s populists loudly use the rhetoric of fighting corruption while having no interest in solving the problem. They are members of the former Party of Regions of Viktor Yanukovych, and the anti-reformist oligarchs. After all, the oligarchs living in luxurious exile in Western Europe would be the first who could face the anti-corruption Court.
Acting in unison, all these opponents did their best to try to block the establishment of the anti-corruption court by introducing alternative bills, and nearly 2,000 amendments to the law I proposed.
All their destructive efforts, and those of Russia, were in vain. To them, and the cynics, 317 members of parliament responded with a strong message that we will overcome the obstacles along the path of reform. My party is committed to this goal, and so is our coalition partner, the party of former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The anti-corruption court will serve as the jewel in the crown of the architecture needed for Ukraine to build a rule-of-law state. It is not, however, the first major reform in Ukraine since 2014.
To name but one example: Ukrainian officials and politicians must now declare their assets in an e-declaration system, one of the most progressive and rigorous of its kind in the world.
Our four-year fight against corruption has already brought successful results in closing corrupt schemes in fraudulent value-added tax (VAT) refunds. We have returned $1.5 billion in stolen government money from overseas. The implementation of Pro-Zorro, a transparent procurement system, has ended corruption in government contracts, and the use of the state-owned Naftogaz Ukrainy gas company as a cash cow for political leaders. In fact, Naftogaz Ukrainy, which used to eat up more than 3 percent of Ukraine’s GDP in subsidies, is today the biggest contributor to the state budget.
We have dramatically cleaned up the banking sector, including nationalizing the country’s biggest bank, which laundered $5.5 billion over the past decade, while taking on oligarchs behind the scheme who wish to continue with the old corrupt ways.
Our reforms have delivered results for all Ukrainians, including allowing our people to travel visa-free within the Schengen area.
Our next task is to ensure the anti-corruption court is operational as soon as possible. Foreign experts will oversee the selection of professional judges in an open and transparent manner, and candidates will be put through rigorous tests. Once operational, the court will begin its work by helping to shut down all remaining corrupt schemes still operating in Ukraine and bringing those responsible to justice.
The system will not be fully effective, however, unless our European partners also play their part in ensuring high levels of diligence regarding capital flows from Ukraine, and no longer provide havens for officials and oligarchs seeking to evade justice in Ukraine’s courts.
Over the past four years we have managed to introduce more reforms than in any other period since we became an independent state 27 years ago. The Euromaidan spirit continues to live on, despite the obstacles and the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and patriots who have been killed by Russia’s proxies. More are dying even as I write.
I am confident that the anti-corruption court is a breakthrough and a game-changer. Yes, we still have more work to do, but by passing this law we have signaled that there can be no turning back in our efforts to become a peaceful, secure, corruption-free E.U. and NATO ally, playing our role in delivering a stronger and more united Europe.
Petro Poroshenko is the president of Ukraine.