The long-overdue appointment and confirmation of a prosecutor general of Ukraine highlights the state’s chronic weakness in dealing with the interrelated phenomena of official corruption and organized crime.
That post had been technically vacant for two years because the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) refused to confirm President Leonid Kuchma’s nominee, Oleh Lytvak. Lytvak and his deputy Bohdan Ferents–serving in an acting or an interim capacity–were hamstrung in their actions during that entire period by their irregular status and the recalcitrance of a large part of the legislature. Lytvak and Ferents “contended with pressures which sometimes turned into blackmail,” said Kuchma during the official presentation of the new prosecutor general, Mikhaylo Potebenko.
The new parliament has offered no indication yet that it may cooperate with the president’s main anti-crime project: the creation of a National Bureau of Investigations (NBI), patterned on the FBI of the United States, but focusing almost entirely on economic crime and corruption. Kuchma created the NBI by presidential decree in April 1997. However, the Rada rejected the enabling legislation and blocked the NBI’s budget for 1998, thus nipping the institution in the bud. Moreover, a large group of parliamentary deputies challenged the presidential decree in the Constitutional Court. The court ruled that the decree was on the whole compatible with the constitution, but that some of its provisions were unconstitutional. It took issue with the provisions that subordinate the NBI to the president and empower him to determine its organizational structure and to appoint the NBI’s chief, deputy chiefs, and regional chiefs.
Mainly responsible for thwarting the NBI is a coalescence of the political opposition and criminally tinged economic vested interests in the Rada. The Red parties, while habitually denouncing those vested interests, nevertheless make common cause with them when it comes to restricting the president’s powers. A not inconsiderable number of parliamentary deputies, of vague or no ideological persuasion, are widely considered to represent clans of the shadow economy. Their resistance to the creation of the NBI forms only one aspect of their opposition to market reforms, which in turn stems from self-interest, not ideology. The most visible among those clans, Hromada, has even taken control of the new parliament’s anti-crime and anticorruption committee and budget committee. The leftist parties, meanwhile, probably control the parliament’s leadership. The ad-hoc alliance of ideological and clan interests will continue to do its best to block the establishment of the NBI.
Kuchma, meanwhile, is trying to circumvent this blockage by planning to create an “antiterrorist center,” whose main mission is described as protection of trial witnesses against organized crime groups. Kuchma discussed this plan yesterday with the heads of state security services. (UNIAN, DINAU, July 21; Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), July 22; Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research (Kyiv), Corruption Watch, July 22)
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