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Ukraine must fight corruption too, says UN development chief

Besides fighting Russia, Ukraine must also actively combat corruption in order to unleash a massive influx of reconstruction money, the head of the UN development agency told AFP.

Achim Steiner speaks in Bodo, Nigeria, during the start of an exercise to clean up pollution in Ogoni land, Nigeria June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Besides fighting Russia, Ukraine must also actively combat corruption in order to unleash a massive influx of reconstruction money, the head of the UN development agency told AFP.

Fighting corruption — endemic in Ukraine long before the Russian invasion — will “prevent theft from its own people”, United Nations Development Programme administrator Achim Steiner said.

Corruption is theft from development, from the public coffers and ultimately from citizens themselves, the UNDP chief said, on the sidelines of the Lugano reconstruction conference.

The two-day gathering in Switzerland, which concluded Tuesday, saw participants agree on the Lugano Declaration, laying out key principles for how to rebuild Ukraine from the ashes of Russia’s war.

They included that Ukraine itself must be in the driving seat on how to rebuild, and also that the recovery process must be twinned with far-reaching reforms.

UNDP has been present in Ukraine for decades but had to review its priorities following the February 24 invasion and the huge surge of refugees and internally displaced people.

Steiner noted that one of UNDP’s focal points is good governance.

“We have anti-corruption support systems that we provide to governments — but it is at their invitation that we do so,” the 61-year-old said.

“It is in Ukraine’s interest also to be seen to be proactive in this field,” he added, because if it is, “there is a significant amount of financing that will come from abroad” to rebuild the country.

Building confidence
In Lugano, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the goal was “not to fight corruption, but make corruption impossible”, notably via the broad digitalisation of public services to reduce “human interaction” — and thereby limit the opportunities for corrupt transactions.

Steiner said UNDP would work with Ukraine on accountability, transparency and using digital technology for E-government platforms.

“These are the means by which we can very quickly strengthen that confidence in Ukraine’s ability to manage this — and also raise the level of confidence of the international community,” he said.

In its 2021 public-sector Corruption Perceptions Index, the NGO Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122nd out of 180 countries.

The position is better than in 2014, when it ranked 142nd, and higher than 136th-placed Russia, but far behind countries in the European Union — which Kyiv aspires to join — where even the lowest-ranked nation, Bulgaria, is 78th.

UNDP is active in 170 territories and Steiner, like many of his peers in charge of UN aid organisations, stressed that Russia’s war in Ukraine was also having serious knock-on impacts on many other countries that should not be overlooked.

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