The recent introduction and subsequent passing on the first reading of what has become known as the “oligarch” bill is a sign of the general failure of Ukraine’s political, judicial and regulatory processes in its quest to transform its political culture.
Having failed to establish institutional integrity in the judicial system and effective regulatory regimes governing legal, political and economic entities after years of effort and political pressure by foreign partners to combat the pernicious scourge of corruption within its society, Ukraine’s parliament, in its frustration, has reverted to the use of a blunt legislative instrument in what seems a herculean effort to deal with the issue of oligarchs in Ukraine. For many, this is an example of political naivete, frustration and political desperation.
For this legislative effort, even if it passes, after what will be great political warring and effort, does not guarantee a fulfillment of its major strategic objective, that of eliminating corrupt oligarchic influence on Ukrainian society.
This will not be because of the intent of the law, but because Ukrainian society and its overall moral culture are not prepared nor able or inclined to act according to the rule of law. After 8 years of supposed reform efforts, Ukrainians still do not understand that it is one thing to enact a law, but quite another to effect behavioral changes and hold lawbreakers accountable.
To understand Ukraine is to comprehend that it remains a society in which there is no societal commitment to the underlying value of the rule of law and “good” behavior.
Ukrainians are not familiar with the sustained practice as to what it means to live under the principle of the rule of law. They fail to understand that to enact laws upholding a particular set of values, there is also the need for the probability and reality for accountability and even punishment for breaking the law. An essential principle that still remains missing in Ukrainian society, is this: enacting laws is not some panacea, nor does it ensure compliance when the innate spirit of obeying laws is not present in the hearts and minds of all its citizens.
Ukraine’s society does not function according to the rule of law, but functions by numerous self-interested personal transactions in virtually every aspect of daily life. But worse yet, is that even 8 years after the Maidan event, its leaders cannot imagine, neither explain, let alone practice, what the principle of rules-based democratic governance entails.
The introduction of the oligarch bill is an example of a gross misconception in the body politic, a misapprehension that believes that if a law is enacted its very passage, in some way, guarantees; as if waving a magic wand that the problem which it addresses will somehow be righted and that everything will be good. This is a wish of a naïve child and not the procedural recipe for establishing a democratic society.
The proposed bill assumes that “oligarchs” are the problem?
By definition, an “oligarch” is anyone who has significant influence over mass media. Someone who owns or controls a company, which is a monopoly in and of itself, or who participates in monopolistic practices. An oligarch is one whose assets are worth more than $88 million.
There are essentially four key principles that guide the bill.
Put simply, the key provisions are:
A demand for public disclosure of assets of those who meet the definition of an oligarch. Two, oligarchs would be barred from financing political parties. Three, all such oligarchs would be barred from holding public posts. And four, oligarchs would be refused in taking part in privitizations.
These prohibitions would remain in place for the next ten years.
Further, the legislation demands, in the spirit of establishing public transparency, that oligarchs and virtually any public official, officially declare any contact that they might have with each other.
With all this said, the key questions that must be asked are these: what difference will this law make in the greater scheme of things? Will the enactment of such a bill change the culture of Ukraine’s governance towards a rule-based society?
The belief that such a specifically designed and blunt legislative instrument will change the cultural dynamic of the influence of oligarchs should be a cause of trepidation for those whose goal is to establish the rule of law in Ukraine. For one, legislation in a democracy should not be targeted towards specific individuals, but rather focus on creating legislative frameworks and rules-based practices applicable to every citizen. Furthermore, legislators in Ukraine must take greater responsibility for the creation and oversight of more efficacious regulatory bodies appointing more effective overseers that would diligently watch over the country’s operations.
The objective of democratic legislators and overseers is to focus on ensuring that essential democratic institutions are built on democratic values.
Have Ukraine’s legislators fulfilled their mission? No.
Have they shown the political will to fight the scourge of corruption as represented by oligarchs? No.
Do they have the political courage to confront the influence of oligarchs in the nation’s business? No.
Ukraine already has the legislative and regulatory mechanisms to fight the influence of oligarchs. It is that they have not been courageously or effectively used.
The “oligarch” bill is the President’s way to make yet another public declaration of resolve and expression of conflict against the oligarchic class who has rightly been identified as working towards the thwarting of Ukraine’s desire to transform itself into a functioning democratic society.
One benefit of the debate and voting on this bill is that it will reveal those who support the perpetuation of the status quo and those who will have the courage to actively oppose the present state of affairs.
Meanwhile, let it not be forgotten, that there still is the responsibility to charge, prosecute and imprison those “oligarchs” who steal and defraud the country and its citizens, to break up monopolies and fine its practitioners, dissolve the depth on media concentration, investigate the transgression of electoral financing laws and dismiss those who act with corrupt purpose in government.