Since the revolution that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych in early 2014, and as a war continues to rage on in the east, the pulse of Ukrainian citizens has oscillated between hope, concern and chaos. Some strides toward the promised anti-corruption reforms have been made — including the passage of a transparency bill earlier this year. However, a year later, public opinion is mixed as critics purport that the the new government has not delivered on these promises. Fortunately, the recent movement of two bills represent a great step forward for anti-corruption advocates — and has helped rejuvenate hope in this movement.
Two pieces of legislation will forward openness in parliament to better connect citizens to their members, as well as help oversight actors within and outside the government hold their members of parliament (MPs) to account. Bill 1591 would enable greater transparency of parliamentary committees by opening committee meetings to journalists and online broadcasts, as well as putting all records and transcripts from these meetings online. It would also enhance the amount of information on chamber deputies by requiring them to publish names of their staff members on the website of Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislative body. Bill 1895 would bring greater accountability to MPs by imposing sanctions for “impersonal voting” when an MP votes on behalf of another member.
Last week, our friends from Chesno movement (“Honestly”) celebrated bills 1895 and 1591 as they made their first pass through the Verkhovna Rada. The coalition of civil society organizations, based out of Centre UA, has spent the last several months implementing a coordinated campaign to raise public awareness around the bills and lobby on behalf of their movement forward. They even created a website that publicly calls out MPs for engaging in “impersonal” voting — and it’s gotten a lot of attention. A banner pulling data from their website has been embedded in top news portals, such as the main newspaper, Pravda.
Certainly there is still much left to do as civil society organizations and lawmakers set out to turn this bill into law, and steps must be taken to ensure they don’t get watered down or distorted throughout the process. However, as a new government in a country hungry for reform faces a formative moment, these bills do demonstrate a genuine interest on the part of lawmakers in enhancing transparency and accountability. Additionally, it shows an example of the kind of tangible changes that advocacy can empower. And being able to document how the coordinated efforts of journalists, civil society organizations and citizens have impact can help turn disillusionment into fuel for change.