Why We Should be Afraid – Very Afraid – of Corruption in the Reconstruction of Ukraine

Today’s Guest Post is from Donald Bowser. Don has worked on governance and anticorruption programs for over two decades for various donor organizations. In July he founded Support to Ukrainian Recovery Initiative, an NGO focused on implementing early recovery and stabilization projects in formerly occupied communities across Ukraine.

In “Why We Shouldn’t Be Overly Concerned About Corruption in the Reconstruction of Ukraine,” her January 9 post on GAB, Catherine Katz makes three points to back up her claim:

  1. First, the baseline level of corruption in pre-invasion Ukraine was likely overstated.
  2. Second, not only do measures like the CPI tend to overstate the baseline level of corruption in Ukraine, but they do not adequately reflect the significant strides Ukraine has made with its more recent anticorruption efforts, including several that have taken place since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
  3. Third, backsliding on Ukraine’s recent anticorruption progress is unlikely—and further progress is expected—given Ukraine’s long-term interest in joining the EU and continuing need to receive support from the international community.

Like Katz, I hope the war ends in a Ukrainian victory soon and that the international community commits the resources required to help Ukraine repair the damage Russia has wreaked on the country’s infrastructure. But as the title of my post asserts, I sharply disagree with her about the spectre of corruption during reconstruction. Indeed, I think the international community should be very afraid of how it might compromise reconstruction and should begin immediately to take measures to combat it.  

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Why We Shouldn’t Be Overly Concerned About Corruption in the Reconstruction of Ukraine

Though the war in Ukraine continues to rage, scholars and policymakers around the world have already begun to look ahead to what it will take to help rebuild the country—a project that the Ukrainian government estimates will cost upwards of $750 billion, and which will likely entail substantial international assistance from a broad coalition of countries. Any project of this magnitude—one that involves large government contracts for construction, supplies, and other services—raises concerns about corruption. Indeed, concerns about the potential for widespread corruption in the reconstruction of Ukraine have already been voiced on this blog and elsewhere (see, for example, here, and here). But while this concern should be taken seriously, it should not be exaggerated. There are at least three reasons why the potential for corruption in the Ukrainian reconstruction process, while real, may not be nearly as severe as some of the current pessimistic commentary suggests:

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Guest Post: Anticorruption Recommendations for the Ukraine Recovery Conference

Today’s guest post is from Gretta Fenner, Managing Director of the Basel Institute on Governance, and Andrii Borovyk, Executive Director of Transparency International Ukraine.

Today and tomorrow, delegates from around the world are gathering at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, and we hope that this conference will result in firm pledges by the international community to finance Ukraine’s post-war recovery and reconstruction. But as readers of this blog are well aware, huge infusions of money into countries recovering from war or natural disasters are a tempting target for kleptocrats, organized criminal groups, and other corrupt actors. And although Ukraine has steadily strengthened its anticorruption defenses since 2014, those defenses are not yet sufficiently robust to ensure reconstruction funds are spent with integrity.

For this reason, the Basel Institute on Governance and Transparency International Ukraine are advocating that the Ukraine Recovery Conference, and any future efforts to provide reconstruction funding for Ukraine, embrace a set of anticorruption measures to be integrated into the reconstruction process. The recommended measures include, among others:

  • prioritizing the leadership selection process and reforms of Ukraine’s anticorruption institutions, including courts;
  • using transparent procurement systems, such as Ukraine’s award-winning e-procurement system Prozorro, for reconstruction projects; and
  • strengthening asset recovery systems so that money stolen through corruption in the past can be used to help fuel reconstruction efforts.

You can see the full recommendations here in English (and here in Ukrainian ), and you can also download a shorter infographic that summarizes the key points.