Faces of Open Government – Oleksii Khmara
In this section of the OGP newsletter, we feature individuals from government and civil society, and ask them about their experiences. Here is what Oleksii Khmara (Executive Director of Transparency International Ukraine and member of OGP Ukraine) had to say:
How does open government make a difference in people’s lives?
There is armed conflict in the east of Ukraine today. In fact, this is a war Russia leads against Ukraine happening on the territory of my country. More than a million of peaceful Ukrainians are victims of this more than a year-long war. Many of them have to cross the administrative border with the rest of Ukraine in order to visit their relatives, get money, or buy products or medicine which are absent on the occupied territory.
Until recently, each time a Ukrainian crossed this administrative border, it cost him/her an “administrative fee” of $10 or more. If the border was crossed by a truck, the bribe would be 5-10 thousand dollars. We can talk about the shadow industry with a cash flow of many millions of dollars that needy Ukrainians from the East take out of their pockets. More than two months ago, Kiev launched a new system for citizens’ identification, for those who cross the administrative border. Each person is put into an e-database; information for the system is available at all the border crossing points. The military police now knows for sure who crosses the border and where, why and with whom he/she does that. The citizens do not need to pay bribes anymore; this simple technical decision significantly enhanced openness in governance in the East of Ukraine, helped to improve security, and made citizens’ lives a bit easier.
These are technologies of open governance in action.
How have you benefited from exchanging ideas with your government?
A year and a half ago, the Revolution of Dignity happened in Ukraine. It took place because the government did not want to listen to its own citizens and kept everyone for a fool. Obviously, those who came to power because of the Revolution took that mistake into account. They carry on the dialogue, are open to criticism, and they change the way they work.
As a result, all the progressive ideas of civil society have already transformed into new high-quality laws able to establish development of Ukraine in a new way.
The problem arises with the implementation of these wonderful laws and it is not just lack of time and money. The problem lies within the difference of views between civil society and officials on how to implement them and where to start. This is the reason why open dialogue is needed. Ultimately, everyone will win from it.
Describe one OGP commitment from your country that you are proud of.
Ukraine named a goal for itself during the last year of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych’s rule—the information on all the business owners that work in Ukraine must be revealed to know exactly who stands behind the numerous small and big firms with little-known names that often win public procurement tenders.
This information was released as a result of great pressure from civil society. High-quality journalist investigations emerged almost immediately, they confirmed connections between unknown firms and very well-known corrupt officials, including proof that Viktor Yanukovych, stole money and built his palace in the residence of Mezhyhirya. Ukraine moved forward with this commitment and released information about the beneficiaries (final owners) of the firms during a year and half when Yanukovych had not been in power. Thanks in part to the OGP commitment, now all of us know who the offshore companies belong to, thus we are able to eliminate the influence of oligarchs and corrupt officials from the development of our country. Likewise, information on owners of property, land and cars has been released. Hence, it is harder for corrupt individuals to hide from just punishment.
How are you working to overcome challenges in opening up government in your country?
None of the rights declared in the Declaration of Human Rights were given for granted—they had to be fought for. Obviously, the right for open and accountable government needs to be fought for daily.
We are lucky that we are not alone. In the wake of mass protests against the corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovych, a powerful coalition of leading Ukrainian non-governmental organizations, the Reanimation Package of Reforms, was established in Ukraine. Its members include more that 250 high-class experts that represent 40 leading analytical centers and organizations of direct action that work together to implement 25 reforms. In fact, RPR is an alternative government of Ukraine whose opinion is taken into account by all the politicians and top-level officials.
The reason is that on the one hand RPR offers expertise on all socially important issues, and on the other hand, the coalition is able to bring thousands of people to protest actions in the case of ignored demands.
This is the way we work—drafting necessary changes for the country, lobbying them during open dialogue with the government, organizing a populous protest in the case of ignorance of the position and constantly explaining to people why they need to support one change or another. In fact we are all like the soldiers at the front. At the front of reforms in Ukraine.