Why is selecting a good NABU director so important?

Many have been surprised and are still wondering why this is so important in a time of war. This article, therefore, aims to show why these efforts are so extremely important – not only in general terms but especially due to the war.

Based on the litany of failed attempts to find real organisational solutions to fight corruption, Ukraine has finally developed a framework of specialised anti-corruption bodies: NABU as the specialised investigative body; SAPO as the specialised prosecutorial body; and HACC – the High Anti-Corruption Court – as the specialised judicial body. Together, the three bodies form a unique structure and one that could be a very effective, but this will only transpire if they are staffed by impartial, objective, knowledgeable and independent professionals. If one of these entities fails to engage such staff, then the entire structure collapses. Since NABU is the investigative body and initiates every important corruption case in Ukraine, it is obvious that SAPO cannot prosecute nor HACC pass sentence on perpetrators of corruption if NABU does not detect and properly investigate those crimes. Therefore, the independence, integrity, expertise and experience of the future NABU director will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the whole anti-corruption system in the country.

Everyone fully expected that the selection of a new NABU director, one who would not be swayed by political instructions and who would go after shady associates of corrupt individuals, would be no easy task. This is especially so following the fiasco concerning the selection of the SAPO head, one which affected everyone involved and left some proud that they did not yield to the pressure to select a politically obedient puppet and others who left in shame knowing they did everything they could to get that puppet selected. Pleasingly, we – the members of the NABU selection commission – have not yet felt any pressure or noticed any attempt to corrupt the selection process. Importantly, every member of the commission is prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

We owe it to the people of Ukraine. After years of watching massive corruption go unpunished and some individuals became incredibly rich, they deserve to see that those scandals are now being properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted and sentenced. They deserve to have a glimmer of hope that honest Ukrainians, those who do not engage in corruption, can also be successful and earn enough in their own country to enjoy decent lives. After years of being subjected to the obscene levels of corruption and now the hardships of war, the populace could be forgiven for not accepting yet another failed attempt to make the country a better and fairer place for the many rather than just the few.

Normally, people in a war-stricken country do not engage as readily in corruption as they may otherwise do in peacetime, however, it seems that this is not the case in Ukraine. Clearly, NABU, SAPO and HACC are not lacking in cases to pursue. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they are obviously stretched and very busy. Perhaps this is a misconception since many of the investigators, prosecutors and judges are defending the nation’s sovereignty fighting on the frontlines; nonetheless, NABU urgently needs a fully empowered director to deal with all these challenges. If the bad guys don’t rest in the midst of a war, then the good guys can’t either.

A functioning anti-corruption system is not only important right now, it can and will only increase in importance in the future as the reconstruction of the country begins. It is estimated that around 1 trillion USD will be needed to not only restore the country to its former state but also to fast track its development in all areas. A trillion USD is a lot of money and without a functioning system of controls, checks and balances a significant portion of that money may end up being squandered or weaselled away into the pockets of criminals and their enablers. There is no institution in Ukraine, or for that matter in Europe, better positioned than NABU to tackle the challenges that lay ahead: investigating allegations of corruption, mismanagement and theft of state-owned funds. This is why the future director of NABU simply must be both the best investigator and the best administrator of the unit’s investigative activities. S/he must be honest, fearless and ready to confront the threats, the subversion and the likely retaliation from those whose national interest extends only so far as to loot money belonging to Ukraine and its people.

Ukraine is now at the anti-corruption crossroads: after only appointing a credible candidate as the head of SAPO following decisive pressure from the EU, the USA and other international actors, the selection process for the NABU director offers us the opportunity to see if we have learnt anything from the SAPO process. If the lessons learnt enable the state to conduct a selection process free from interference and undue influence, one where the very best candidate wins, then the whole country will win. If the lessons learnt from the SAPO selection procedure are ignored and it becomes a politically influenced process resulting in the selection of a political crony rather than the best candidate, it will be a clear signal that it no longer makes sense to spend any more time and energy assisting the country in its fight against corruption.

Fortunately, as it currently stands, it appears that the lessons have been heeded and we are faced with the very real prospect of the best candidate winning. Let us keep it that way.

Drago Kos used to be a member of the commission set up to select the head of the Specialised Anti-Corruption
Prosecution Office (SAPO) and is now a member of the commission charged with selecting the NABU director