The Cost of Politics in Ukraine: Interview with Prof. Andriy Meleshevych

(Above: Photo: Valdemar Fishmen)

Money plays a central role in the political system; from selection costs to financing an election campaign, potential members of parliament often require great personal wealth to secure a seat at the decision-making table. Last July, WFD launched a series of research into the cost of politics in Europe and Africa.

Andriy Meleshevych, Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the Cost of Politics research paper on Ukraine explains why this research is important.

Andriy, can you explain the key findings that emerged from the research on the Cost of Politics in Ukraine?

Political party finance is a controversial area in any country. In Ukraine, in the past no money was allocated in to the national budget for the purpose of public finance of political parties. Basically, nobody cared except several NGOs.

Currently we have budget money allocated to successful political parties; those represented in the parliament as a result of parliamentary elections. It is not much but it is still the first step. In fact, the first trench of money was transferred to some political parties recently. The Government also set up an enforcement mechanism; the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, which checks declarations submitted by political parties on their income and expenses. The most important thing in Ukraine is that not only the legislative framework has been adopted but the mechanism of its enforcement has been set up and the money was allocated in the national budget for this purpose.

Why do you think addressing this issue is so important for citizens’?

Nobody wants to live in a country that is corrupted, everyone would like to have some predictability, some rule of law in their country. It is much more convenient, calmer and comfortable to live in a country where you know what might happen to you tomorrow.

So, how does the cost of politics research fit into anti-corruption efforts more broadly?

Public finance of election campaigns and political parties is an extremely important issue. It is at the heart of the issue of power in a society: who holds this power, who has access to this power, in what ways such an access is guaranteed and provided, is it fair access or is it corrupted access. I think there are many faces of corruption, but political corruption especially in the top echelons of power determines the whole fabric of society.

You mentioned that new measures aimed at reducing corruption have been introduced – How did parliament react? Was there a lot of opposition?

The most recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament took place two years ago and resulted in a significant refurbishment, or using political science terms; a major realignment of political forces in Ukraine. The political will of the majority of Ukrainian members of parliament to move closer to European institutions is one essential motivation and the other crucially important element is the role of civil society. All the major changes that I have described to you we have civil society to thank for. The Government without civil society pressure would be much slower.

Where there any surprises revealed by the research?

Yes, the amount of money involved in the electoral campaigns in Ukraine. I did not expect that they would cost so much. I expected it in the UK or the US but the amounts that aspiring politicians in Ukraine were paying for campaigns was comparable with the wealthiest European countries.

And what about the impact on sitting MPs – What costs do they face?

The Revolution of Dignity was a watershed in a way as before that members of parliament [saw being in parliament as] business. You get to the parliament, you invest money in your electoral campaign, you get access to the national budget. Then you lobby your interests, you introduce bills that somebody pays you to introduce and you make sure the bill is accepted, then you get rewarded by business: this is how Ukrainian politics worked.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the situation changed significantly. Salaries for members of the Ukrainian Parliament decreased to about 300 dollars per month, which is also ridiculous. How are you going to perform your duties if you are only making 300 dollars per month and the cost of living in Kyiv is pretty high? Currently it is getting to normal. They increased salaries to a realistic figure so people who came from civil society can survive in parliament. The civil society representatives who are currently members of parliament or joined public service didn’t come from business and they heavily rely on the money that they make as their salary.

And it’s very important to get the views of ordinary citizens represented in the parliament. It seems like there is a lot of progress being made – are you hopeful for the future?

I am hopeful because I see significant changes but what is very important is that society does not get disillusioned. We currently have very high levels of expectation in Ukraine. If society does not get disillusioned, then it can push the Government to do what civil society wants them to do in the interest of a democratic Ukraine. If these very useful anti-corruption laws are not implemented – and Ukraine is very skilled at not implementing good laws – then it will lead to instability, disillusionment in democratic changes, and perhaps even the loss of national sovereignty.

You may also like