No sleep for Ukraine officials as corruption reform deadline looms

October 26, 2016 11:25 AM EDT

Police officers stand guard during a rally in front of the Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko


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By Pavel Polityuk and Alessandra Prentice

KIEV (Reuters) - As the deadline nears for some 50,000 Ukrainian officials to fill out wealth declaration forms, lawmakers and ministers have vented their frustration at the tedious procedure with a mix of wry jokes and angry outbursts.

The online form, to be filled out by Sunday night for a publicly searchable database, is part of a reform backed by the International Monetary Fund that is designed to prevent officials from amassing wealth through corruption.

Politicians say the job is keeping them awake into the small hours. The system is prone to malfunctions, they say, and they have sometimes been unable to log on. At other times, data already entered seem to get lost.

"This is not a system, it is hellfire," Yegor Guz, an MP for the People's Front party, said in a Monday Facebook post after he repeatedly tried and failed to revise his declaration.

The leader of the populist Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, stayed up until two in the morning filling out the form, only to discover the next day that none of his entries had been saved.

"I spat, I swore, I nearly smashed the computer," he said.

SKULL AND CROSSBONES

Even Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said he had encountered difficulties. "Yesterday we tried to log into the system until half two at night, but without success," he told a government meeting on Wednesday.

In the early hours of Wednesday, deputy economy minister Nataliya Mykolska posted a screenshot of the e-declaration website showing an error message with a skull and crossbones.

"Good night everyone, the battle continues. There is nothing wrong with the software developers' sense of humor," she said.

Others have seen the funny side of the declaration process.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote a long post speculating what the correct declarations procedure would be if he were to drink a bottle of his "dizzyingly" expensive vintage French wine with a fellow official.

"Should he reflect this drink in his declaration as a present or pay taxes?! I think my wine will remain undrunk," he said.

Some lawmakers and anti-corruption activists say the scheme is under threat from those who want to water down the reform or delay it.

Dmytro Tymchuk, an MP with the People's Front, said there was a danger the technical issues could be used "as excuses for those who don't really want to complete the declaration".

As of Wednesday, more than 42,000 officials have submitted their forms. Some senior figures, including President Petro Poroshenko, have not yet done so.

Lawmaker Yegor Sobolev, who heads parliament's anti-corruption committee, told Reuters the program could face hurdles even if the sign-up is completed on time.

"I am very afraid the website will continue to experience problems," he told Reuters. "We may suddenly find out that everything was burnt, destroyed or ruined. Or manipulations will start."

(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Natalia Zinets; Editing by Matthias Williams and Tom Heneghan)



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