A chance for change for the environment: can Ukraine eradicate wartime corruption?

A chance for change for the environment: can Ukraine eradicate wartime corruption?

Katerina Belousova

The fight against corruption in the field of ecology is an important task for Ukraine and one of the main obstacles on the way to its European integration

Environmental corruption is a serious problem for Ukraine. This affects various aspects of the environment, including the quality of air, water, soil, human health, leads to the loss of biodiversity, deforestation and the destruction of entire ecosystems for illegal mining. In addition, control bodies are often themselves "infected" with corruption.

EcoPolitic decided to find out how the corruption component in Ukraine has changed in the field of environmental protection and nature management against the background of a full-scale war and the fulfillment of European integration requirements.

Corruption in the forest industry

One of the main traditionally corrupt eco-industries is the illegal cutting of forests and the sale of wood, particularly abroad. To overcome this problem, in September 2022, Ukraine carried out a reform of the forest industry, as part of which all 158 state forestry farms were united into a single state enterprise "Forests of Ukraine". It was also supposed to contribute to the preservation of forest ecosystems and the development of the industry. However, felling of trees, particularly in protected areas, did not stop.

Corruption scandals in the industry arise every week, because some officials and entrepreneurs abuse their position. For example, in Volyn, the former director of the Mogilev-Podilskyi forest farm, who illegally issued permits for cutting down 7 thousand trees for 53 million hryvnias, will be tried. The district administration official who approved these logging tickets will also appear in court. Although the violation occurred in 2020, the case was brought to court in the fall of 2023.

In Sumy region, the police exposed officials who organized a corrupt scheme to sell unaccounted timber, including abroad

Unscrupulous officials perceive their positions as an opportunity to improve their position in all possible ways. In addition to systematic illegal felling, exploitation of machinery and use of forestry fuel for personal needs, there are other scandalous cases. Thus, in June, at the "Forests of Ukraine" branch in Lviv Oblast, law enforcement officers exposed an underground data center for mining bitcoins where the organizers-managers earned 4 million hryvnias. Officials were not deterred even by systematic large-scale power outages in the community due to overloading of the network, which was already suffering from blackouts.

Corruption in regulatory bodies

Another widespread form of corruption in the environmental sphere is the illegal issuance of permits for the emission of pollutants into the environment. All enterprises that emit pollutants into the air and water bodies must obtain relevant permits for this free of charge. However, corrupt officials introduced a "tariff grid" of bribes, for example in Kyiv and Khmelnytskyi.

In addition, some entrepreneurs do not comply with environmental safety standards. Thanks to bribes and corrupt connections, they get permits to continue their activities, and regulatory bodies turn a blind eye to violations.

For example, in Kyiv, a number of car washes illegally crashed into rainwater collection collectors and river collectors, due to which car shampoos and fuel and lubricants enter the Dnipro basin.

Discharge of wastewater from car washes must be carried out on the basis of a permit for special water use, and into the sewage network – on the basis of a contract with a water supply and sewage company. The question of how such car washes received permits from regulatory authorities, or worked with violations without the attention of law enforcement officers, remains open.

As you know, corruption has "taken root" in the controlling agencies. Thus, the head of one of the departments of the State Environmental Inspection in the Sumy region demanded and received a bribe of 20,000 hryvnias from a private entrepreneur. She promised not to "give progress" to the case regarding possible violations and not to arrange inspections during timber harvesting.

Corruption in authorities

In March 2023, a recording of a telephone conversation appeared on the Internet, in which men with voices similar to the voices of People's Deputies from the Servant of the People faction, Igor Negulevsky and Mykola Tyshchenko, discussed plans to "take control" of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources. All procedures for obtaining permits for mining, logging, and enterprise emissions go through the agency. The participants of the conversation discussed how to "earn" $200 million from the Ministry of Environment, take the money offshore and escape from Ukraine. People's deputies denied involvement in the scandal.

In October, the employees of the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau exposed Oleksandr Lysenko mayor of Sumy and the director of the infrastructure department for corruption. They demanded 2.13 million from a local garbage collection company.

There are anti-corruption agencies in Ukraine, in particular NABU and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office. Although their effectiveness has increased in recent years, corruption cases can drag on for years and the guilty escape punishment. For example, in February, the ex-deputy minister of ecology and natural resources during the time of President Yanukovych was informed of the suspicion of withdrawing more than 32 million hryvnias from the tender in 2011. According to < mass media , it is about the deputy of Mykola Zlochevskyi, Dmytro Mormul, who was declared wanted.

The fight against corruption in the field of ecology is an important task for Ukraine and one of the main obstacles on the way to its European integration. After all, corruption destroys the economy, the judicial system, and trust in the authorities. One of the main causes of corruption in Ukraine is insufficient transparency and openness of state processes, as well as the avoidance of real punishment by criminals.

For example, in 2020, the assistant to the ex-Minister of Environmental Protection (2010) Mykola Zlochevskyi offered a $6 million bribe to the heads of NABU and SAP for closing Zlochevskyi's case. However, in the case of the attempted bribery of the heads of anti-corruption agencies, no one received real punishment – only confiscation of property and suspended sentences.

Corruption also hinders the attraction of foreign investment, which is an important factor for the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine. Foreign companies fear the risks associated with corruption and prefer to invest in other countries with a more favorable business climate.

Challenges and achievements in the fight against corruption

The EU requires Ukraine to carry out reforms and fight corruption as part of the requirements for a candidate for membership of the bloc. However, the Ukrainian authorities often fail to implement even simple reforms with high quality due to the lack of political will. To solve the problem of corruption in Ukraine, it is necessary to carry out systemic reforms, as well as to increase awareness and active participation of citizens in the fight against this phenomenon.

In recent years, several steps have been taken to combat this problem, including the creation of a Specialized Environmental Prosecutor's Office and increased public scrutiny. However, much work still needs to be done to completely eliminate corruption in the environmental sphere and preserve the environment for future generations. After all, the fight against corruption is a long-term and difficult process.

Disclosure of declarations, public control and actual punishment of corrupt officials are extremely important to overcome corruption. Unfortunately, the latter happens extremely rarely. For example, in the first half of 2023, SEP specialists registered more than 4,000 criminal proceedings, of which 30% were sent to court with indictments. It is likely that the percentage will reach real sentences even less.