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Planners are running out of time to prevent graft and organized crime in rebuilding of Ukraine, GI-TOC study says

Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

The groups planning for the reconstruction of Ukraine must create a comprehensive program by the time the war ends or run the risk of an opaque, disorganized rebuild that fuels corruption and organized crime, concludes a study by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).

"Time is of the essence. The current moment – as the formal structures to govern reconstruction are being decided and organized – is the most critical period for planning with corruption risks in mind," says the organization, founded a decade ago in high-level talks between law enforcement officials worldwide.

As fighting continues, multinational organizations, foreign governments, Ukrainian officials, institutional investors, donors, civil organizations, advisory firms, financial institutions, business associations and other groups are struggling to agree on a central plan for reconstruction. However, it's still not clear who is in charge or how the reconstruction will be paid for and carried out.

"If the end of the war arrives and structures are not in place, risks will increase, and investor trust that the reconstruction programme can contain corruption will drop," the study says, adding that "in the period after the war, political leadership – both in Western democracies and in Ukraine – may change, and, as the last several years adequately demonstrate, upheaval may follow."

Both Ukrainian and international planners, though, are preparing poorly for the risk of corruption, with a lack of transparency in the planning process, a failure to incorporate anti-corruption thinking in all areas of planning, and a general lack of coordination, says the study, authored by Katherine Wilkins, an anti-corruption expert at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany.

This lack of transparency "is impeding scrutiny of how interests may be shaping decisions," the study says. "Diverging views on who should ultimately be in charge of the effort – and how many parties should be included – are delaying the formalization of the coordination structure, and thus hindering opportunities to integrate anti-corruption measures throughout."

The plan put forth by Ukraine's National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine from the War, the study says, "siloes" anti-corruption measures into a working group separate from other areas of planning, "potentially baking institutional disorder into the reconstruction plans."

For example, anti-corruption planners have put forward legislation to protect whistleblowers, in line with European Union guidelines, but it would not take effect until between 2026 and 2032, long after the rebuilding starts.

In the ongoing planning phase of the reconstruction, the study identifies "first order risks" as certain elites receiving preferential treatment and having a plan driven by elites and not market forces. Potential risk groups include "foreign lobbying groups, Ukrainian political and business elites and foreign public officials."

To head off these risks at the planning stage, the study calls for "transparency of the agenda-setting process" and "embedding anti-corruption into all aspects of reconstruction management."

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