Ukraine’s Zelenskyy renews war on corruption amid scandals

President promises changes to government after reports of corruption at defence and infrastructure ministries.

A girl at a desk drawing on a piece of paper. She has a can of pencils beside her and the desk is illuminated by a single light. Everywhere else is dark and she is wearing a winter coat and woolly hat because of the cold.
Russian attacks have left Ukrainians reliant on generators but at the weekend a deputy minister was accused of taking a kickback on generator imports [File: Andriy Andriyenko/Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will make changes to the government and security services as part of a renewed crackdown on corruption, nearly a year since Russia invaded the country.

In his nightly video address on Monday, Zelenskyy did not name the officials who would be replaced but indicated the reshuffle was imminent.

“There are already personnel decisions — some today, some tomorrow — regarding officials of various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in the law enforcement system,” the president said.

Zelenskyy was elected in a landslide in 2019 on promises to reform the government and tackle corruption, which plagued the country long before Moscow sent its troops across the border on February 24 last year.

Ukraine ranked 122 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2021.

Over the weekend, it emerged that the defence ministry had been buying food for soldiers at inflated prices, raising questions about government procurement processes.

On Sunday, anticorruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback to facilitate the import of generators into wartime Ukraine last September. The deputy minister was also removed from his post.

Ukrainian media have reported that a number of cabinet ministers and senior officials could be sacked as Zelenskyy moves to streamline the government.

One of the president’s top allies earlier said corrupt officials would be “actively” jailed.

Zelenskyy also announced on Monday that government officials would be banned from making personal trips abroad.

The move followed revelations that Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko had gone on holiday to Spain in December and January using a Mercedes belonging to a Lviv businessman. Citing sources in law enforcement, online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda reported that Symonenko had resigned.

A committee of parliament agreed on Monday to toughen regulations on procurement and make some prices public during times of conflict.

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, quoted by media, told the committee that the reports of corruption at the ministry were based on a “technical error” with no money changing hands.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau said it was investigating the possible crime of appropriation of funds or abuse of power with regard to the procurement, which it said was valued at more than 13 billion Ukrainian hryvnias ($352m).

Ukraine’s economy shrank by a third last year, and the country is hugely dependent on Western financial aid. Donors, including the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, have repeatedly asked for more transparency and better governance.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies