Law On Lobbying May Merely Legalize Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- A new kind of business may soon officially appear in Ukraine: Lobbying services. But whether such a move will clean up the nation’s notoriously corrupt politics or make it even dirtier – if that’s possible – is actively being debated.

Billions of dollars gets spent the world over to influence decision-making in parliament, government and among local authorities.

Legislation to regulate the practice was registered in the Verkhovna Rada on Oct. 19 by Party of Regions lawmaker Valeriy Konovalyuk.

Authors say the law is aimed at fighting corruption and giving stakeholders’ influence on law- and decision-making in Ukraine a legal basis.

But some experts say the draft concept is more likely to legalize corruption than create the opportunity to establish civilized lobbying in the country.

In countries with developed democracy, the lobbying market gives the public not only instruments to influence state decision-making, but also tools to control such influence.

“This draft law can be called the law on the lawmaker’s release from the responsibility for taking money in exchange for laws,” said Serhiy Teryokhin, an opposition lawmaker.

The draft law allows any private individual or legal entity to become a lobbyist.

A lobbyist needs to open a business, then register on the state lobbyists’ list and obtain accreditation from the government body to be influenced. Accreditation is valid for a year.

“The fact that this law doesn’t prohibit government workers or lawmakers from becoming lobbyists gives them the opportunity to provide such services and take money for it,” Teryokhin said. “This, in fact, legalizes the corruption.”

Denys Bazylevych, director for the Institute of Professional Lobbying and Advocacy, said lobbying is part of democracy.

“Lobbying is an option for various groups of interests – business and public – to form and implement state policy on a legal basis,” Bazylevych said. “Lobbying doesn’t imply any encouragement to public officials for their support of somebody’s interests. Otherwise, it is corruption.”

According to lawmaker Teryokhin, the draft law has a lot of loopholes that give wide opportunities for corruption because many terms about what lobbying is and who can do it and how are defined incorrectly.

“This law suggests that the lobbyist has the right to contact government officials and deputies in person or in written form, while abroad it is completely forbidden for them to have any kind of direct contact with decision makers,” Teryokhin said.

Konovalyuk’s draft law suggests that lobbying means “fulfillment of legal influence on government bodies and local authorities during the development and approval of legislative acts” in return for payment from the customer.

“Legal influence” means approaching and contacting government officials and lawmakers for necessary information, organizing and holding public meetings and hearings and taking part in the development of legislative acts. The draft law also allows freedom to visit state authorities’ offices.

The law forbids lobbying regarding questions of the system of state authority and basis of public service, national security and defense, judicial system and territorial system.

Lobbyists also are prohibited from influencing the National Bank of Ukraine, the State Tax Administration, State Customs Service, judicial authorities and police and Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Anyone can pay for assistance from lobbyists, except government and local authorities, state institutions and organizations that are financed from state or local budgets or companies where the state share exceeds 20 percent. Foreigners are not allowed to use lobbyists’ service in relation to land questions.

Lobbyists can’t receive money or any other rewards from state of local budgets, from unregistered unions or organizations and anonymous sources.

Bazylevych from the Institute of Professional Lobbying and Advocacy explains that, with the proper work of lobbyists, the public can actually benefit. Lobbyists help pry open information – such as which organizations are influencing politicians and state authorities, which lobbyists they are using, and how much it costs.

Lobbying is big business in many nations. For instance, in the United States, the lobbying industry almost reached $4 billion in 2009 and it employed 13,000 people.

If this law is approved in Ukraine, the first to register themselves as lobbyists should be organizations involved with government relations, in particular, representatives of commercial organizations, consulting companies, business associations and unions, think tanks and non-governmental organizations.

Source: Kyiv Post