How Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin sabotaged the reform process

Almost twenty years after Ukraine promised to reform its prosecutor’s office as a condition to joining the Council of Europe, it still has a long way to go. The reforms that have been made were disturbingly cosmetic. Shokin sabotaged the latest round of reform, which resulted in the status quo being reinstated under the guise of a new competitive system.

Under former President Viktor Yanukovych, the prosecutor’s office was seriously compromised. As a result, public faith in law enforcement remains critically low. Post-Maidan expectations of real reform received a setback when President Petro Poroshenko appointed Shokin, who is widely viewed as part of the old guard. That concern has proven justified.

Parliament adopted a new law that would radically reform the prosecutor’s system on October 14, 2014. It should have come into force on April 25, 2015, but all of its provisions have been deferred until April 15, 2016, as the result of behind-the-scenes lobbying. The first stages of vital restructuring did, however, begin: local prosecutors were supposed to be hired through a competitive system that would bring in an influx of external candidates. Initially, sixty percent of those candidates were outsiders, but that number dropped to 22 percent after two phases of independent tests.

But the real problem was with the selection committee. Four members of the commission were Shokin’s representatives and three were from parliament. After the selection commission had finished interviewing candidates, only 3 percent of the successful candidates were outsiders.

And then all outsiders disappeared, courtesy of the prosecutor general, who had the final say.