Si ventus non servierit accipe remis (If the wind will not serve, take to the oars) - Lobbying in Ukraine

It has to be said, my Latin is somewhat rusty, so my apologies to anybody reading this whose Latin is in a far better state than my own.  However, when it comes to lobbying in Ukraine, si ventus non servierit accipe remis (if the wind will not serve, take to the oars) seems quite appropriate.

Now we all have our own views on lobbying.  How one man sees lobbying, another sees as advocacy.  There would be, and is, nothing wrong with it no matter how you view it - as long as it is done transparently from a public perspective.  After all, lobbying/advocacy is nothing more than pressing one side of an issue with those we elected to make decisions on our behalf in a democracy.  It also serves those we elect to hear, quite forcefully at times if necessary, a full range of views from third parties with (or without) vested interests in any decision they may make.

We have to recognise that ministers given a certain portfolio in any government are normally not experts in the department they are charged with managing.  Just how many academic experts occupy governmental positions commensurate with their knowledge in any government in any nation?  Ergo, they need to listen to the advice of experts, think-tanks, NGOs, lobbyists et al and consider that advice, whether it is in line with the general political thinking of their party or not.

Now here I shall lament they ceding of the intellectual ground of genuinely A-political academia to the bias of left or right leaning (and funded) think-tanks who have wasted no time in filling the void left by the underfunded independent academia.  To me a particularly sad and on occasion quite dangerous state of affairs allowing politicians to cite think-tank X (funded by people of a similar political leaning as said minister) to give any quite bizarre decision some form of justification and legitimacy in the public realm - even when it is quite obviously incredibly flawed and a desperately poor decision.

Nevertheless, the key issue from a public perspective is transparency.  By who, what, why, when, where and how does this lobbying occur?

In Ukraine, civil society/academia, its energy, focus, collective state of mind, and general attitude for the past decade seems to have been fairly consistent and scores very well on most international polls when it comes to uninhibited functioning.  That is all very well and good, but it doesn’t mean that any government has ever listened to them.  In fact I would suggest there have been very few victories of note as far as NGOs are concerned under any Ukrainian government past or present.

Generally statements from NGOs are either supportive or unsupportive of a government decision (sometimes accompanied by a caveat of caution), but rarely does there ever seem to be a case of a governmental policy changing course due to lobbying/advocacy due to a third party - particularly civil society/NGOs.

There is also the issue of (equal) access.  Some individuals in government are notoriously difficult to access.  In fact there are incidents known to me personally, where access to ministers have been sought and the door firmly closed, as no money was offered to “facilitators” to open the ministerial door, until foreign embassies stepped in on behalf of certain parties and within a week, the doors were opened - gratis.  That has occurred under the past and current government.  A case of si ventus non servierit accipe remis indeed!

So how can Ukraine overcome the lobbying issue when it comes to transparency?  Firstly it would need to pass a law or amend the RADA code of conduct to enforce a publicly available lobbying register that covered all meetings with all official third party bodies.  (Of course that won’t cover all lobbying as much could still take place covertly via “accidental” meetings at a dinner party or a stolen 10 minutes at a social gathering, but it is a start.)

Alternatively, a collective register of lobbyists who state how many times they have had access to, or been denied access to, relevant politicians.

It should also be made public and published on governmental websites so the public actually know who is being lobbied by whom and which lobbyists seem to get more time than others with Minister X or Y.  This would address the issue of equity of access and hopefully remove the need for foreign embassies to engineer the opening of doors that should reasonably be expected to be open anyway.

Now there maybe times when such lobbying, whilst interesting to the public, may not be in the public interest to advertise.  There is a distinction between “pubic interest” and “interesting to the public”.  It may be that the who, or the what or the why will need to be more opaque than would normally be expected, but such incidents are surely the exception rather than the rule and should necessarily be recorded as transparently as possible.

Such a public register will at the very least help a little in removing the perception of governments and/or specific ministers being “for sale” as far as decisions they make are made and more importantly, will help remove the “facilitators” who hold the keys to access to decision makers at no small fee it has to be said.

It seems like a reasonable policy to me, albeit in need of further thought and refinement.  It would probably have the backing of some decision makers too - but probably not enough - and thus for this concept to become a reality one suspects that the wind will not serve, and those in favour of greater transparency in lobbying will have to take up those Latin oars!