#14 - JRL 2009-145 - JRL Home
Moscow News
August 3, 2009
Corruption spikes as crackdown looms
By Ed Bentley

Corrupt Russian officials may be making one last attempt to grab a share of the government's bailout money pouring into the economy before President Dmitry Medvedev's crackdown can have an effect.

This analysis from Transparency International came as the Interior Ministry's Economic Security Department announced that the average bribe had tripled to 27,000 roubles ($850).

"Corruption is not getting better," said Yelena Panfilova, who heads Transparency's Russia branch. "The crisis means that the possibility and desire for officials to get more money in corrupt deals increases."

With the uncertainty surrounding the crisis, as well as government money flooding into companies and banks, it appears some officials want to fill their pockets now.

"When an official is unsure of the future he tries to makes a year's profit in one deal," said Vladimir Rimsky of Indem, a think tank focusing on democracy and good governance.

Medvedev has said he is determined to tackle "legal nihilism" and see anti-corruption legislation enacted a year ago put to use.

"The main thing now is to learn to use and not to be afraid to use these documents, so that those who use them do not fear that they will be punished tomorrow," Medvedev said in an interview with NTV last week. "This is the most complicated task."

Medvedev also claimed the government was winning the fight against corruption, dismissing the idea that bribes were getting bigger as "rubbish".

It appears he is having some success as the number of corruption-related lawsuits has increased 20 per cent, according to Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, RIA Novosti reported. Chaika added that the majority of cases were petty bribery involving teachers, doctors and policeman, with 80 per cent receiving less than 30,000 roubles ($950).

The existing anti-corruption measures require military officers, customs officials, judges and police to declare their income and assets. While this appears to be happening, a shortage of experts is impeding the authorities' ability to act effectively on conflict of interest issues.

In addition to more prosecutions, the Interior Ministry's economic security department reported a 15 per cent increase in the number of uncovered bribes, though plans to tackle corruption higher up the bureaucracy are proceeding slower.

"They are starting to look at mid-level public officials and this is why we see an increase in the level of bribes," said Panfilova. "But the higher we go, the more influential and better-connected people are."

Tackling corruption in the bureaucracy has become a mammoth task for Medvedev's administration because it has been allowed to survive for decades, becoming ingrained within the system.

"To put it simply, the problem of corruption is massive," said Rimsky, of Indem. "But the officials who are meant to be fighting corruption are the most corrupt."

The extent to which corruption has spread, as well as falling under various authorities' jurisdiction, has meant that a concerted attack isn't possible as it would empty whole departments of state organisations.

"With many levels of authority and well established networks of extortion, it isn't easy. You can't just prosecute and fire everyone," said Panfilova.

Although significant improvements are unlikely in the short term, Medvedev's speech on one of his favourite subjects has cheered anti-bribery activists by demonstrating the political will for the fight against corruption. They argue, however, that other institutions must also take part.

"It is still unclear who is coordinating the efforts," said Panfilova. "Of course there is the Presidential Council, but it is not the body that should carry out daily oversight."

Public perception of the government's influence on corruption has also improved, with 21 per cent rating the authorities' actions as effective compared to 12 per cent in 2007, according to a poll taken by the government's anti-corruption centre.

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