#12 - JRL 7011
January 10, 2003
THE PRICE OF AN OFFICIAL: IN RUBLES, DOLLARS AND A SENTENCE
Transparency of state service: myth or reality?
Author: not indicated
Source: Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 10, 2003, p. 7
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
IN LATE JANUARY AND EARLY FEBRUARY, THE CABINET WILL CONSIDER A BILL ON PROVIDING ACCESS TO INFORMATION ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT AND FEDERAL EXECUTIVE BODIES. GEORGY SATAROV, PRESIDENT OF THE INDEM FOUNDATION, DISCUSSES CORRUPTION AND PLANNED LEGISLATIVE CHANGES.
WILL THE BUREAUCRACY BECOME TRANSPARENT?
Question: In a recent interview, Mikhail Dmitriyev, deputy economic development minister, said that a law on information is being developed, which will make state service transparent.
Georgy Satarov: Non-transparency of state service, its closed-off nature, is among the factors which promote corruption. A federal bill on the right of citizens to information has been prepared. Meanwhile, the Kaliningrad region has passed its own freedom of information law, and some other regions want to pass similar laws.
Question: How will the law on countering corruption, which the Duma passed in the first reading in late 2002, deal with the specifics of bribe-taking?
Satarov: In general, I am skeptical about that law. Firstly, I think an individual law cannot change the entire situation. The scale of corruption an only diminish if the government develops a comprehensive anti-corruption policy and strategy in international, economic and social spheres. Secondly, it's unclear to me why the Duma chose the weaker and more useless bill from the two options available to it. Moreover, outstanding examples of drastically reducing corruption in certain other countries have been connected with the activities of specialized bodies with expanded powers. The authors of the bill have supposedly provided for the possibility of creating such an agency in Russia, but it would not have enough powers to make it anything other than helpless.
Question: Is it true that salary levels for state officials do not affect the scale of corruption in the structure of state service?
Satarov: In fact, low salaries are among the causes of corruption. If pay scales for state sector workers - those who provide services on behalf of the state - officials, teachers, health workers - are low, such people are much more likely to risk getting involved in corruption conspiracies. Moreover, bribe-givers also gain some justification. Low salaries give our society a pretext to justify corruption, or at least take a more relaxed view of it. In giving a bribe to a doctor or a nurse, citizens believe that they are helping those health workers make ends meet. They assume: "These people are as poor as I am."
As our studies show, salary rises have no direct effect on the scale of corruption. The following argument is naive: "Now he is paid much more, and therefore would never take a bribe." This is wrong. Salary rises influence corruption indirectly. Lack of accountability and impunity are directly connected with "cases of bribe-taking." If an integrated set of measures is taken, as a result of which decisions made by officials become transparent - if citizens start to perceive that they pay decent wages to state-sector workers through paying their taxes - then they'll take a different approach to demands for bribes: "No, I have already paid you, so work for me!"
Question: Do you think contract-based recruitment in the state sector could reduce corruption?
Satarov: This is a useful thing. However, one shouldn't be too enthusiastic in this matter. The contract system is now being promoted around the world. The contract includes an employee's list of responsibilities, and the salary. This is the advantage of a contract. However, there should also be a part of the bureaucracy operating under no-contract terms, the "political appointees". There should be a specific oversight system for them. In America, the parliament supervises this process.
Question: Judging by the reports of the Center for Anti- Corruption Studies, half the people in Russia are involved in bribery. Is that normal?
Satarov: Undoubtedly, this is not normal. Even though Russia is not the world's most corrupt country, it is among the most corrupt. The large scale of corruption is disrupting the economy, and eventually leads to poverty. Corruption is a synonym for misery - I insist on that. If the level of corruption in various countries is compared to the per capita GDP, one can easily see how closely related these two characteristics are.
Question: How does turnover in the shadow economy relate to the scale of corruption?
Satarov: They are directly proportional.
Question: Could you then explain whom we should believe? According to the law enforcement agencies, at least 40% of Russia's cash resources are involved in the shadow economy; while the tax police say this figure doesn't exceed 20%.
Satarov: Bribes are paid from shadow turnover. Therefore, we could proceed as follows: estimate how much a business pays as bribes annually, and view this figure as a kind of tax from the shadow turnover. We have done such calculations and produced figures for the levels of shadow turnover the law enforcement agencies are handling.
CAN CORRUPTION BECOME BENEFICIAL?
Question: Nevertheless, quite often we hear that corruption is a benefit, rather than an evil. By the way, this position is corroborated by the popular phrase: "Corruption has saved the education system." What does that mean?
Satarov: Corruption is a social phenomenon which is like a parasite invading a healthy body. Indeed, at the first stage it helped the education system survive and be preserved. Take the salary of a lecturer in a Russian higher education institution, and ask yourself: "Would he stay at the higher education institution, or stay in Russia at all, if that salary was the only available source of income?" The answer is easy: "No." Now imagine that by some trick of surgery, opportunities for corruption are eliminated for lecturers, professors, instructors. They'll scatter right away, and no teaching staff will be left. It appears that corruption contributes to keeping the higher education system going. However, once it becomes established and entrenched, it changes the social functions of education. Firstly, new students enroll not because they are gifted, but because they've paid money. Secondly, they're awarded degrees not because they've passed their studies, but because they've paid for their marks. In fact, graduates are ready-made bribe-takers. On becoming state officials, they resolve any problems by taking bribes.
Question: Could this be the source of rumors that any decent position in a federal institution has a decent price?
Satarov: I have heard about specific cases of purchasing positions not only in the executive branch of government, but also the legislative branch. We are perfectly aware that places on election lists for the Duma cost money. However, this doesn't mean all Duma members have paid for their seats.
(Translated by Andrei Ryabochkin)