Anti-Corruption Bill Set for Key Reading

The State Duma on Wednesday will consider in a second and crucial reading the anti-corruption bill that President Dmitry Medvedev has made the centerpiece of his plans to tackle rampant graft in the country.

The bill, submitted by Medvedev in October and approved in a first reading last month, is likely sail through Wednesday's session in the Duma, where pro-Kremlin United Russia controls two-thirds of the seats.

But it has irked Communist deputies, who say their proposed amendments to the bill were roundly dismissed by United Russia lawmakers.

"All of our amendments were rejected, and without any substantial changes, this bill will not work effectively," said Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist official and deputy head of the Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee. "We are very unlikely to support the bill Wednesday."

Committee head Vladimir Pligin, a senior United Russia official, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Under the bill, which includes amendments to 25 current laws, federal ministers -- including the prime minister and his deputies -- and their family members would be required to make public declarations of their assets and income.

The requirement extends, however, only to an official's spouse and children. It does not, as the Communists had proposed, apply to parents and siblings as well.

The Communists had also pushed for amendments allowing the confiscation of corrupt officials' assets, but this proposal was rejected as well, Ilyukhin said.

The only amendments to the bill since it passed in a first reading only make life easier for crooked officials, Ilyukhin said.

In the first reading, the bill included a statute requiring state officials to blow the whistle on their superiors in corruption cases. That requirement has been stricken from the bill to be considered Wednesday.

Furthermore, the bill would come into effect only in January 2010, giving bureaucrats one year to cover up any corrupt dealings, said Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee.

"This is a clear example of how our corrupt bureaucrats lobby for their interests," Kabanov said. "All the norms that enable corruption have been left untouched."

The bill would force officials who leave government jobs to obtain permission from their former bosses before taking jobs with companies they dealt with while in office. It would also require officials to hand over to the state any gifts worth more than 3,000 rubles ($110). The previous limit was 5,000 rubles ($180). After his election in March, Medvedev declared war on corruption, saying it was undermining economic growth and the country's overall stability. The anti-corruption bill has been the focal point of his campaign, though critics have derided the legislation as misguided and full of loopholes.

Corruption is at its worst level in eight years, according to an annual survey released by Transparency International in September.