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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Checking Power's Abuse

Foreigners have trouble understanding why production is collapsing, teachers and doctors are not receiving their pay and pensioners their pensions. No one seriously talks about us as part of the developed world any longer. Our inclusion in the world economy implies only access to our natural resources and mastery of our domestic market by foreign production. Is this an indication of the inapplicability of the Western path to Russia?


This is not the first year I am forced to insist that Russia does not have objective economic problems. There is only the inability of the authorities to function properly, including from the point of view of defending national interests. The authorities themselves should now acknowledge this.


But they attribute the problem of corruption to one-time bribes. If they consider the problem systemic, then it only applies to the state apparatus. Corruption in Russia, however, is entirely different. Authority in Russia is consciously set up to allow the possibility of "privatizing" government power.


Some clear examples include: privatization that was carried out in such a way that the government did not have a register of state property; banks that were "authorized" to make use of budget resources and the loans-for-shares scheme. This is not theft on the part of some obscure officials. Uneximbank received the Norilsk Nickel mines on the cheap, then the head of the bank became one of the leaders in the government. The head of ORT said the authorities were responsible to "them" and got a post on the Security Council.


A typical question that is put to me as one of the heads of the government bodies for internal accounting is: "The authorities demonstrate that they are set to establish order. In these conditions, do you intend to lend your support to the president and government?"


In general, from the West's philosophical position, the scale of corruption in Russia should come as no surprise. For the Western and American political and economic systems are not natural but, on the contrary, an especially synthetic product -- a consciously constructed system of checks and balances that derive from a sadly realistic concept of human nature. It is precisely in order to limit the worst of human qualities that the system of parliamentary control, anti-monopoly regulations and other such mechanisms were developed.


Thus, competitiveness is a necessary mechanism. But what is needed even more are measures for controlling the abuse of power, including accounting. For more than a year, however, the government has refused to confirm the accounting procedures for government bodies that the Accounting Chamber has presented, which by law it must do. Another example: Back in March 1992, the presidential decree on the fight against corruption, which I helped take part in drafting, supported the government order to introduce a system of declaring state officials' income. But the government (which was then led by Yegor Gaidar) did not put the decree into effect. And the president did not demand that it be carried out. In 1995, I was co-chairman of the Federation Council commission on the law on government service. We submitted clauses on the obligation of officials to fill out property and income declarations yearly. Refusing to do so could be the basis for dismissal. But this demand -- already law! -- is being sabotaged. As far as I know, the Accounting Chamber is the sole government body in the country that is meeting the requirements of the law.


The examples could go on. But what is important is the relationship of the authorities, and the mass media that depends on them, to outside supervision.


The State Duma has held hearings on the reasons for not carrying out the instructions of the Accounting Chamber. But not one member of the government has turned up at them. And television, including the government channel, has not even a second of coverage of the hearings. A week earlier, the Federation Council spent half a day on electing one of the constitutional auditors of the Accounting Chamber. Well-known people voted, including a former finance minister -- and again not a word was heard from television.


Is there an explanation for such a conspiracy of silence? Undoubtedly. It is impossible not to see the tendency of those in power to try by all means to suppress independent supervision. Thus, the sole constitutional body of independent oversight -- the Accounting Chamber -- to this day does not have its own offices and is forced to rent space throughout Moscow.


During the past two years, in violation of the law, the government financed itself by 100 percent, but the body of independent supervision only received a third of what was earmarked in the budget. It even got to the point when the parliament was forced to establish an unprecedented clause in the law allowing the Accounting Chamber to draw on its own from the Treasury. This caused sharp opposition in the government, but citizens learned nothing about it from radio and television.


If there is observation and transparency of politicians' actions, then democracy is possible. In the absence of independent supervision and reliable information for citizens, democracy becomes farce. And the reduced role of the Accounting Chamber as well as the discrediting of the parliament shows the authorities' true intentions.


But can one speak of some progress? This will only be possible when those who fight corruption by showing their readiness to bang their fists on the table to frighten corrupt officials -- or say "You don't take bribes, and I don't take them, so no one will accuse us of this" -- come to accept not court-like supervision but outside oversight that is independent from the authorities.





Yury Boldyrev is deputy chairman of the Accounting Chamber of the Russian Federation. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.