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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Plan for Reform We Don't Need

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We have written many times that one of the crucial reforms needed at present — a reform that would go a long way toward strengthening and reinforcing all the other reforms that are so badly need — is strengthening the Audit Chamber. Creating an independent body with real authority to investigate and to follow through on its investigations would be a serious blow to corruption in all branches of government, allow for the rational use of the state's resources, help restore public confidence in the government and so on.

Despite its weakness, the Audit Chamber has been the country's only functioning oversight mechanism over the last few years and it has done much to make the scope and mechanisms of state corruption known, even if it has been unable to do much to punish wrongdoers or return looted money to the budget.

Now the Kremlin has put forward a reform plan that is patently a leap backward, one that would turn the present weak but relatively objective organ into a directly controlled political tool of the Kremlin. And, unfortunately, the State Duma is so thoroughly cowed that it may allow this to happen with hardly a whimper of protest.

The proposal would allow the president to choose the head of the chamber — subject to Duma confirmation — and give him authority to order chamber investigations and accept chamber reports. In short, it puts the chamber on a short leash that leads directly to a single person.

The Kremlin claims that it is proposing this reform to strengthen the chamber, arguing that by being closely associated with the president it will gain authority. If this argument is put forth sincerely — and we doubt that very much — it is wrong-headed.

Russia is still a country where closeness to the center is a measure of power and influence. But this is a fact against which we must struggle, rather than something we should accept as inevitable or desirable. The new Russia needs a separation of powers. Russia needs checks and balances. Russia needs a depersonalized political system.

President Vladimir Putin should be using his prestige and power to create a new system that is self-sufficient and capable of withstanding the comings and goings of individual politicians, including Putin himself. Otherwise, in the best case, it is a groundless reform just waiting to be undone. Most likely, it is politicians using the concept of reform as a fig leaf for politics as usual. And that is a "reform" we don't need.