Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Oligarchs in the Government

Unknown
Corruption has become Russia's most profitable business. According to experts, the corruption market is worth $300 billion annually. Medvedev understands that corruption has reached unacceptable and dangerous levels and something must be done at the top echelons of government to control the situation.

As part of his anti-corruption program, President Dmitry Medvedev introduced a number of bills to the State Duma in late 2008. According to the original plan, the law was supposed to come into force in 2009, but instead it has been extended to 2010 (perhaps to give top bureaucrats enough time to organize the transfer of assets to offshore locations?). Unfortunately, this extension shows that the country's privileged class of bureaucrats is quite effective in lobbying their interests to the president.

In March, Medvedev submitted a public declaration of his personal income and property as well as those of his family members. It goes without saying that other top officials were bound to follow suit. Members of the government, the president's administration and regional governors also submitted declarations. This is an important first step in the anti-corruption campaign.

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

To be sure, much still remains to be done to perfect the process -- particularly, measures for prosecuting false declarations need to be established. Nonetheless, the income and property declarations of Russia's top officials will become published documents available for public scrutiny.

There is a large loophole, however, that needs to be addressed. According to Medvedev's anti-corruption plan, officials only need to declare the income and property of themselves, their wives and their underage children. They don't have to declare the income or property of their adult children -- to whom they can easily transfer ownership of their assets.

Another problem in the declarations that we have seen so far is that public officials clearly did not declare all of their wealth. After all, many of them are directors of leading state-owned companies and receive bonuses that alone are valued at millions of dollars. These officials, who earn salaries on a par with Russia's most successful businesspeople, are "oligarchs" in the public perception. This is one reason why the public reacted to these declarations with sarcasm and a sense of hopelessness. Most saw Medvedev's move as a deceptive PR attempt to create the impression that leaders are fighting corruption.

For Medvedev's declaration campaign to work, he needs to institute a strict audit system and impose punishments for false reporting. Of course, everyone understands that such a mechanism can work only if there political competition and an active civil society.

An active independent media is also a very important weapon in the anti-corruption battle. Recall Decree No. 810, which President Boris Yeltsin signed in 1996. The decree mandated that after a media outlet submitted a corruption allegation to the Prosecutor General's Office, an investigation had to be completed within 10 working days with a full written report returned to the media outlet that initiated the claim. Unfortunately, then-President Vladimir Putin annulled this decree in 2001. As a result, investigative journalists today can still largely write about corruption cases, but they have little power to pressure law enforcement agencies to prosecute corrupt officials. This is one reason that there is no risk to the reputation of bureaucrats who engage in corruption.

Many Russians believe that there is no hope of ever curbing corruption in the bureaucracy, mistakenly attributing it to an incorrigible national character. But I don't agree with this assertion. Take, for example, Finland, which was part of the Russian Empire for nearly a century. If this cultural explanation were correct, Russia's "culture of corruption" would have infected Finland as well. But according to ratings by Transparency International, Finland has consistently been at the top of the organization's rankings in terms of the least corrupt countries in the world.

Since 1991, small and medium-size businesses have been complaining about how corruption suffocates their enterprises. Even the economic crisis has not decreased the level of bureaucratic corruption. But this is not sufficient for small businesses to unite to promote their interests in a civilized way. Instead, they hope that someone else should fight bureaucracy on their behalf.

Society needs to support Medvedev's anti-corruption initiatives regardless of their initial imperfections. To his credit, the president made an important step when he published his own income and property declaration.

Russian society has no choice but to use the chance it has been given. If corruption continues to grow at the same pace it has for the past eight years, Russia's basic government institutions and civil society will soon be completely destroyed.

Kirill Kabanov is chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, a Moscow-based nongovernmental organization.