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Russia Struggles to Get a Grip on Corruption

Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Jan 28 2011 (IPS) - A government initiative aimed at rooting out deep-seated corruption in Russia has hit a number of stumbling blocks since its implementation. According to experts, the initiative, adopted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the beginning of his term, has been unsuccessful in combating the pervasive issue of corruption, particularly in regional administrations and offices, in this eastern European country.

The Berlin-based, anti-corruption NGO Transparency International has persistently rated Russia as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. In the 2009 Corruption Perception Index, Russia was ranked 146th of 180, below countries such as Togo, Pakistan, and Libya. The United States was ranked 19th.

Medvedev, who had declared the fight against corruption a priority for his administration following the 2008 election, admitted in 2010 that the anti- corruption drive had so far yielded few practical results.

The president vowed repeatedly to develop a set of measures to combat corruption in the country’s courts, in addition to other state institutions countrywide. In July 2010, he enacted five laws aimed at regulating the work of Russian police. However, Medvedev gave a caveat that additional legislation would still be needed to eradicate corruption in state institutions.

Medvedev noted the importance of anti-corruption monitoring of international projects that will take place on Russian territory, such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the APEC summit. Control over spending of state funds for these events requires the collaboration of the General Prosecutor’s office, the Accounts Chamber, the Interior Ministry, and other federal agencies.

“I will outline a mechanism that will help control the situation inside the court system by correct, constitutional methods,” Medvedev said during a meeting last week with members of the Russian Public Chamber, a state-appointed consultative body that advises the government on civic issues.

“All in all, the government, society and the courts themselves are to blame for the current situation,” he said.

“We should take steps to help the courts gain their proper place in our system of values. We should do our best to make the courts become as much as possible independent from the authorities and at the same time to absolutely depend on society.”

Medvedev has long championed the importance of independent courts in Russia, but little has changed since he became president on a pledge to fight corruption.

Elena Panfilova, the general director of the Centre for Anti-Corruption Research at Transparency International, explained that Medvedev’s anti- corruption initiatives are not functioning as expected for two key reasons.

“Firstly, all the anti-corruption measures and tools offered by Medvedev are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for anti-corruption work to be efficient,” Panfilova told IPS in Moscow. “Some important instruments have been introduced, but they are only a first step towards improvement of the government system.

“Secondly, efficient anti-corruption measures are always designed for the long-run. Even though there are ways of improving Medvedev’s policy, the measures that have been undertaken can yield results in years or decades – provided that the anti-corruption campaign is expanded, rather than ceased,” she added.

Panfilova explained that theoretically, promoting transparency is an important element of the anti-corruption strategy – but that achieving this goal often falls short of expectations. As an example, she cited a law enacted July 1, 2010, which states that all information on court activity must be published online.

According to the legislation, if any data is missing, the person responsible for the court’s website content must be fined. However, in the six months since the law went into effect, there have been no registered cases of courts being fined for non-disclosure.

Panfilova suggested that stricter punishment for public officials caught by anti-corruption authorities needs to be enacted.

“(Russia should) introduce stricter nominal measures for corrupt businessmen and officials,” she said, adding that independent investigative authorities and judiciary systems must support heavier punishments for violators of the law.

To implement anti-corruption efforts effectively, Panfilova believes that civil society must be strengthened. Full-fledged participation in the drafting and subsequent examination of key bills that deal with corruption need to become the rule, rather than the exception, in Russian society.

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