A government official was arrested for bribe-taking. He had extorted $10,000 from a businessman by promising him vacant premises in his ministry.
The Russian papers abound in such stories. However, President Vladimir Putin and parliament have set up special bodies to combat corruption, which is commonly accepted to be one of Russia's eternal woes, thereby inspiring the hope that there will be fewer such stories in the future. The Presidential Council for Combating Corruption and the State Duma Commission on the Counteraction of Corruption, were designed as kind of think-tanks that will coordinate efforts against corruption.
However, Russia is not a paradise for bribe takers, although it is often depicted as such. It is somewhere in the middle of the list of the 133 most corrupt countries in Transparency International's annual report, which was recently published. Nevertheless, it is difficult to overstate the damage the diverse forms of corruption inflict on the Russian economy and people's morals. Russian officials receive a total of over $30 billion in bribes every year, according to the Moscow-based INDEM public foundation that studies the causes of corruption. Social analysts provide many reasons behind the high level of corruption in Russia.
Corruption usually flourishes in transitional countries. Russia is experiencing more than just modernisation. The country is overhauling old government, economic and social institutions in the most radical way.
However, it will take time to eliminate the legacy of authoritarianism. Many people unable to adapt to the free market environment and start their own businesses remain in the civil service. Old stereotypes are still strong among Russian bureaucrats who are opposed to transparency and have no respect for private property. They regard bribes, among other things, as a kind of compensation for what they view as a lack of success.
High business risks are yet another cause of corruption. Some businessmen are still after quick and great profits, the philosophy that prevailed in the business community in the 1990s. Besides, they do not feel the state's support and therefore seek to secure certain functionaries' support. Corruption is the shortest road to handsome revenues for business people of this mindset.
The considerable gap between the salaries paid to managers at public sector enterprises and those at private firms is yet another reason for corruption. The former take bribes to make up for their low salaries.
There are many more reasons prompting Russians to offer envelopes under the table to government officials, policemen, and even judges. However, the Russian government has decided to launch a systematic, long-term campaign against corruption. This evil cannot be eradicated completely. Some experts even believe that it should not be. "Moderate" corruption is a useful signal pointing to weak spots in national legislation just like pain indicates an illness in the human body.
The Duma Commission on the Counteraction of Corruption has begun work by improving the relevant legislation. Russia has signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the European Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, but it has not brought its national legislation into compliance with these important documents to date. The requisite efforts are gaining momentum today. The Duma intends to amend laws dealing with the government's transparency, government officials' accountability, their duty to declare their business interests, and other anti-corruption essentials.
The Duma has already adopted a bill on parliamentary inquiries in its first reading. A draft law on witness protection will be considered in late July and is likely to be adopted, while a law on confiscating property for profit-motivated crimes, which was hastily removed from the Criminal Code last year for unknown reasons, has been revived. An anti-corruption mechanism has been introduced that will allow expert legal analysis to identify ambiguously-worded acts and those that are all but impossible to implement, which thereby provoke bribery in officialdom.
The Duma commission has received hundreds of letters from business executives and ordinary Russians reporting instances of bribery and forgery, and other illegal acts. Deputies check the letters and file the relevant inquiries with prosecutor's offices. The commission, therefore, is going some way to compensate for the lack of public control over the authorities that is only detrimental to Russia.