17:55 GMT +320 July 2018
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    Political life in Russia has returned to its normal pace in the second half of January. The political year opened with a significant event: a Kremlin session of the Council for the Fight against Corruption under the President. This body includes the state's top leaders, i.e. the prime minister, the speakers of Parliament's two chambers, chairmen of the three highest courts and first deputy chief of the presidential administration, who have thus defined one of the key trends of state policy for 2004.

    The Council was set up on the proposal of the Government in November 2003. It is a consultative body with two commissions working under it: one on combating corruption and the other for civil service ethics. The Council's functions include the drafting of recommendations and working out measures and initiatives to combat the abuse of power. The Council itself is chaired by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and the two commissions - by vice-premier Boris Alyoshin and first deputy chief of the presidential administration Dmitry Kozak.

    It is obvious that corruption hinders economic growth, weakens state authority and demoralises society. According to public surveys conducted over many years, the population regards corruption as one of the main problems in modern-day Russia. True, opinions widely differ as to what should be qualified as corruption. In reply to this question, some people referred to the "wild" privatisation of the 1990s and the so-called oligarchs that emerged as a result; others pointed to the traffic police's arbitrary rule on the roads, and still others mentioned red tape and bribe-taking at local bodies of authority.

    The problem of corruption has been a matter of concern for Russian society for quite a number of years; it has been discussed since the start of reforms, when the authorities declared a "crusade" for the purity among their ranks. For example, in the middle of the 90s, President Yeltsin issued a decree that obliged government officials to submit declarations about their own property and that of their close relatives. For a time, a regulation was in force under which tax agencies had to check citizens' major purchases (those over $3,000) and the sources of their income.

    However, these measures proved to be useless. Officials submitted their declarations as law-abiding citizens, but it transpired that many of them had no property at all... The authorities have neither the strength, nor the means, nor any legal mechanism to discover the truth. Moreover, the Government dispensed with attempts to control major purchases last year. It turned out that such control was absolutely impossible in Russian conditions: there is no adjusted mechanism or proper state organisation capable of assuming this difficult function.

    It should be noted for the sake of justice that corruption is an evil which has not been rooted out even in developed, prosperous countries, let alone poorer countries like Russia, which is just building the market economy and a democratic state. From time to time, the world receives news of corruption scandals in France, Great Britain, the United States and other countries. This testifies to the fact that it is a serious and deep-rooted problem and that, regrettably, no universal methods of combating it have been devised so far.

    In the 1990s, the State Duma, the lower chamber of Russian Parliament, failed to adopt a law on corruption or a code of conduct for civil servants, though the relevant bills were submitted to Parliament on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, the incumbent Russian authorities are not going to sit and wait.

    When addressing the Kremlin session, President Putin defined several areas that had to be focused on. They include the improvement of legislation and the consequent removal of "internal contradictions and norms that could be interpreted in different ways"; the establishment of constant control, including public control, over the activities of the bodies of authority; and the improvement of the state apparatus and the formation of a skilled and transparent body of civil servants who will receive decent wages. It is obvious that the anti-corruption council's activity is part of the Kremlin's efforts to implement administrative and judicial reforms in Russia, as well as measures to dismantle the oligarchic economy.

    Apart from this, with two months left before the presidential elections in Russia, the fight against corruption is acquiring particular significance. At the end of 2003, several high-profile arrests as part of anti-corruption measures were made within the Interior Ministry and the Emergencies Ministry. They made Boris Gryzlov, then interior minister, and the United Russia party headed by him, even more popular before the parliamentary elections held on December 7. Moreover, many Russians regard the arrest of the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Yukos owner and the richest man in Russia, as an anti-corruption measure.

    Even though, according to public opinion polls, 82% of Russians do not believe that corruption can be eliminated today, they will be grateful to Putin for his desire to defeat it.

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