MOSCOW. (Sergey Leonov, Director of the Kazakh Leos news and analytical service, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council) -The comparison of corruption levels in Russia and Kazakhstan may seem somewhat unexpected, but the parameters of this problem and its influence on society are quite commensurate.
Kazakhstan has even left Russia behind in implementing reforms in banking, utilities, and the energy industry. But despite these achievements, corruption is still rampant there.
Independent experts estimate the scale of corruption in Russia at about $319 billion a year. This is the black market money. In other estimates, Russians pay more than $30 billion annually in bribes alone, or almost half of their state budget.
The ratio of the economies and the strength of the population of Kazakhstan and Russia is one to 10. Is the proportion for corruption the same? An average Russian spends about $129 on bribes a year, but a Kazakh is by no means behind.
Experts from the Transparency Kazakhstan public fund have calculated that no less than half of Russia's active population is involved in routine bribery. In Kazakhstan, the proportion is higher due to a more "oriental" mentality. But administrative corruption is the most widespread form of corruption in Kazakhstan. In practical terms, it amounts to extortion, and shadow control of business by officials.
Recent research conducted by the Informatics for Democracy Foundation at the request of the World Bank shows that medical institutions and higher education establishments rank first in the level of corruption in Russia. Many think that free education has ceased to exist in Russia only because of corruption. The situation in Kazakhstan is somewhat different because it has gone much further along the privatization road than its northern neighbor. Higher education in the republic has long been privatized, and the notion of corruption no longer applies.
In 2005, Transparency International ranked different spheres in terms of corruption in Kazakhstan, Russia, and a number of other countries. Here's the list in decreasing order: political parties, parliaments and other legislature, law-enforcement and judicial bodies, business, and tax collection agencies.
Russians believe that the most corrupt government bodies are law-enforcement agencies, tax collection and customs agencies, military recruitment offices, and, paradoxically, housing and utilities organizations.
Kazaks rank first law-enforcement agencies, courts of law, and executive authorities. The housing and utilities system has long been reformed, and payments made by apartment owners do not affect corruption statistics because they do not constitute corruption in the true sense of the world.
Last year Kazakhstan ranked 107th-110th on a par with Honduras, Belarus, and Ukraine in the Transparency International corruption perceptions index for 159 countries included in the study. Russia occupied an "honorable" 128th place. Both Kazakhstan and Russia remain among the world's most corrupt countries. The situation has not changed despite the efforts made by Russia - unlike other CIS countries - to draft, thoroughly and meticulously, a bill on countering corruption, which was not limited to bribery alone.
Kazakhstan was one of the first to adopt the law on fighting corruption in 1998. In May 2005, President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a decree endorsing the Code of Honor for Government Officials. Corruption in Kazakhstan has a unique feature: the republic has ramified anti-corruption legislation, and "cleaning" agencies, but they exist happily side by side with corruption, which has pervaded the whole system, and exists within this legislation, as it were.
Russia differs from Kazakhstan the most in that it has managed to preserve a system of government authorities whose function is to fight corruption and other crimes. Russia's General Prosecutor's Office leads anti-corruption efforts, although in some cases it pursues strictly political goals. Military, security and law-enforcement agencies have not changed much, either. Needless to say, law-enforcement bodies were also affected by corruption (numerous turncoat scandals) against the backdrop of its general growth, but on the whole they fulfilled their mission. The Russians have managed to preserve the personnel of these agencies and keep it relatively "clean."
Kazakhstan has a relatively new body, which is subordinated directly to President Nazarbayev - the Agency on Fighting Economic Crime and Corruption. But it is not effective for lack of trustworthy personnel. Even Nazarbayev admitted recently that he receives numerous complaints about corrupt financial police officers.
Yet, despite certain specific features, corruption in Kazakhstan and Russia is very similar. It exerts an equally negative influence on their national economies by putting corrupt and honest businessmen on the same level, and undermining competition on the foreign and domestic markets. Kazakh specialists believe that corruption makes goods and services almost 50% more expensive, which affects the entire population of the country. Rapid growth of construction and oil business is pushing this figure higher, generating incredible consumer prices and high inflation.