On December 9, the world marked International Anti-Corruption Day. For Russia, this is something of a professional holiday, as it has found itself in an unenviable position in numerous anti-corruption ratings in the past few years.
Yelena Panfilova, General Director of the Center for Anti-Corruption Research and Initiative of Transparency International Russia and a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights
Over the past three to four years, the Russian government has focused attention on fighting bribery. The government should use International Anti-Corruption Day as an opportunity to talk about its successful anti-graft measures and highlight its achievements. At the very least, it should mark, if not celebrate, this day.
In reality, we have a long list of anti-corruption measures that have not been implemented. Tougher anti-corruption legislation has been passed. Regulatory documents stipulating external and internal control over the activity of public officials have been issued. Russia has joined the Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
It appears that quite a lot has been accomplished. But professionals, people in the corridors of power, and ordinary citizens, whom we talk to most often, see no cause for celebration.
This can be explained by two reasons.
First reason: Poor enforcement
Russia’s government institutions have failed to summon sufficient strength or courage to start using all of the regulatory instruments provided by the legislative battle against corruption, applying the law even-handedly and without exception.
Some may argue that the legislation is still quite new and is, in fact, insufficient for such a huge problem like corruption. However, ordinary people focus on what’s going on in real life. They read newspapers and watch TV. And what do they see? As of December 2011, they are still seeking answers to questions that have been at the center of the national discussion in the past 12 months.
The people want to know about the Daimler case – how the corporation could be punished for paying a bribe, while no Russian official was found who accepted it.
The people want to know about the Magnitsky case and many others like it. We want to know about the actions of the individuals suspected of complicity in the lawyer’s death and in the embezzlement he blew the whistle on. What is the legal assessment of their actions? But once again all we get is baffling, incomprehensible silence.
Analyzing the so-called gambling case involving prosecutors from the Moscow Region can lead you to the brink of insanity. The prime suspect in the case appears to have been allowed to escape.
Consequently, people increasingly suspect that the corruption-riddled system is only good at defending itself. Those government institutions are reluctant to clamp down on corruption and turn in their cronies.
All this leaves one feeling like a child with a beautifully wrapped present, which, when opened, reveals itself to be nothing more than an empty box.
This is the situation in which Russia marked International Anti-Corruption Day.
Second reason: Political corruption
International Anti-Corruption Day this year came during the aftermath of Russia’s parliamentary elections. Although the winners and their supporters are happy, some are not.
No matter how we view these processes, we must not forget that corruption is not a monolith. It can be subdivided into four categories: domestic, administrative, large-scale and political corruption. Most countries view bribing voters, misusing federal funds during the election campaign in favor of the party in power, and violations in the vote-counting process as political corruption. What it amounts to is the abusing of public and administrative resources during a campaign in order to achieve personal or collective political goals – simply put, to remain in power.
We are now witnessing ordinary citizens, not politicians or opposition members, voicing their complaints. In this case, the emptiness in that beautifully wrapped present is created by the resentment caused by political corruption.
Just like in the first case, this resentment will continue to grow until the government answers these questions about whether there were large-scale violations during the latest elections, whether they were rigged, whether officials’ statements in support of one party without mentioning others were legal, and whether it was legal to campaign at schools and outpatient clinics.
The government must answer the main question in society: did this all happen or not? If the answer is “yes,” then the government should say what it intends to do about it. This would be the best way to mark International Anti-Corruption Day.
We’ll wait for the answers. We’re used to waiting.