Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: No Basis for Moscow’s Claims that Russian Corruption has Declined, Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 26 – Independent Russian experts say that there is no basis for the claim by Boris Titov, presidential plenipotentiary for the rights of entrepreneurs, that the level of corruption in the Russian Federation has fallen. Instead, they say, all measures point to corruption still being a major obstacle for the country’s economic development.


            In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Arina Raksina says these experts base their conclusion on “interior ministry data on the amount of bribes” as well as “statistics of domestic administrations and international research” and suggest that two-thirds of Russian businessmen admit to being forced to pay bribes (newizv.ru/politics/2014-08-26/206756-lapy-vse-tjanutsja.html).


            Elena Panfilova, head of Transparency International’s Moscow Center for Anti-Corruption Research, says that she does not have any data to support Titov’s claim at Seliger.  Not only does the evidence that she sees point in the opposite direction, but the Russian government has not conducted the kind of research recently that it typically cites.


            According to IMF data, the average size of bribes in Russia “almost doubled between 2012 and 2013 to 145,000 rubles (4100 US dollars).  But that figure by itself is meaningless, Raksina points out because it is like “the average temperature in a hospital.” In some places it is much higher and in others lower.


Moreover, efforts by the Russian authorities to fight corruption have been less than impressive. While they admit that the loss to the economy as a result of corruption “exceeds 10 billion rubles” (280 million US dollars), prosecutors bring charges in only one case in six and then bring to trial only slightly more than a third of those.


Vyachesav Korochkin, vice president of a Russian organization for small and mid-sized businesses, says that Titov may be correct if one considers only the number of bribes, but he points out that “corruption is not only and already not so much about bribes as about a broad range of means” officials use to extract money from business.


One reason Russian officials argue they are making progress is that Russia ranked 127th out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2013, an apparent improvement from 133rd place a year earlier.  But that reflected less an improvement in Russia, experts say, than the deterioration of conditions elsewhere.


At present, these experts say, Russia ranks alongside Azerbaijan, the Gambia, Nicaragua, and Pakistan in terms of corruption.


According to research conducted by Korchkin’s organization, 67 percent of Russian businessmen are now paying bribes, with 49 percent saying that this is “profitable for both sides,” although they acknowledge that officials far more often than businessmen initiative demands for such transactions.


On paper, Russia’s anti-corruption effort looks quite good, Panfilova says, but “as always,” the actual situation is “not very” because the declared policies have very little impact on “the human factor.”  Korochkin agrees: he says Moscow’s anti-corruption campaigns has not reduced bribes but only changed their form to ostensibly legal arrangements.


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