Monday, August 3, 2015

Corruption ‘Only Means’ of Making and Implementing Policy in Putin’s Russia, Mid-Level Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 3 – Corruption has become so widespread to the Russian political system that now it is the only means for taking decisions, adopting laws, or enforcing those actions, and this has led to a degradation in the quality of officialdom compared to Soviet times, according to a mid-level Russian government official speaking on conditions of anonymity.

            In comments published by “The Insider” portal, this official describes how corruption works in government offices, why even officials are force to pay if they want to get their way or get promoted, and how this has reduced their competence compared to the past to a position “close to zero” (

            According to this official, “corruption today is the only means of adopting and executing decisions among the authorities legislative, executive or judicial.” And consequently, the notion that “corruption is when a businessman gives a bribe to a bureaucrat has long ago ceased to be the defining kind.”

            “Today,” he insists, “all relations within the [Russian] government apparatus are taken via corrupt mechanisms.”

            If a ministry wants to change a law, it doesn’t prepare a draft, circulate it within the government and get the cabinet’s blessing, the anonymous official says. Instead, it comes up with a draft, goes to a deputy it can buy off and get him to introduce and push the new law. Sometimes this is done at the very beginning; often at the second reading.

            Of course, he says, “it is possible not to pay, but then there are no guarantees that the law will be adopted in the necessary form or that it will be approved at all. One must pay deputies in the relevant committee, most often the head of the committee or his deputy. And the Duma deputies are completely at home with this.

            Some are businessmen in their own right; others make a business out of such bribes which can be 30,000 US dollars or more each time, sometimes far more. And it is these payments, not the membership of the deputy in one or another political party that are the most relevant to explaining the legislative process.

            But officials in a government agency “must pay not only deputies but other government organs or agencies as well,” and they must do so even to get those other agencies to do what the law says is required. If one wants to register some property, for example, one has to pay or the paperwork will simply get lost.

            Payments to officials in other agencies are also part of the coordination process. All Russian officials are on the lookout for how this or that proposed law will affect their incomes or powers and they expect a cut delivered in advance if they are expected to agree with a particular proposal.

            The only exception to this pattern as far as the Duma is concerned is the Presidential Administration, the official says. “Its legislative projects are always guaranteed to be passed in the necessary form. The Administration in general works in its own parallel regime, separate from the government.”

            As a result of all this, the official continues, “the administrative weight of the prime minister and his initiatives is not great, and that of some ministries is still less.” It is often the case that people outside the government may have much more influence than those inside right up to the top, something that weakens administration still further.

            A measure of just how far corruption has extended, the official says, is that “sometimes it is necessary to pay even one’s own subordinates.” If you want to rearrange control functions, you have to pay or you will find that your subordinates will find ways to block you even if they give pro forma agreement to what you have decided.

            This is leading to “a negative selection” of cadres, in which relatives and friends take government jobs while “well-qualified professionals” don’t stay long because they quickly discover that what the rules say and what is actually done are two very different things. As a result, “the level of the competence [of entry-level officials] is close to zero.”

             And then the system works against even those who show competence. “For the really competent and hard-working officials, social lifts do not work while those with connects can fly up instantly.” Everyone sees that and draws the obvious conclusions.

            “In Soviet times, there was also corruption,” but there wasn’t as much money to spread about and those who wanted to see their children rise were forced to have them perform apprentice work in less desirable positions before that could happen. Now, there is a plethora of funds and no need for the children of the elite to do anything to get a good job.

            “Now,” the official says, “the lower levels in state organs are basically either young bureaucrats and their children or those who are waiting for their pensions. The first want to get themselves integrated into the system and are therefore more servile than professional; the second simply want to sit out their time” and don’t want anyone to rock the boat.

            According to this anonymous official, “under Putin, corruption has always had a tendency to growth and now during the crisis it has hardly been reduced. The corruption ‘tax’ is measured in hard currency and it will not be cut.” Businesses and others may have a harder time coming up with it, but officials throughout the regime have expectations that must be met.

            “The Insider” asked Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov to comment on this official’s statements with regard to corruption and the legislative process. He said he was unaware of any cases where ministries bought off deputies to propose or pass laws, but he acknowledged that some deputies do perform work for ministries and others and thus may be affected by that.

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