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Fighting Corruption in Russia

Russia’s new premier Viktor Zubkov gave quite the performance during his first address to the Duma this week, striking a notably disciplinarian tone (some papers called it a “Soviet streak“) so as to leave little doubt of his new clout. He publicly excoriated one official and banished him to Sakhalin until earthquake relief efforts were completed, humiliated the customs administrator, and reserved the most severe tongue lashing for the transportation minister over a missed deadline, bellowing the following: “The president gave you that instruction two years ago. How can that be? The president’s instructions! Who dared to correct the president’s instructions so lightly?” The theatrics achieved the desired result – career bureaucrats were said to leave the meeting cowing like scolded children. After setting this tone, Zubkov got the opportunity to play up what was expected to be his pet project – fighting corruption. Among other new bills, Zubkov pledged to double the government’s efforts to wipe out corruption, citing new rules about banking transfers, clearing up murky transactions at the ports, and other increased oversight ideas. But it seems that so far, Zubkov has not convinced ordinary Russians that his anti-corruption campaign would make a difference, and he has not yet addressed specific mechanisms to curb such abuses. Below is a snippet of a report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which quotes an expert opinion on the lack of external controls, and lists a number of reasonable ideas from Boris Nemtsov. RFE/RL:

The Russian political system is ill-equipped for fighting corruption. The NGO Transparency International, which monitors and combats corruption around the world, notes that ” corruption thrives…where institutional checks on power are missing, where decision making remains obscure, where civil society is thin on the ground.” Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service this week, sociologist Georgy Satarov, director of the INDEM research group, stressed the systemic nature of the problem. “The key problem connected with the growth of corruption in Russia is the lack of control over the bureaucracy,” Satarov said. He bemoaned the lack of “external mechanisms of control” over the government, the lack of “political competition, the lack of [a political] opposition, the lack of a free press, [the lack of] freely working public organizations.” Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Political Council member Boris Nemtsov also offered systemic solutions when asked by “Ekspert” how his party would attack the corruption problem, specifically proposing to roll back some of the key political innovations President Vladimir Putin has introduced in recent years while building the so-called vertical of power. Specifically, Nemtsov’s recipe includes “ending censorship so people would be afraid to take bribes,” “term limitations for governors — no more than two terms,” “the restoration of gubernatorial elections,” and “the restoration of political competition.