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29 Oct, 2008 02:42

Corruption: time to take the gloves off

Despite the ongoing battle against corruption, graft has been a blight on Russia for generations. The black economy today is worth an estimated $US 300 billion annually. Discussions are now underway to develop new anti-corruption legislation.

Yana Nefedovskaya has been running a small cosy restaurant in the centre of Moscow for two years now. It's popular with customers, but she says it's hard doing business in Russia because of the high level of corruption.

“One of the main problems when you are running a restaurant business in Russia is that there are about 80 different state agencies to deal with. And not all inspectors do their work in an honest way,” she says.

Although the government has been fighting corruption for the last decade, according to the international watchdogs Russia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International ranks it 147 on its list.

Avoiding a traffic fine, getting into university, evading military service, or receiving permission to build a house often means giving a bribe.

Mikhail Barshchevsky, a government representative in the Constitutional Court, explained the roots of the current situation but believes it is possible to reduce corruption.

“In the early 1990s corruption became the main system through which the state operated. The entire economic system was managed through corruption, but now the government is strong enough to fight this disease,” he said.

When Dmitry Medvedev became president in the spring of this year, he declared the war on corruption one of his top priorities. A new draft law demands that state officials and their relatives must report their incomes and property. Mikhail Barshchevsky believes the law will not solve the problem immediately, but it could mark a new era in the struggle.

“It is impossible to create now the ultimate anti-corruption law right now. Such laws appear after years of experience with imperfect laws. But this could be a good first serious step in this direction,” he says.

In a country where corruption is endemic, authorities say breaking the habit is the main challenge. No less important, however, is the correct implementation of the laws that already exist.