Administrations get tender about corruption in tendering

A series of scandals unveiled in the Russian media over recent months have shed light on corruption schemes used by officials at all levels of power, proving that a system of public control is slowly starting to work.

The most recent arose this week. Print and internet news outlets reported on plans by the Kemerovo administration for tender for 30 gold diamond-encrusted wristwatches worth 2.5 million Rouble (USD $83 thousand).

The watches were intended as gifts for prize winning teachers and “heroic mothers” – women with ten children or more – from the South Siberian coalmining region, and to bear the inscription “from the governor of Kemerovo Region Aman Tuleev”

Local communist legislators cried foul along with local and federal newspapers. Articles reporting on the issue generally referred to the official web-site and regular anti-corruption sentiments, with the regional administration giving no comments to the media.

A day after press comment , however, Tuleyev’s administration announced the cancellation of the tender. The governor’s spokesman told the press that Tuleyev had cancelled the tender in a decree the previous week, but that communications issues between relevant departments had prevented the withdrawal of the announcement from the internet.

The reply signalled a change in the attitude of authorities to a type of scandal which has become increasingly frequent, with bureaucrats previously standing their ground. A good example was the official police response to the media spilling the beans on Interior Ministry plans to purchase almost $1 million worth of furniture for a reception house. They referred to a need for the house to host foreign delegations and provided data showing that equipping the country residence with gold plated beds was still cheaper then booking rooms in Moscow’s legendarily expensive hotels.

Not all excuses have been similarly plausible though. In spring Russian journalists published a “list of unusual purchases” made by the St. Petersburg city administration. These included a $10 thousand batch of spices for a municipal hotel, $500 thousand were spent on marble statues and $1 million spent for renovations in the governor’s office – which could be a justifiable sum for reconstruction of an historic building, if the $13 thousand dollar toilet brush is overlooked.

Another case that caused a major public outcry in August, was a decision made by the director of a St. Petersburg psychiatric asylum to dress patients in vests and hats made of mink and polar fox. Authorities distanced themselves from the affair, noting that the furs were bought with patients’ money – the hospital collected their pensions – and the asylum director said he only concerned for the patients’ comfort and fashion sense.

Despite the growing number of press reports, law enforcers have rarely taken any action. The cases were hard to prove and, if not, the reports were rendered into official bureaucratese by the police press service.

The situation only started to change recently, after Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev – a keen Internet user – started a blog.

In comments to President’s rather official post about the importance of the anti-corruption fight, readers provided detailed examples of such corruption.
They exposed several schemes allowing bureaucrats to pass tenders to preferred companies – outlining various ways to hide tender information, and the lengthy and difficult registration process State agencies and enterprises often required from users wishing to study tender documentation, instances of applications being deliberately put into wrong sections, with even the mixing of Cyrillic and Latin characters in texts to prevent search engines from indexing them properly.

Unsurprisingly, this became one of the first problems the President decided to deal with. He issued an order to the State Property Agency to address the wrongdoings, as well as to prevent them from happening in the future. More curiously, however, no orders were issued to find those responsible for the past offences and bring them to justice.

Kirill Bessonov, RT