Fighting corruption in people’s minds: new strategy approved

In a move to eradicate Russia’s worst evil – corruption – President Medvedev has signed a national strategy on tackling the problem. Among the ambitious goals it sets is changing people’s attitudes.

The presidential decree approves two documents: the national strategy and the national plan to fight corruption in 2010-2011, the Kremlin’s press service reports. The strategy defines the main directions and stages of the anti-corruption policy for the future, while the plan – which will be renewed every two years – helps bring about ideas set by the strategy to life.

Admitting corruption to be one of the “systemic threats” to Russia’s security, the documents suggest a whole bunch of measures aimed at its eradication. Those, for instance, include forming a completely different approach to the issue in people’s minds. Government structures, political parties, public organizations and other unions are called upon to play an active role in fulfilling this difficult task and to help in creating the attitude that corruption cannot be tolerated.

Among the goals is increasing a legal culture by achieving maximum transparency of public services and by carrying out preventative measures in state organizations.

Officials, for their part, should control the way anti-corruption plan measures are fulfilled and also help the media to report on the process.

The president instructed the head of his administration, Sergey Naryshkin, and the chair of the presidium of the Presidential anti-Corruption Council, to report on the implementation of the national plan and present proposals on how to improve on the anti-corruption measures.

Dmitry Medvedev declared war on corruption at the very beginning of his presidency in 2008 when he set an anti-corruption council and became its head. Although he is far from being the first Russian leader eager to fight the demon of corruption, he is one of the most devoted and decisive on the path. However, two years after the battle began, it is far from over.

Indeed, “Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it's set a rolling it must increase” (Charles Caleb Colton). Unfortunately, there are very few people in Russia who have never had to pay a bribe. This immoral practice has taken root in almost every sphere of life – be it paying off a bureaucrat to cut through red tape, to a doctor to get better treatment or filling a road police officer’s pocket just to avoid paying official fines.

Of course, not all officials are corrupt and honest people can be found. However, according to Transparency International, Russia was ranked 146th out of 180 in the Corruption Perceptions Index. It shares its place with neighboring Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Sierra Leone. It is a tiny improvement compared to 2008, when Russia was 147th.

Regardless of Russia’s place in the index, there are signs of hope. In the first half of 2009 in Russia alone a total of 4,500 corruption cases were brought to court, with 532 public officials and 700 law-enforcers being convicted, writes RIA Novosti news agency.

At the same time, the number of corruption-related crimes in the army rose by 10% in first two months of 2010 and the damage to the state increased fivefold, said Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinsky. Moreover, it affected sensitive sectors of state military purchases, which provides housing and official benefits for servicemen, the worst, the agency writes.

However, the official believes there is an explanation for that. Firstly, law enforcement agencies have started monitoring the situation a lot more carefully. Therefore, the number of crimes registered went up. Secondly, there is a psychological factor: feeling the danger, corrupt officers simply want to grab as much as possible while they still can.

“Corruption does exist but no one is keeping silent about that,” Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said at December’s board meeting on fulfilling presidential instructions outlined during his annual address to the Federal Assembly. Nurgaliev said back then that countering corruption is only possible when there is “an open dialogue between the public and the Interior Ministry.”

At the same time, according to the chairman of the commission on legislation and counteracting corruption Aleksey Volkov of the United Russia party, what corrupt officials actually grab is times and times more than what official statistics reflect.

“The figures the law enforcement system gives us in its annual reports – how many bribe-takers and corrupt officials we have – are less than one percent of what is really happening,” he said in an interview with Itar-Tass agency. “Every person who was elected or appointed – practically every person – takes office and begins to think about how to enrich himself, and give top posts to friends, acquaintances and relatives, not about how to eradicate corruption,” Volkov said discouragingly.

Changing the mentality is one of the ways to tackle the problem, he said, echoing one of the tasks named in the national strategy that was approved. The implementation of the state program would not only require a bit of time, but also the involvement of “all the officialdom, and [that] the whole law enforcement and judicial systems do everything possible.”

Earlier this week information about the income of the president, his family as well as that of the government, their spouses and children, was published. The move, first introduced in 2008, is also aimed at fighting corruption. However, there are many skeptics who do not believe that this measure would help in any way to address the problem. For one thing, while officials do say how much they earn, they do not reveal details on where that money comes from, and they are not obliged to report on their spending.

Natalia Makarova, RT