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11 Aug, 2010 11:11

No gifts please: war on corruption goes on

As part of a crusade against corruption, Russian officials might soon be deprived of the chance to receive any kind of gifts – even cheap ones. But can it really solve the problem?

Russia’s Ministry of Health and Social Development has submitted to the government a bill completely banning gifts to officials of all ranks, as well as to the staff members of the Bank of Russia, reports Itar-Tass.

What public servants think is yet a question, but many analysts have already said that the proposal is “absurd” and it has nothing to do with the war on corruption that Russia has been waging for years.

Initially, the idea of the bill was proposed by The Group of States against Corruption also known as GRECO – the body established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor the member states’ compliance with the organization’s anti-corruption standards. Russia has been a member since 2006.

Under the draft law, gifts received by officials “in connection with protocol events, are regarded as a federal property, the property of subjects of the Russian Federation or a municipal property, and are handed over, in line with a statement, to a body of which the above person is an office-holder," Aleksandr Anikin, chief of the Department on Control Over Execution of Legislation on Countering Corruption of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office explained in an article published on the body’s website. The ban will also apply to parliamentarians and election commission officials.

So far, under Article 575 of the Russian Civil Code, public servants have been allowed to receive presents worth up to 3,000 rubles, which is about a hundred dollars.

In addition, GRECO suggests toughening the Criminal Law in order to provide for the confiscation of incomes from any corruption crimes or criminal offences that could be connected with corruption. Further, Anikin is cited as saying, the organization is calling for the consideration of the introduction of confiscation “in rem”. This applies to cases in which – for one or another reason – it is impossible to put a person on trial, “but there is evidence at the same time that property of that person was obtained as a result of corruption."

Confiscation in rem also allows the seizure of property of a convict for corruption when it is obvious that the value of the property is “at variance with a legitimate source of incomes of this person, and there are substantiated suspicions that it was earned criminally, for instance, due to corruption." If such institution is introduced, convicts would have to prove that the property was obtained legally.

GRECO also suggests that it is necessary to encourage notaries, lawyers and other professionals providing legal and consultative services to inform authorized bodies of their suspicions of corruption cases.

Ban is no panacea against bribes

The proposed bill will be discussed at September’s meeting of the Presidential Council on Countering Corruption, an unnamed source at the Administration told gazeta.ru online news outlet. However, it is unlikely that the idea of the full ban on gifts will be supported.

There are several means of tackling the problem. One of them, the source said, is to leave the law as it is, but to toughen control over its observation. “It should be understood that the problem cannot be solved by simply banning gifts,” the source said, adding it is crucial to change the attitude to the issue within the society.

Mikhail Barshchevsky, Plenipotentiary Representative of the Government of the Russian Federation to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is confident that “We should not reduce everything to absurdity.”

“Indeed, we should improve the control mechanisms,” he told Gazeta.ru. If an official is given a writing set as a gift, it is not really a big problem, but when one receives a writing set made of gold – that is a bribe, he explained.

Georgy Satarov, head of the Indem (Information Science for Democracy) Foundation, says he does not understand how the ban could actually help fighting bribe-taking.

“Our corruption has nothing to do with 3,000-ruble gifts,” he told RBC daily.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, believes that the proposed legislation would only affect doctors, teachers and police officers, who cannot afford to buy expensive things. “They are not part of groups of our population who form the 300-billion-ruble corruption market in our country,” the news outlet cites him as saying. President Dmitry Medvedev has called on the community to counter corruption, but community has ignored it, he concluded.

For years – if not to say for centuries – it has been quite a usual thing in Russia to bring gifts to so-called useful people. It could be anything from a chocolate bar to diamonds and piles of money – depending on the issue the official could help to solve. And it will not be easy to make society get rid of this deep-rooted habit, just as it will be hard to ensure that the law is observed.

Natalia Makarova, RT