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20 Jul, 2009 08:53

ROAR: Medvedev writes new rules of the game for officials

ROAR: Medvedev writes new rules of the game for officials

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has amended the general principles of the code of professional conduct for civil servants.

Media and experts have analyzed the president’s executive order and stress that it is linked with the federal law on fighting corruption that Medvedev signed in December 2008.

According to that law, Russian civil servants and those holding public offices have become subjects of tighter restrictions and constraints. Additional responsibilities have also been imposed on them.

New changes to the code of professional conduct for civil servants update the general principles that were determined in an executive order signed by then-President Vladimir Putin in August 2002.

The changes to the 2002 order have become necessary in connection with the adoption of the law on fighting corruption, Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said.

“According to Medvedev’s amendments, Russian officials now have to inform their superiors and law-enforcement agencies about all attempts to bribe them,” the paper wrote.

“Moreover, civil servants are obliged to hand over to the state all the presents they have received if they cost more than 3,000 rubles,” the daily added.

Russian media also note that, if an official publishes incorrect information about their income and property, he or she might be dismissed.

Some Russian newspapers, however, made it clear they doubt that these changes to the code of professional conduct of officials will help much in fighting corruption. The new rule that stipulates the need for an official to report to seniors about attempts to bribe him or her, only “puts corruption in order,” Moskovsky Komsomolets daily writes.

“If, previously, an official was able to take bribes and kickbacks without sharing them with anyone, then new amendments close this way for him,” the paper said. “From now on an official has to report about the alleged bribe to his senior and organs of Public Prosecutor’s Office and other state structures… to all those who will be able in the future to find out circumstances under which the kickback has been accepted and claim their own share,” the daily wrote.

Moskovsky Komsomolets stressed that “the general principles of behavior” do not concern deputies of the Russian parliament, judges, governors and federal ministers.

The new rules were expected, and the general principles were brought to conformity with the package of anti-corruption measures that were adopted half a year ago, lenta.ru website reported.

The duty to notify about bribes and to publish a declaration on income was already determined in the law on fighting corruption, it said.

“So, state officials and public employees might have been fired for breaking these rules long ago, but there have been no noticeable results so far,” lenta.ru reported. “However, anti-corruption hotlines have been opened in some cities, for instance, in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk and Chelyabinsk,” the website said.

These hotlines have not been widely covered in media, and nobody has heard about any official who have been fired after calls made to them, lenta.ru noted.

Maksim Chernigovsky, director of analytical department of “Vegas-Lex” law firm, told Gazeta daily that the best punishment for an official who does not report being offered a bribe would be “professional disqualification for three years.” Only in this case would the norm work, the expert believes.

One of the interesting amendments that Medvedev added to the code of professional conduct for civil servants is limitations imposed on mentioning the US dollar and other foreign currencies, media note.

“This does not mean that officials will have to exclude these words from their vocabulary altogether,” Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote. However, when they speak about deals between residents of the country or mention the cost of goods or services in Russia in public speeches and interviews, they are recommended to “refrain from naming a foreign currency,” the paper said.

“There are exceptions only for cases when mentioning a foreign currency is necessary for the accuracy of information, or is determined by international agreements or business traditions,” Komsomolskaya Pravda noted.

The members of the Russian Public Chamber proposed to fine officials for using the words “dollar” and “euro” in 2006, lenta.ru website recalled. The authors of the initiative thought that would have helped to strengthen national currency – the ruble.

Then-President Vladimir Putin amended the same general rules for officials in March 2007, adding the clause about mentioning foreign currencies. In Medvedev’s amendments this section has, in fact, not been changed, Anatoly Lyskov, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Judicial and Legal Affairs, told Gazeta daily.

The president is simply “reinforcing attention to this problem,” Lyskov believes. He explained the need for this clause, saying that when an ordinary man constantly hears the names of foreign currencies, “he asks which currency is more stable. Instead of inspiring confidence in our own currency, we are creating confidence in currencies of other countries.”

Now, in the conditions of the world economic crisis, the stating of prices only in rubles would make it more difficult to compare the economic indicators in Russia and abroad, lenta.ru notes. That, in its turn, could “decrease a trend towards panic moods in society,” the website said.

“The new rules also urge officials not to fall under the influence of political parties, Fontanka.ru, a website in St. Petersburg, said. At the same time, a member of a political party who occupies a state position would surely act in the interests of his political organization, the website stresses.

“There is no contradiction here, because no existing party would force its members to break the law,” Fontanka.ru said. “And public service in any case must be above any personal political allegiance,” it added.

The website, however, found another contradiction in the general principles. The president’s amendments also urge civil servants “to respect the activities of the representatives of mass media in informing society about the work of a state organ, and to assist them in getting reliable information,” Fontanka.ru said.

At the same time, officials are obliged to refrain from public statements, judgments and opinions about activities of state organs and their chiefs, the website said.

Some in media say that general principles would not be enough to force officials to observe the rules. “An effective system of control is needed,” lenta.ru noted, stressing that it should not only be “from above, but also from the outside – from the direction of society and the mass media.”