This year so many corrupted public officials went to jail, that prisons are running beyond maximum capacity. However, this does not necessarily mean that corruption became any less of a problem for Russia. MK newspaper interviewed the Eurasian Commissioner of the EECO and a member of the UN Global Compact in Russia Anatoly Golubev to know for sure.
Would you agree that, in spite of so many anti-corruption organizations, the problem is far from being solved?
AG: You are right. There is no room for talk about beating corruption nor is there evidence of its substantial decrease. Unfortunately, so far the authorities haven’t succeeded in achieving any feasible results, and, in certain cases, experts even documented an increase in corrupt activities.
AG: There are many reasons. Fighting corruption is not about arrests and imprisonment, but about systematically detecting and eradicating the conditions that allow it to flourish. Unfortunately, today countering corruption is mostly about developing strategic plans, delegating their implementation to certain public officials and, all, but rarely, comparing the figures achieved to those in the aforementioned documents. This is it. It’s not about the public opinion, but about the quantity of legal acts passed, anti-graft probes conducted and forensic tests executed, as well as the number of criminal cases opened against certain corrupt individuals. At the end of the day, one public official replaces the other: the first goes to prison, the second – takes up his/her place and continues to engage in corruption.
Public do not trust this kind of “fighting”. More often than not such situation transpires in countries, where most people are quite poor, as well as states, where the government is highly separated from the general public.
It hurts the most that ordinary citizens cannot get the required public service in time, even though these are guaranteed by law and supposed to be free of charge. When such situations occur, it’s pretty difficult to explain, that you don’t have to pay, when, for example, your relative is on the operating table.
And, of course, one of the main reasons, I think, is the lack of stability. Only in a stable environment can a person safely work, plan for the future, be certain in their abilities and opportunities and believe in tomorrow. When people don’t know what comes next, and rules and laws continue to change rapidly, the only thing they understand is that it’s better to steal today, for tomorrow it may too late.
I heard that some public officials tasked with fighting corruption have been caught stealing. So, it’s the corrupted fighting the corrupt. Is there any way we can avoid this?
AG: Public organizations announcing countering corruption as on of their primary objectives exist virtually everywhere where people have any real means of action. I believe, that employees of those organisations almost never engage in the so-called “special” relationships. However, the enterprises which seek to substitute real law enforcement agencies and pretend to conduct criminal investigations are at highest risk of being corrupted.
This is why I would advise not to treat fighting corruption and prosecuting corrupt individuals equally. It’s exclusively the law enforcement’s job to do the latter. When the investigators come after a certain official, he uses everything in his power to escape unharmed, and in those instances the risk of becoming corrupt is more than high. The most effective corruption prevention mechanism in this case is to organize a joint operation, where FSB, Investigative Committee, Interior Ministry work together, and, the experience shows that it is this joint anti-corruption effort that effectively traps the corrupt official.
Which area is now considered as most corrupted of all?
AG: Judging by the citizens’ petitions to our organization, the public utility, education and health care providers are most susceptible to corruption.
A lot of complaints feature law enforcement agencies, however, it’s the business people that write those.
In other words, the most blatant and painful corruption practices exist in areas of everyday life, where ordinary citizens are forced to deal with public officials.
What is the current size of an average bribe?
AG: Just recently the head of Interior Ministry’s Main Department Oleg Baranov told his colleagues during a meeting that, judging by the corruption crimes committed in Moscow, the average bribe equals 614 thousand rubles (over $12 thousand). If we follow Mr Baranov’s logic, then the most corrupted institution in Russia is his own Ministry, because so far no one managed to steal as much as the prosecuted Ex-Colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko.
One has to remember, that Russian citizens pay taxes and thus finance the operation of a huge number of supervisory bodies whose only job is to prevent corruption and not to tell people about the amount of money stolen this time.
An average bribe is like trying to evaluate a hospital by measuring every patient’s temperature and figuring out the median: half are dead and half are agonizingly hot, but on average it’s 36.6 degrees Celsius, so everyone should be fine. It’s even more absurd, in my opinion, when certain individuals report an estimated loss from corruption in monetary terms. This way, a person that gave $50 to bypass airport security, commits, in their opinion, a minor offence. But how would you measure potential consequence? What price would you put on the lives of couple hundred people, who are now in grave danger, because somebody potentially smuggled a bunch of explosives on board?
Which country is most efficient in fighting corruption? Is it China?
AG: Most heated discussions about China concern the amount of crimes detected, arrests of high-profile corrupt individuals made, and, of course, the number of public officials sentenced to death. Yet, no one seems to notice the growing levels of Chinese corruption, despite all the aforementioned repressive measures employed by the state.
So far no country has successfully eradicated corruption, but states such as Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Singapore managed to bring its levels down to socially acceptable and create conditions that keep corruption away from public’s interest. Let me remind you, that in these countries it’s the media and civil organisations that play the key role in tackling corruption and not the government, because it’s their job to evaluate the quality of public institutions.
Can you think of any innovations that actually delivered results when it comes to preventing corruption?
AG: For sure. The so-called “Single Window” Service, electronic document management, traffic cams, digital queue. In all areas, where the authorities choose to remove conditions, which previously allowed corruption to flourish, the situation changes for the better and fast.
Is it true, that people whose parents, grandparents and so on, were doctors, teachers, policemen are less inclined to take bribes than people form regular families?
AG: Though it is true, everything changes once this person enrolls into public service. When the system is corrupt, they have only one option: to adapt and become corrupt, otherwise, it will spit them out like chewed gum. And, in case they fight back, frame and jail them.
Give me an example of one corrupt case totally surprised you.
AG:There was one extraordinary case, that I remember to this day. An intelligent-looking lady came to us to tell her story about bribing the officials, so that her son wouldn’t join the army. That was two years ago, and now the offspring figured that he very much wishes to serve his country and joined the army voluntarily. In the end, he was, of course, conscripted, and the mother went on a serious quest to get her money back, because the service she paid for wasn’t delivered. She went to law enforcement agencies, but, apparently, they weren’t very understanding, so she decided to report their lack of responsiveness to us.
This case paints a clear picture of Russian mentality. Tell me, did tougher sentences bring about a decrease in embezzlement?
AG: From the international experience we can safely say that tougher sentences for corruption crimes inevitably lead to increase in corruption levels. Scared of being exposed public official hires middlemen, and, as a result, bribes and kickbacks become inflated, and the society has to bear the entire burden of increased corruption on its own.
The scariest thing is that more and more citizens are dragged into direct engagement in various corrupt schemes by becoming the so-called “middlemen”.
What can we expect in the coming years regarding corruption?
AG: Today in Russia we have a fairly decent anti-corruption law, established anti-corruption state departments, a deepening involvement of public control institutions and mass media. It seems that the level of corruption should slowly, but surely decrease. Let’s hope that it will.