Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Baring gifts- Can Russia stop its officials taking bribes?

The government has prepared a draft provision on the receiving of gifts by officials which they hope will be adopted as law by the end of the year.

The provision would require officials to declare any gifts received on business trips or at events within three days. The gift will then be appraised by experts. If the gift is over 3000 roubles in value the official will have a first choice chance to buy it back at auction.

This new draft applies to all Russian government officials whereas it seems that before there was a mess of different regulations in Russia’s civil code, the law on the civil service and the law for servicemen. Russia’s civil code allows legal entities or individuals to give gifts whereas federal laws forbid officials to receive them. The Labour ministry says these contradiction make it hard to enforce the law.

It’s a classic case of more law doesn’t mean good law. However the Labour ministry has decided that until the contradictions can be sorted out its best to add more rules on top. Officials will now be allowed to accept gifts under 3000 roubles as long as they declare them. Experts will then try and assess what the gift is worth if not declared or if it seems to be of unique cultural worth. If the gift turns out to be worth less than 3000 roubles it will be returned the official. If more it will be auctioned. If an animal is given, like the puppies, horses or even the Tiger given to Vladimir Putin and it is not bought back it will be given to a zoo.

The complexity of the new law being added on top of the existing mess has been criticised by the head of Russia’s anti-corruption committee, Kirill Kabanov. He says the document is complex, adds to the existing complexity and has holes in it. So an official could take a bribe, say it was a gift and he was going to declare it in three days.

Far better, says Kabanov would just be to ban accepting all gifts for all officials, bar the free pens. Everything else should be put up for auction, and officials not given special priority.

These rules already exist, says Oleg Mitvol from Rosprirodnadzor, but nobody followed them. He says it would be shocking to see the amount of expensive watches for example to come out of the woodwork if everything had to go to auction.

The Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov laughed at the proposals. Honest  officials would be happy to receive a bottle of perfume for example. But those who take hundreds of thousands of dollars, do you think will put them off?

Its part of Russia’s anti-corruption plan for 2012-2013. Russian government officials have a poor reputation both in Russia and abroad when it comes to corrupt behaviour. Despite many announcements about combating corruption in Russia in past years there has been little progress in achieving it.

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