Dmitry Medvedev: Today, I would like to talk about a topic that is very complicated and serious, but one that unfortunately constitutes a very important concern in our country: I am talking about the fight against corruption.
It is commonly accepted that corruption is one of the most significant impediments to economic growth and development. This is an international problem – a problem for each individual country. It would be impossible to find a single country where corruption is entirely nonexistent.
But let’s look at it from a different angle: which countries have the lowest level of corruption? On the one hand, we see developed, democratic countries that have a free, modern economy, high living standards and, no less importantly, a highly developed legal awareness. On the other hand, we see totalitarian regimes, which have none of the qualities I just listed. However, corruption is often particularly prevalent in transition societies, And clearly, our country is currently undergoing exactly this kind of transitional phase. I think there is no need for me to explain why.
Furthermore, corruption is greatly influenced by the history of a given country, as well as its traditions, its culture, and many other factors. Unfortunately, Russia has a centuries-long tradition of corruption, and today, it is affecting every aspect of our lives.
Corruption exists within every level of government. However, we also face corruption in our daily lives. In fact, it is not entirely clear which of these two types of corruption is more dangerous for our country. They are two sides of the same coin. According to Transparency International 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), our nation ranks 147 out of 180 countries on the list.
There is another figure that seems initially surprising, and is in fact quite alarming for our country. Based on several sociological studies, one quarter of our citizens do not even consider corruption to be out of the ordinary. This means that our society as a whole has very high tolerance for corruption as an institution.
One year ago, one of my first executive orders called for the formation of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Council. We agreed that systematic corruption must be countered with a systematic response. Thus, we began our journey on this difficult, lengthy path.
What have we done in a year?
First, we developed and sanctioned a National Anti-Corruption Plan. It is in effect, and it is working. Second, we approved a package of anti-corruption laws, which are also in effect. I signed a number of executive orders that increase supervision over the work of civil and municipal servants, as well as state corporation executives. Now, declarations of income and property will be made not just by civil servants, but members of their families as well. We now have the regulatory basis for these actions. The President is no exception. This information will be published on official websites and will be accessible to the media. I would like to say that there will be no less of this information than there was last year. At the same time, we need to develop a mechanism for verifying and authenticating the accuracy and completeness of evidence brought forward by civil servants.
In essence, this is the first regulatory framework in our nation’s recent history intended for this kind of work. In fact, it may be the only one of its kind in the entire history of our country.
Many times, I have heard people tell me that the fight against corruption is weak and insufficient because we do not have this term, and our legislation is not working. But now we have everything: we have the term, which has been given a definition, and we have the legislation. It is critically important, however, for lawmakers themselves to understand how this law should be applied. Law enforcement agencies and legal practitioners must also understand how to apply it. All civil servants must understand the extent of their responsibility.
This legislation is difficult. We do not yet have practice in applying it. There are some sensitive issues, including some particularly delicate ones. We must monitor the execution of these legislative acts with the utmost care. And finally – and this is perhaps the most difficult part – we must create incentives for people to act in a correct, legally-compliant manner. We must do all of this with the help of regulatory acts, with the help of the media, and with the help of civil society institutions. Corruption should not merely be illegal; it should also be perceived as indecent behaviour by society. This may be our hardest goal.
Engagement of civil society is imperative for our anti-corruption efforts to be a success. This fight cannot be one-sided. An idea was recently mentioned at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights. The idea is as follows: where there is corruption, there are also human rights abuses. And in this regard, the fight against corruption is, first and foremost, about civilian monitoring. Thus, I fully and absolutely support the idea of its development, in a variety of ways.
We can look at blogs, which are a pretty good indicator, and thankfully, an independent one. I’ll tell you about something else that made me happy. My video blog addresses 45 very different topics, but naturally, several specific topics receive many more comments than the rest. The most frequently discussed topic, for obvious reasons, is the financial crisis, but the fight against corruption is in fourth place. This means that this is a hot topic.
By the way, LiveJournal readers also have strong feelings about this issue. When I read your comments, I understand that there is a general desire to fight corruption, at least among the people making blog comments. The fact that Russian citizens are already analysing serious issues, such as information on government procurement of goods and property, is a good sign. That information is now available online (at www.zakupki.gov.ru), because it is important for us to know how taxpayer money – our money – is being spent.
By the way, speaking of government procurements. We have spoken repeatedly about converting to an electronic bidding system. We passed regulatory acts, but so far, nobody is in a hurry to do anything. We must be as observant as possible in creating these types of electronic instruments, which are, without a doubt, progressive.
A great deal of things must still be put into place in the development of our society. An important incentive for development is a normal living standard, as well as awareness and understanding on the part of all different kinds of people that the most proper way, and more importantly, the most convenient way to live, is to abide by the law. There need to be other incentives as well, including material ones. In hiring civil servants, we need to select normal, decent people – not those who are getting their degrees for the sole purpose of subsequently taking bribes through civil service, but rather, those who are motivated to serve their government. That is the only way that we can create a standard of non-corrupt behaviour in our society.
On May 7, our country signed an additional protocol to the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption; this, too, represents a fairly important and serious resolution. It means that we are moving forward and promoting the development of our legal framework. This framework is not merely Russian, nor simply a joint framework; it is also integrated into the global legal framework for fighting corruption.
Among the causes of our country’s high level of corruption are shortcomings within political institutions and a lack of professionalism by bureaucrats, as well as citizens’ ignorance and misunderstanding of laws, or a complete unwillingness to learn them. To change this, the government and civil society must work with a wide range of social groups.
I am certain that legal culture can only be inoculated by starting at a young age, learning about laws and legal practice as early as elementary school. It is up to the teachers to figure out how to best present this material, but this is a step that needs to be taken. Speaking of which, a new section called “The Judicial Branch” was added to my website in May. I hope that today’s children – our children – will grow up with the clear understanding that courts of law are the height of justice – the government agency whose authority must be indisputable – and that citizens must refer to the law in order to defend their rights, their freedoms, and their legal interests. They should also understand that the courts are the most important, highest anti-corruption agencies, which will always make the final judgement, and whose judgement should ultimately constitute truth.
I thought long and hard about whether we should enter this new phase of anti-corruption efforts. I feel that ultimately, we did the right thing. We absolutely must move forward in this direction. We must move forward, even if we do so by taking very small steps. That is why we will be coming back to this difficult topic again and again.