President Dmitry Medvedev: Dear Colleagues!
Even this short presentation and discussion show how important the issue that we have raised with you today actually is.
As you know, when I made the decision to issue a decree in relation to this problem and to work on a plan to combat it, all sorts of people said to me: “Why are you doing this? You’ll never get anywhere. This has been going on for centuries in our country and it will never go away”. This is a very difficult issue to deal with. But simply shrugging your shoulders is worse.
We have almost everything we need to succeed in this: a modern legal system, which we must adapt to conditions and financial opportunities that are totally different from what they were in the 1990s. That is why I believe that it is a point of honour for the state to deal with this problem. Now some thoughts on the essential points at issue.
Sergei Mikhailovich [Mironov] raised two points which, in my opinion, are absolutely valid.
First, as we have repeatedly said, is the question of administrative regulations. This discussion started about five years ago. Virtually nothing has been done. Go to any ministry, ask for their administrative regulations concerning how documents are processed, ask for information about where your document currently is – you won’t get an answer. Maybe they’ll answer in some time because you are one of the big bosses, or an important figure in the legislature or law enforcement, but if you’re an ordinary citizen you won’t get an answer.
We absolutely must create a fully fledged system of administrative regulations. It’s the same with electronic documents. We have engaged with the Internet and with the introduction of electronic forms of communication for a reason. These are not just entertainment for schoolchildren but also very powerful anti-corruption resources. As you know, in many countries people communicate their requests and apply for services via the Internet as well as they can do many other things, and they receive answers. First of all, this is a quick method and, as Sergei Mikhailovich rightly said, it minimises the amount of interaction with officials. If one is using the Internet or a similar communication system it is a lot harder for someone to try to extort a bribe, and the electronic record is stored somewhere.
Let’s move on to what Valery Evgenyevich Aksakov said about mandatory anti-corruption expertise. Other colleagues supported him on this point. I agree that this is an important area, but we have to be reasonable about this expertise. We ourselves must first lay down the criteria involved: what subjects are to be studied, which specific opportunities exist, and how can we do this without overburdening legislation to the extent that it would be impossible to work. We all understand that on this subject even I — and it’s been a long time since I worked as a practicing lawyer — could take apart any law in half an hour and show how it could be abused in a dozen different ways. We must work to reduce these abuses. But this should not become an end in itself, all the more so because our civil servants are so skillful that even if we deprive them of a dozen different means of cheating, they’ll come up with three dozen more.
But what I absolutely agree with is the suggestion that we must reduce the power of discretionary judgments in administrative law and administrative procedures. It is obviously the discretionary power of civil servants that has to be reduced.
There were various positions taken on the independence of the courts. This is a very subtle thing. I agree that we must do our utmost in order to strengthen the independence of judges. And we must do this especially in the course of the work being done that is actually linked to the anti-corruption theme. At the same time, of course, we understand that a judge cannot simply bypass responsibilities in the criminal or other legal spheres, just like any ordinary citizen of the Russian Federation. The question is to find a way of bringing people to justice and how effectively the judicial community itself can do it. We will continue to communicate on this topic as well.
I also mentioned — and my colleagues remembered — that a Presidential Decree on the Principles of Civil Servants’ Official Conduct was signed in 2002. In and of itself it is a good document. But to speak frankly (I worked on it myself six years ago), it is not working at all. Can you recall a single case in which a Russian official has said publicly about a conflict of interest: ”You know these shares came to me as an inheritance, or someone gave them to my wife. I declare a conflict of interest and I ask you to make a decision“. Never, not a word! Why? Because nobody is punished for this. We all know perfectly well who has what assets, if the truth be told. But most government officials do not even bother to use the formal legislation on the transfer of those assets into some sort of trust. There is no proper mechanism for this and they’re not interested anyway. Therefore, we need to develop a full-fledged regime for the proper transfer of assets. Or we can think about taking a tougher line and expropriating these assets altogether. We can put them with people who are not relatives or friends of the person in question. It is a matter of choice. Maybe we don’t need to be this inflexible, but at a minimum a declaration of these assets has to be made, and they have to be put in trust with some sort of institution that has the right to manage such assets.
Of course we have to deal separately with what the Minister of Justice and the First Deputy Prosecutor General said as well.
Here, too, Aleksandr Emmanuilovich talked about corporate criminal liability. This is an idea that I am not in favour of. Despite the fact that this concept is contained in a number of international conventions, I don’t think it makes sense for our rule of law. We have never had corporate criminal liability, because in theory and practice we have always held that criminal responsibility is a form of sanction, and it is. Its critical component is the fact that it is aimed at a certain person, whereas a legal entity, a corporation is a fictitious figure invented by a legislator. The only responsibility such a figure can have is pecuniary or administrative. However, those who work in an enterprise or an organisation, in actually legal entity, those persons can of course be held responsible for criminal and administrative liability.
Another thing about which a great deal has been said: we really need to get rid of a large number of civil servants from the boards of directors of companies controlled in whole or in part by the state. To have a high level public servant as chairman of the board of directors of a joint-stock company which is controlled or partly controlled by the state, is entirely understandable. But why a dozen clerks as middle managers? The chairman of the board of directors is capable of speaking out in accordance with the directives given him by the state. Everyone else is engaged, in essence, in lobbying or is taking advantage of their position. One or two public officials is the maximum we need to keep in these companies, even the ones completely owned by the state. The other people should be hired on contract, and they should be specialists, independent members of the board of directors. But of course they must act according to the guidelines issued by the state as a shareholder.
I agree that we need to think about the presence of the public when tenders are let and for all kinds of procedures. In theory we have such requirements but in practice they are often ignored. Our colleagues Dmitrii Vladimirovich Kulagin and Marina Dmitrievna Istikhovskaya warned us that corruption can often result from the fight against corruption. They are absolutely right: you can make money from anything, and in the case of the battle against corruption, a great deal of money. And we have examples of this. But that does not mean that we should not try to deal with it. Otherwise we are just throwing up our hands. That is the first thing.
The second point is that certain kinds of campaigns are unacceptable: they can end up destroying business and public service and even the entire country. From the point of view of those conducting a campaign, everything is always good. We know how to do it and we like doing it. But to deal with this issue we must be reasonable, firm and consistent. I look forward to seeing this approach from legislators and those in law enforcement.
See you soon.