‘It is a bizarre world where we need to teach people not to steal’

was the theme of Elena Panfilova’s talk at the ‘Transparency International: A Russian Perspective’ event yesterday in London.

Elena Panfilova is the founder and director of the TI Russian branch. She stole away from Moscow for 1 day to speak to a 200-strong audience at Clifford Chance in Canary Wharf last night.

Elena’s words were very rational, and her conclusions realistic and thought-provoking.
Her first point went right to the core of the problem – corruption happens not because there is a lack of laws, policies and regulations. A country can pass a myriad of such legislation. At the moment, the Russian legislation on corruption represents a beautiful and growing bouquet of norms and initiatives, but corruption continues to blossom at a corresponding rate.

It has even become unpopular and uncool to say that you are against anti-corruption. So everyone signs the initiatives and shakes hands. But they have their fingers crossed and carry on with business as usual.

This is because there are no regulations on personal integrity.
Corruption happens when three things come together:
1. Human Greed
2. Concessions for behaviour
3. and Lack of Control (internally, through regulations; and externally, through civil society).

However, there is a growing dissatisfaction with corruption within the general public. The Russian Transparency International (TI) branch is receiving an ever increasing number of calls from the public asking to volunteer in the fight against corruption.

TI has very realistic discussions with such volunteers. It is established that TI does not aim to put a stop to corruption. That would be an impossible task. Instead, the main current goal is to reduce corruption to socially acceptable levels and to stop it killing people.

Yes, corruption kills. Corrupt officials are a problem for national security; a medical practitioner who bought his license is a danger to his patients; a drunk driver who bribes the police into letting him go is a danger to everyone on the road; and the two terrorists who bribed the Domodedovo Airport to not go through security checks for £20 caused the deaths of 90+ people.

But where does the money made through corruption go? It goes abroad! Corrupt officials and businessmen invest millions into property worldwide. Surely someone monitors such acquisitions but no one asks any questions.
Very recently, an initiative has been signed by World Leaders in St Petersburg to stop domestic institutions from accepting bribes from foreign organizations and individuals. But where are the results? Does anyone even monitor the international compliance with such initiatives?

It is easy to close your eyes but laundered money is LAUNDERED money. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘CLEAN’ DIRTY MONEY. And where laundered money goes, crime follows.

So how do we stop such impunity? Political and legal structures are dormant in Russia, to use the language softly. But social pressure can make life for offenders that little bit less comfortable, and therefore it is a start. Transparency International was able to force the Russian Police Force to start wearing badgers that identify each policeman. Now, the police is no longer an anonymous, all power institution; those who abuse their power can be reported individually for misconduct.

In Russian culture, ‘corruption’ is seen as some mythological creature at the root of all problems. We must understand that ‘corruption’ is real; that it has a first name, a last name and a position. And therefore, it can be fought and stopped.

The recent increase in laws that limit the activities of the civil society are a testimony to the fact that social pressure is working. If it wasn’t, there would be no need to limit it. Neither will the government succeed in putting an end to the civil society. It is not a formal institution that can be closed. It is people’s beliefs and their notions of trust and truth; and are susceptible to the Phoenix syndrome. They resurrect and carry on.

Right now TI Russia is under a lot of pressure from the government. The “foreign agent” laws and false allegations aimed at closing down the institution has become a part of a normal daily routine. But so have the visits from the general public. The people want to be a part of the TI and a part of its fight to restore dignity and integrity to the Russian state and country.
Global Corruption 2013: A Russian Perspective

Elena Gorianova

Politics Research Student, University of Sussex

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There are rarely weeks when issues of corruption and anti-corruption are not in the news..

but, even by normal standards, there was plenty going on in the first week of December. Things kicked off with a depressing story from China, where the head of admissions at one of China’s most well-regarded universities was caught fleeing the country after having accepted millions of pounds worth of bribes to admit students who might not otherwise have been academically up to it (see here).  That was followed by more evidence (as if any were really needed) that politicians have to be 100 per cent on message all the time as the UK’s attorney general, Dominic Grieve, came a cropper when commenting on perceived relationships between levels of corruption and certain ethic communities (see here). Cue plenty of political backtracking (see here).

The main event last week was nonetheless the publication by Transparency International (TI), the leading anti-corruption NGO in the corruption field, of its annual ‘Corruption Perceptions Index‘ (CPI).  TI celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013 and it has produced the CPI annually since the late 1990s.  TI in general and the CPI in particular therefore have real staying power, and that in spite of the (not inconsiderable) number of methodological problems that are inherent in the index (see here and here for less and more details on these).  For the record, the Danes and the Kiwis came out on top, whilst the Afghans, North Koreans and Somalis came in joint 175th (and therefore bottom).  The UK rose marginally to 14th, whilst the Spaniards and Syrians performed – for their own specific reasons – much worse than they had done in previous years.  Whilst many critics write the CPI off as fit only for parlour games and pub quizzes, the CPI does at least get people talking about corruption (just google it if you don’t believe me, newspapers all around the world have been all over it) – and, all caveats to one side, that is almost certainly a good thing.

Only marginally less high profile than the launch of the CPI was the annual Christmas dinner of the MA in Corruption and Governance students at the University of Sussex.  Of the 20 students on the course, 15 assembled at a salubrious Hove Indian restaurant to salute the on rushing Christmas period. It’s been a busy old term for the current cohort, and with, amongst other things, internships beckoning for 14 of the group in the spring their hectic schedule won’t be changing any time soon. Better to be busy than bored, as they say!

Dan Hough

University of Sussex