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
Politics Research Student, University of Sussex