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Opening remarks at meeting of the Council for Countering Corruption

January 13, 2011

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,

Today we are holding a regular meeting of the Presidential Council for Countering Corruption.

You all know the situation in the country well. Let us admit the objective fact that our successes in this sphere have been limited, they are known and we have already talked about them. Our greatest achievement is that we have created an effective regulatory framework, anti-corruption legislation, which simply did not exist in our country until the establishment of the Council and is entirely due to its efforts.

We have a national strategy, a plan to counter corruption and we have introduced an anti-corruption expertise of legislation and regulations. State officials, as you know, have begun to declare their incomes. In my opinion, that is all we have achieved so far. All other achievements are much more modest, although there has been some progress in setting the punishments for individuals found guilty of corruption offences. I hope the heads of law enforcement agencies will tell us more about this today, because there has been headway in this area.

Now, about the future: at the outset of our efforts we relied primarily on international experience in this sphere because we had very little experience ourselves. Russia has recently become a founding member of the International Anti-Corruption Academy and has been actively participating in shaping the evaluation mechanism and anti-corruption measures under the UN Convention against Corruption. That is a global mechanism that will use objective criteria in its work. Incidentally, the subject of combating corruption is becoming increasingly popular at international summits, including the G8 and G20 summits. If in the past it seemed not to exist, now the initiative is being taken up by the leaders of the most developed countries, which, in my opinion, means several things.

”Fighting corruption is painstaking daily work. Of course, these efforts must not be restricted to the federal level, as I have repeatedly said, but continue at regional and municipal levels.“

First, everyone realises that corruption is a global problem, and not a purely Russian affliction, for which we have always been criticising ourselves and saying that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to remedy.

Second, everyone is aware that if we do not coordinate the efforts of the states with a more developed system of anti-corruption measures and those with a less-developed system of anti-corruption measures, the situation will be significantly more difficult to tackle.

We have carried out some work required by our membership in the Group of States against Corruption, or GRECO. On the whole, there was a positive response to our efforts in the Group, which is good but we can’t stop there. For obvious reasons what is important is the real situation in the country and not external assessments.

Fighting corruption is painstaking daily work. Of course, these efforts must not be restricted to the federal level, as I have repeatedly said, but continue at regional and municipal levels. The events of the past few months have shown that the situation with corruption and crime in the regions is very difficult. There have been several high-profile cases, which are currently being investigated. It is clear that apart from the usual criminal aspect there is also a corruption component, and I would like to draw the attention of all the heads of law enforcement agencies to this issue. I have issued instructions to this end and some law enforcement officials who condoned criminals in the Krasnodar Territory and in other regions have been dismissed, but that is not the end of the matter. It is the least that can be done, especially since I am sure that some of them were transferred to other positions; perhaps they were demoted but they continue working. Those who were involved in the crimes in Kushchevskaya and elsewhere must answer for it in accordance with criminal law.

”It is vital to increase involvement of civil society institutions in all anti-corruption initiatives.“

In addition, I have said repeatedly that the information on committed offenses must be analysed; there must be a response. This information should be studied, and not only by journalists or people surfing the Internet, but also by heads of law enforcement agencies, heads of government agencies and the executive government. When people write about the same offences for months, it should at least provoke an investigation. Often this is just emotions or inaccurate legal interpretation of what had happened, but at least it should be investigated and not just thrown out. Therefore, officials at all levels who receive petitions from the public, either in paper or electronic form, must demonstrate an appropriate response rather than give them the runaround.

Let me point out a few pressing problems. It is vital to increase involvement of civil society institutions in all anti-corruption initiatives. Apart from the mandatory reports from the Presidential Executive Office, the Government and the General Prosecutor's Office, it is very important that we hear alternative views on the effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts. I think we hear them already but it is essential that this information be analysed. To get an idea about the effectiveness of our work it is enough to have a look online where we can find all sorts of corruption stratagems and offences. Once again, this does not mean that everything described there is accurate but people describe their experiences there and an analysis of their opinions must be an integral part of our work. Therefore, the Civic Chamber can prepare its annual report but the work should not be confined to the Civic Chamber. It must continue in every region.

At the outset of these changes, governors asked me to institute special gubernatorial councils, which is a good way to improve communication between the regional leaders and the heads of law enforcement agencies and to make sure that the governors get full information on corruption and other offences supplied by law enforcement officials, and the other way around. Otherwise there are breakdowns in communication or at least they pretend that they have no idea what is going on.

”Public organisations and members of the Civic Chamber should make greater use of their right to exercise public control over state officials’ incomes.“

Apart from that it is advisable that all interested persons have information about these council meetings and their outcomes. I do not propose that the transcripts are published, that would be going too far, but the information should be made public. Therefore, I order the regional governors to either hold media briefings after council meetings or to publish a fairly detailed account of the issues discussed.

Another innovation is the financial disclosure statements filed by state officials. This is a good procedure because it will instil a habit of responsibility, a realisation that there should be no discrepancy between the actual income that is declared and the real sources of that income, although we are well aware that the present declaration system is imperfect, like any other system. Frankly, there are numerous ways to conceal income. But this is a good first step because now everyone understands that income must be declared, like it is done everywhere in the world.

I think the accuracy and completeness of the information should be verified not only by the government agencies that deal with these declarations, such as the Federal Taxation Service and other agencies, but there should also be a substantial element of public control. Public organisations and members of the Civic Chamber should make greater use of their right to exercise public control over state officials’ incomes. Of course, this should not turn into a witch-hunt, nor be seen as a way of settling political accounts, but there must be an additional means of control.

Therefore, the Presidential Executive Office should consider different ways of submitting financial disclosure statements in 2011 taking into account the analysis of the work that has been done, and in general think about the effectiveness of the entire system for disclosing such information. The fact that we launched this initiative at my insistence in 2009 – we began preparing it in 2008, but the declarations were submitted for the first time in 2009 – this, once again, is not bad for the first step, but we must go on. We must deal with any loopholes we find and move forward.

”Another important ongoing issue is anti-corruption monitoring of major sports projects and other big events. These projects certainly require special attention of all law enforcement agencies and all oversight bodies.“

Incidentally, we have plenty of useful institutions that are not working at all. For example, there is conflict of interests and procedures for resolving it. Can you site an example where a conflict of interests was declared at some agency by its officer and resolved in a civilized manner, addressing all the outstanding issues? Or do such conflicts simply not exist? Obviously, there are plenty of them, but who has been ever brought to account for concealing such conflict and why relevant information is not available? And has anyone been punished for submitting an inaccurate declaration? If I remember correctly, I personally punished one officer from the Defence Ministry, but I am sorry, that was something of a show trial, and the case was fairly obvious. Still, I am certain that cases of discrepancies in income declarations have been identified. Who has information about them, and who has been brought to account?

Check all that. I put the Federal Taxation Service and the Prosecutor General's Office in charge of this work. If there are discrepancies in a declaration, either it must be corrected since no one is impervious to errors, and if a person makes an honest mistake and later corrects his declaration there is no need to punish him. But if an official deliberately conceals his or her legally owned assets or property, then the perpetrator must be brought to justice.

Therefore, check these things and report to me. Considering the extensive amount of work involved, I give you three months to complete it so that by the end of the declaration period this year we have all the information about who did what in the past year and what are the consequences. As you identify discrepancies, prepare proposals for the accountability of these individuals. I have been talking about the federal level officials so far, but of course this should be done at the regional level as well.

Mr Sobyanin [Sergei Sobyanin, the Mayor of Moscow], there are many officials residing in Moscow. Please pay attention to their financial declarations. You hear a lot about officials’ palaces in the country but their declarations tell a completely different story.

”We have created a new body called the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. Its jurisdiction in the investigation of corruption offences may well be increased. At any rate, I suggest you examine this issue and submit your proposals to me.“

Another important ongoing issue is anti-corruption monitoring of major sports projects and other big events. I am referring not only to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, although it is very important, and not only to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but also to the APEC summit. These projects certainly require special attention of all law enforcement agencies and all oversight bodies, as well as the joint efforts of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Accounts Chamber. Is the Accounts Chamber present? You’re sitting far away. 

Chairman of The Accounts Chamber Sergei Stepashin: That’s our destiny. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Destiny can be turned around. You told me about these sports projects and who has stolen what at our meeting two days ago. Just look at what's going on there. 

I recently discussed another important issue with the Chairman of the Central Bank which may not be directly related to corruption but it has revealed some serious opportunities for corruption. The Central Bank has identified large-scale fraud involving illegal assets siphoning by a number of commercial banks, and although it has not affected the financial sector, where everything is stable, it creates an atmosphere of impunity for unlawful acts committed in the banking sector. In some cases, it is a direct result of corruption. Just yesterday, I spoke about front companies, which in the past were used for illegal cash-out transactions but now have turned into one of the channels used by officials to receive bribes and kickbacks. I issued the instructions to the Government regarding the bill about the accountability of those who register and use such front companies. Where is the bill? I ask Mr Shuvalov to answer this question. Will we get the bill? 

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov: Yes, we will. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, make sure it is submitted by February 1. I emphasise: it is not only the individuals who use these firms that must be made accountable but also those in whose name they are registered, and it does not matter who it is, an ordinary person, a homeless person or someone else. There must be a clear awareness that such activity is actionable. We understand how this mechanism operates, no one has any illusions on this score. If someone’s passport is used to register a company and then that person loses the passport or something else happens, it is clear that this was fraudulent activity from the outset, rather than establishing a firm in which one is going to work or to get paid through it. I will approve instructions on this issue today. 

”I would like to see the business community more actively involved in this effort. A great deal depends on business and the way it behaves.“

Fourth. We have created a new body called the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. It should be more actively involved in anti-corruption efforts. Its jurisdiction in the investigation of corruption offences may well be increased. At any rate, I suggest you examine this issue and submit your proposals to me.

Finally, an issue we often discuss is the development of anti-corruption prosecution, prosecution of corruption offenses. Anti-corruption efforts should not only be conducted by public servants, especially since some of them are very much afflicted by this malady, or only by non-governmental organisations. We have a business community, which at least during meetings with government officials says that it is a victim of corruption; they say that they used to give bribes to officials but now they have come to realise that it is wrong. So I would like to see the business community more actively involved in this effort. A great deal depends on business and the way it behaves, the way business people respond to a specific situation, how they react to extortion or a suggestion that they pay a bribe. It is one thing when they report such cases to a relevant agency and quite another when they simply pay the bribe because they cannot resolve their problems any other way. Clearly, a great deal depends on their position. We must be honest to the end, and not just reproach the authorities for being corrupt. There are always two sides to corruption. 

Today our agenda includes a bill that provides for adjustment of a dozen federal laws on fighting corruption. 


January 13, 2011