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Corruption in Russia at the local and municipal level

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Corruption has been increasing rather readily in Russia for decades because of the huge concentration of wealth and power, a cumbersome bureaucracy, a poorly organised civil service, a weak judiciary, and other sociological factors. This phenomenon of corruption was combated to the some extant only for the Stalins period of the Soviet regime because of the totalitarian rule. Nowadays corruption represents a very serious threat to Russian democracy, the economy and the legal system. After a long period of inaction, the Law About Counteraction to Corruption was adopted on 25 December 2008. Critics of the law have questioned whether it will be effective in the current climate of corruption.

One of the most rampant areas of corruption is at the local or municipal government level. The problem is the result of a poorly organised and underpaid civil service, a poor standard of living, and a weak judiciary. There are also sociological factors that contribute to the culture of corruption. For example, many local enforcement officers conduct business using family or personal connections. Because of these sociological factors, it is very difficult to keep a balance between public interests and private interests.

Moreover, many municipal mayors are members of the ruling party, which affords them immunity from prosecution. To compound the problem, many are friendly with the regional officials or the regional party functionaries. Such regional officials are directly responsible for investigating corrupt activity, and are therefore able to help municipal officials escape criminal liability for corrupt dealings. It is not surprising that the governments track record in fighting against corruption is very poor. Finally, many party functionaries will not bring charges against corrupt colleagues in order to maintain a clean party image.

A good case study of the misuse of municipal funds is the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Under Russian legislation, all clean up workers were entitled to a plot of land. The municipal government was responsible for dispersing such land. In 2007, one worker, Mr B, filed a request for a plot of land with the Kimry Municipality. The Municipality decided to render the land plot to him. Mr B paid all fees necessary in order to prepare the land for building. Later however, Mr B discovered that the Municipal Committee of Property Management sold his land in a public sale. Mr B brought the civil action in the local court. The court determined that the person who purchased Mr Bs land at the public sale had not signed the contract by the date indicated on the contract in a timely manner, thus nullifying the contract. The court also determined that the public sale was in violation of the law concerning the rights of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster clean up workers. The Kimry Municipality appeals to the higher courts were dismissed. Nonetheless, the Mayor of Kimry Municipality signed the land plot to Mr B only five-and-a-half months after the judgment was entered.

In summary, while Russia has seen an increasing number of bribery and corruption scandals, there has been little in the way of systematic developments to combat corruption in Russia. This fight against corruption continues to collide with traditional red tape, scarcity of management and the dominance of cronyism and nepotism in the public work force.

 

Evgeny A. Nagornyy
February 2010

 

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Corruption in Russia at the local and municipal level