You only have to spend a few days in Moscow, as I did last month, to realise that whatever advancements may have occurred under the Putin/Medvedev regime, Russia remains a highly undemocratic quasi-dictatorship.
While I was there, the Moscow Times published a fascinating report about everyday corruption that illustrates the best and worst of modern-day Russia. The best aspect of the story was the fact that it was published at all — even if it was in a small-circulation English-language newspaper that’s primarily targeted at tourists, business visitors and ex-pats and can get away with pushing the boundaries of media freedom a lot further than most of its tightly-regulated Russian-language counterparts.
The worst part of the story (which is still available on the Moscow Times website) was what it revealed about Russia’s progression towards democracy.
Bribery, it reports, “is deeply engrained into everyday life”. According to Indem, a Moscow-based research centre that tracks corruption, Russians pay US$319 billion a year in bribes, which amounts to about US$2,250 for every citizen.
“Everyone pays bribes, according to a study carried out last year by Transparency International, a corruption watchdog. The study ranked Russia on par with Gambia, Togo and Indonesia in terms of corruption, ranking it in 143th place out of 180 countries surveyed.”
But the best/worst part of the Moscow Times story is the accompanying table called “The Cost of a Bribe”. Prepared by the Institute for Public Projects and the Institute for Comparative Social Research, it’s a price list for paying bribes based on interviews this year with 36 anonymous experts connected with various business and public sectors. These are the highlights of this cost-of-doing-business guide inside the Russian democracy:
- A place on a party list for State Duma (parliament) elections: $2-5 million.
- Getting a bill into the Duma: $250,000.
- A big business getting a licence or preventing one from being revoked: $1-5 million.
- A small business getting a transaction carried out: one-third of the transaction’s total value.
- A small business getting help from officials: 10% of the profit received due to the assistance.
- Getting tax arrears written off: from $1,000 to 30-50% of the arrears.
- To win a case in the Civil and Arbitration Court : 10% of the awarded damages.
- To get a television personality to criticise an official: $20,000 a month.
Russia’s newly-installed president, Dmitry Medvedev, is making a big deal about fighting corruption and has set up an Anti-Corruption Council, which he chairs. But given the explosive growth in the business of corruption and the creation and patronage of the billionaire oligarchs under previous president Vladimir Putin, and given the fact that Medvedev owes his position to Putin, it’s unlikely that the Cost of a Bribe — or the Russian dictatorship that oversees the bribery system — will change any time soon.