Medvedev starts corruption battle with new plan

A041916912.jpgMOSCOW (Reuters) – Calling graft a threat to Russia’s security, President Dmitry Medvedev released on Friday his national plan to fight red tape and corruption.

The plan, published on the official Web site www.kremlin.ru, calls for sweeping legal and social reform that, fail or flourish, analysts say could define Medvedev’s presidency.

Medvedev’s plan calls for performance evaluations of bureaucrats, an online case assignment system for trial judges, and a system for checking the incomes, properties and business connections of government employees.

Corruption is a way of life in Russia, a daily occurrence at all levels of society, from minor fees for traffic cops to the massive kickbacks paid to senior officials holding sway over the country’s vast, largely untapped natural resources.

“Corruption hinders … the economy’s efficiency, causes serious alarm in Russian society and distrust in government institutions, creates a negative image of Russia in the international arena and can be considered a threat to the Russian Federation’s security,” the plan said.

In a survey asking people to rate how honest their own country was, Russians proved more pessimistic than most, ranking joint 143rd with Indonesians, Gambians and Togolese out of 180.

Berlin-based Transparency International compiled the index of global corruption perceptions last year.

BRIBERY BOOM

Russia’s leaders have repeatedly started anti-graft drives in the past, with a few high-profile arrests of bribe-taking officials but little wider impact.

“The president is treating the plan very seriously and will make every effort to make it successful. However, the problem of corruption in Russia is deep-rooted, and little obvious progress in combating it has been made to date,” Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital said in a note.

Investors say bribery’s prevalence and scale have soared as the economy has boomed.

Opinion polls show corruption as one of voters’ chief concerns, and a senior prosecutor in June estimated that yearly graft equals a third of the budget, or $120 billion.

On Thursday Medvedev held a high-level meeting with senior governmental officials in a central Russian town to highlight the red tape and bureaucracy that hampers small business in Russia.

During the meeting, broadcast in full on the 24-hour state television news channel, Medvedev said officials were using red tape and bureaucracy to stage discretional checks and extort bribes from business owners.

“Our law-enforcement bodies should stop terrorizing business,” Medvedev said on Thursday.

To ensure probity, the plan calls for the regular rotation of people in official positions, an inspectorate to look into complaints of corruption, and for more and better television programs “on legal education”.

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