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Analysis & Opinion
16.06.11 Expressing Gratitude
By Tai Adelaja

Russians love to say "thank you" in the most generous way possible, which is why, in recent years, bureaucrats with voracious appetites for money have seen their business grow. Russians paid at least 164 billion rubles ($5.9 billion) in bribes last year on non-business related expenses, including improper gifts to teachers, policemen and others in "everyday" situations, a study commissioned by Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development found.

Russians have been paying more non-business related bribes in recent years to access basic services often taken for granted elsewhere, Oleg Fomichev, the deputy minister of Economic Development, told journalists on Tuesday while presenting the report. And non-commercial bribery is not just becoming more rampant, it is taking on a comic luster. Twenty-seven year old army officer Yulai Giniyatov was found guilty of obtaining various perks – including a puppy – from a conscript under his command last year, in exchange for passes to leave the unit, Interfax reported on Wednesday.

Incidences of non-commercial bribe-taking, Fomichev said, are much more prevalent in the regions like Krasnodar, Voronezh and Kaliningrad, while fewer bribe-taking offences are recorded in the Jewish Autonomous Region, Kurgan and Arkhangelsk. Corruption is most widespread in the Southern Federal District, followed by the North-Caucasian and Central Federal District, the study, which was conducted to determine the level of non-business related bribery in the country, found.

Corruption is more pervasive in the country’s health and education sectors, where factors such as poor remuneration of employees vis-à-vis the high cost of living create incentives for bribe taking. The study also found that corruption is endemic in higher education, among traffic police, in army conscription and in payoffs for admittance to kindergarten. In one of the most recent cases, the Moscow police reported that parents paid between $3,000 and $3,500 to hire undergraduate students from the elite Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) to help high school finalists take the Unified State Exams, Lifenews reported. Last year, many high school teachers were busted trying to help their students solve questions in the state-conducted exams after allegedly receiving money from the parents.

But across many of Russia’s 87 regions, corruption was most widespread in healthcare services, the report said. Russians paid a total of 35,295 billion rubles ($1.25 billion) in bribes to buy off health workers last year, despite the modest size of an average bribe – 3,476 rubles ($115). Federal investigators reported last year that the regional authorities bought CT scanners for as much as four times their factory price. The allegations prompted the Kremlin to launch a nation-wide investigation of health facilities, while President Dmitry Medvedev ordered regional prosecutors at the time to "break the chain of corruption."

"Non-commercial corruption is the bane of everyday life in Russia,” said Alexander Oslon, the president of the Public Opinion Foundation, which helped conduct the latest study. "Unlike corruption in the business sphere, where kickbacks and palm-greasing are the norm, non-commercial bribery often takes on the form of gifts in exchange for favor, some everyday, others special. It is a voluntary way of saying 'thank-you' for the services rendered, just in monetary terms."

The market for non-commercial bribes reached 129 billion rubles ($4.3 million) in 2005 from 84.8 billion rubles ($2.8 million) in 2001. The average size of non-commercial bribes in Russia increased to 5,285 rubles ($187.4) in 2010 from 2,780 rubles ($92) in 2005. However, the number of corrupt transactions declined from 46 million to 31 million over the same period. The number of cases when officials are rewarded with bribes for performing their duties has been growing – from 24 percent in 2001 to around 33 percent in 2010, the report said. As if in order to lighten up the depressing statistics, the survey found “a dramatic reduction” in the number of Russians who did not know how or when to give bribes – from 24 percent by the last count to just nine percent last year, Fomichev said. Only one percent of respondents said they do not give bribes for fear of punishment.

Some analysts have suggested that the increase in the rate of bribe-taking in Russia is proportional to the increase in the role the government plays in managing the economy. “By getting deeply involved in the economy, the government has boosted the role of bureaucrats as economic levers,” said Kirill Kabanov, the head of the nongovernmental National Anti-Corruption Committee. "The more money the government pumps into the economy, the higher the level of corruption, because bureaucrats can only feed at the public trough." Kabanov, who is also a member of the Kremlin’s human rights council, said corruption and bribery are systemic problems in Russia. "Corruption and bribery are woven into the fabric of our economic culture. The reason why corruption is all-pervasive here compared to the West is that while Western nations rely on the people to run the government, the Russian government is completely run by well-entrenched bureaucrats."

Vladimir Pribylovsky, the head of the Panorama think tank, agreed, but added that corruption runs in a vicious circle in Russia. "Traffic police have to take bribes as they themselves have to bribe their way into juicy postings at road blocks," Pribylovsky said. "Parents sometimes have to pay for books and sometimes not. Teachers often have to be bribed into putting in their best and people have to bribe their way to access basic services."

Meanwhile, the metastases of corruption, which has become a staple of Russian economic life, continue to spread in Russia faster than in other countries, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported on Wednesday. Corruption in Russia’s education sphere, which normally ranks ninth in Transparency International’s 11-scale global assessment, is heading for the number one spot on the list, the newspaper said.
The source
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