Mr. Vyborny, you’ve been engaged in anti-corruption work for many years. In your opinion, what is the secret to success?
There are three pillars of anti-corruption: political will, quality laws, and effective enforcement. As of today, Russia has political will in this respect and well-developed anti-corruption legislation. But in terms of the third pillar, we are just now seeing the flywheel of law enforcement picking up speed.
We’ve often heard claims that corruption is not only the main obstacle to the country’s development, but is also a threat to national security. There is no doubt that the country’s leadership is determined to minimize this force. The events of the past few years serve as testament to this fact. We no longer have people who are “untouchable.” Even top officials accused of corruption end up behind bars. The country’s leadership understands that business cannot develop in and investors will not come to a country that has high levels of corruption.
By the way, we’ve seen feedback already. According to expert assessments, over half of entrepreneurs feel that the government treats business like a partner.
What about legislation? Is there still a lot to be done?
As of today, Russia has one of the best anti-corruption legislations in the world. This is acknowledged by many experts from different countries all over the world.
So right now the issue is not overhauling the existing legislation, but rather fine-tuning it. Suffice it to say that the number of anti-corruption laws and regulations has grown by more than 10 times over the past 10 years. In the first 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had only passed 9 anti-corruption laws and regulations at the federal level. From 2008 until the present, we managed to pass over 90, half of which are federal laws.
There was a radical shift in 2008, when an Anti-Corruption Council under the leadership of the head of state himself was created. A national anti-corruption plan was approved, and a basic federal anti-corruption law was established.
As we know, since then the state’s punitive policy has been significantly strengthened and penalties for corruption have become harsher. Moreover, there are institutions that were previously not part of the Russian legal system. For example, we now have controls in place to ensure that the expenditures of officials don’t exceed their income, we confiscate property from officials if they cannot explain where it came from, and we dismiss officials from their position if there has been a loss of trust.
And what about implementing this legislation?
The implementation mechanisms have been launched. Every state body has an anti-corruption unit, an open government has been established, along with public and expert councils for different ministries and departments. All of this allows us to systematically strengthen business protection among other things, with the oversight of state authorities.
At the same time, there are still a lot of problems in the sphere of law enforcement and there is a lot to work on. This first problem is staff.
The most concerning aspect is the sphere of preliminary investigations, and the justice system in general. Unfortunately, many criminal cases of a financial nature never make it to court, and a lion’s share of those that do end up falling apart in the courts.
In this situation, it’s obvious that it’s due either to unprofessional work by the investigators or pressure on the defendants. That’s why there are a lot of complaints, including complaints addressed to the State Duma.
Right now, there is a lot of demand for state officials. People shouldn’t end up in civil service by accident. If we are able to solve this problem, we’ll be able to get corruption levels down to a minimum.
But in spite of all these efforts, Russia doesn’t fare well on anti-corruption indices. Why is this the case?
There are different kinds of rating systems, and it’s important to understand and pay attention to the kinds of data they’re based on.
For example, there is an index put together by Transparency International — a non-profit organization founded in 1993 by the former World Bank manager Peter Eigen in Berlin. In 2016, Russia ranked 131st on the index, right next to Iran, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. But this organization doesn’t assess actual corruption, but rather how Russia is perceived by other countries. This approach calls into question the organization’s objectivity.
And another example. In 2011, the Doing Business index, which determines which countries have the best investment climates, Russia placed 120th. In 2017, we were already in 40th place.
If this trend continues, we’ll be in the top 20 within a few years. And, among other things, this is the result of consistent state anti-corruption policies.
What do experts think about Russia? For example, what about members of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO)? The third round was held recently, what can you say as the head of the Russian parliamentary delegation to GRECO?
This professional platform gave us a good assessment, there were no serious comments or complaints. I can say that we are respected. As a rule, there is no politics here, and the committee is made up of reputable experts - former judges, prosecutors, lawyers. The final assessment of how well Russia complies with international requirements will be published at the end of 2017, but I think we can count on good results from this assessment round.
A number of experts say that Russia should create an alternative anti-corruption rating platform. What do you think about this?
This is entirely possible and even reasonable. Information wars have generated a lot of demand for objectivity. So I think it’s worth starting to talk about the possibility of creating an index like this within the scope of, for example, the Customs Union, CSTO, EEA, or BRICS. Moreover, it would make sense to have an internal anti-corruption index, where we can see how anti-corruption legislation is implemented in different parts of the country. We have everything we need to make this happen.
The State Duma has already passed a lot of anti-corruption laws (and will soon pass more) aimed at civil servants. But it’s not pervasive across all spheres, and some people think that the only way to be successful in business is to have connections or give bribes. What’s the best way to combat this?
The law should treat everybody equally, and there should not be people who are untouchable. An institution like inevitability of punishment should operate like clockwork: if you did it, you pay for it.
In business, the most important thing is reputation. Back in 1912, a Code of Honor for Entrepreneurs was first established in Russia. It contained the key principles of doing business: “an entrepreneur must be an impeccable example of honesty and truthfulness; success in business largely depends on the degree of trust in others have in you; in trying to achieve a coveted goal, do not go beyond the bounds of what is permissible.”
These principles were more than just words. They worked in practice. That’s why a lot of business in Russia was done on a handshake, and a merchant’s word was as good as the word of an officer.
And exactly 100 years later, in 2012, the Anti-Corruption Charter of Russian business was established. This document is a revival of the best traditions, the traditions of doing business honestly, without bribes and kickbacks, not just for the government, but also for your fellow entrepreneurs. Of course a charter is not law but an ethical document, but it plays an important role in promoting anti-corruption incentives for doing business and anti-corruption business culture in Russia.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the need to pass a lobbying law in Russia. But this word has negative connotations for many people, and is practically synonymous with corruption. What do you think about this?
It’s a well-known fact that the legalization of lobbying is only possible if it is complemented by well-developed anti-corruption legislation. The issue of legalizing lobbying has been on the agenda for over 20 years. In the 90s, passing this kind of law would mean legalizing corruption, so it’s understandable that some people were outraged at the mere mention of lobbying laws. But today, this kind of law would actually be helpful in terms of separating the wheat from the chaff and improving anti-corruption legislation. Especially since the institution of lobbying already exists in practice. Essentially, this concept just means that a specific group’s interests are represented. Members of Parliament at all levels defend the interests of their constituents. The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs represents the interests of big business, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents the interests of small and medium-sized business, and so on.
Thus, de jure institutions of lobbying exist and they are already working. But there is no single basic law on lobbying. The reason, in my opinion, lies in the absence of a detailed concept, based on the principles of state regulation and legislative requirements for the legal status of lobbyists.
For this to happen, it is necessary to clearly outline the legislative framework for lobbying, which will ensure a reduction in the level of corruption in the legislative process and public administration; the preservation of constitutional order of implementation for state and municipal powers of authority; the legalization of financial resources allocated by business for lobbying purposes; as well as public disclosure and professionalization of lobbying activities.
The government can and should take this step for business. And by extending this kind of trust, it will both strengthen our dialog with business and help bring it to a transparent and professional platform.
By the way, several years ago, in a message to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the authorities to focus on entrepreneurs who value their business and social reputation. After all, the issue of effective cooperations between the state and business in the fight against corruption is, above all, a matter of mutual trust. At the same time, the basis of this trust is first and foremost a consistent state anti-corruption policy, an advanced legislative culture for doing business, and an anti-corruption model of behavior.
I am confident that we’ll see a lobbying law in the foreseeable future.
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