There are unlikely to be many people who disagree with the statement that corruption is one of Russia’s most pressing political, economic and social problems. On almost a daily basis we have to hear about the need to fight against this evil. However, there are far fewer concrete recommendations, especially ones which take into account international experience. Meanwhile, this kind of experience could prove to be extremely useful for us. Once again a recently published work by the respected Asian researcher, Professor for the National University of Singapore John Kwa, persuades us that this is the case.
It is a very short article, but its advantage is that firstly its conclusions are made with reference to specific countries and statistical data, and secondly in the report the phenomenon of Eastern corruption is written on by a specialist who is a native of Asian culture. This report also attracts attention because much of what Professor Kwa describes can be observed today in Russia. That is namely economic growth on the back of attempts to reform the state organs, which in combination with national traditions of bribe-taking helps corruption to flourish.
It is curious that in spite of record economic growth, the increased prosperity of the population and the development of high technology, corruption in Asia has not been defeated. In East and South-East Asia there are only two places where this problem has been almost entirely solved. That is Singapore and Hong Kong, which even having become part of China, where the fight against corruption is just as unsuccessful as it is rigorous, remains a territory free from bribe-takers.
In Asia, just as in the rest of the world, corruption prevents the fight against poverty, and does not allow the problems of developing human potential to be solved. Professor Kwa notes that even in the poorest Indian states, there are no poor people who are not forced to give their last coins to corrupt officials, thus becoming even poorer. The following figure proves that corruption hinders economic growth: according to data from the World Bank, between 1977 and 1997 the government of the Philippines, which is far from being one of the richest states, received 48 billion dollars less than was its due.
In reflecting on the sources of corruption, Professor Kwa singles out five reasons for its emergence, which can be perfectly applied to Russia’s realities. Firstly, Asian officials take bribes because of their low salaries. (In Mongolia, for example, there are many judges among homeless people.) Secondly, due to large-scale reforms, governments are simply forced to expand their powers. In this situation, corruption especially flourishes in those posts where officials are in direct contact with ordinary people. There is more corruption in a tax office than in a state research institute, Professor Kwa notes accurately.
Among the other reasons for corruption, he singles out the fact that officials are sure that they will not be caught; or if they are caught, that they will not be punished; or if they are punished, then not heavily. An important role is also played by the Asian tradition of giving gifts, especially as a sign of gratitude for services which have been rendered. In the view of the Singaporean researcher, the most significant thing in the fight against corruption is that the authorities must truly wish to eradicate this evil. All the other methods, forms, laws and structures will come naturally. For example, In Thailand everything is in place so that officials should be afraid of taking bribes. But nobody is determined to apply the corresponding measures: the chains of mutual favours reach the very top.
In terms of formulas for concrete anti-corruption measures, Professor Kwa insists that success is attainable only through a combination of three conditions: legislation which has had time to have an effect; a single agency to investigate all cases of these crimes and which has been provided with the necessary resources for this; and an effective system of punishing bribe-takers. But for all this to work, the true political will of the country’s leadership is required, and not just pre-election slogans for yet more noisy campaigns. For Russia, this advice is more than timely.
Translated by James Platt