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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another International Evaluation, Another Pathetic Failing Grade for Putin's Russia

Radio Free Europe reports on yet another international evaluation in which Vladimir Putin's Russia is not only failing but getting worse every year. Meanwhile, the benighted people of Russia continue not only to support him, but to reject all serious debate as to his policies, just as in the time of Stalin. It's a sick, pathetic country in dire need of catharsis.

Corruption is getting worse in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union thanks in part to the growing influence of Russia.
That's the view of Miklos Marschall, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International. Marschall was talking to RFE/RL about the global corruption watchdog's new report issued today, The Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries on their degree of corruption as seen by business people and experts. Marschall said there was no improvement overall in the region partly because there was less political will for reforms. "Wherever there is a stronger influence of the European Union, you see improvement," he said. "Wherever Russian influence is growing, the corruption situation is worsening." Uzbekistan was the worst performer in the region, sinking to 175th place, and one of five countries perceived as the world's most corrupt. At the other end of the scale, Marschall pointed to the progress made by the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- on their road to joining the EU in 2004. "Successful reforms of the public administration and opening up the economy can change the situation. And of course this is because of European accession, which was a very powerful external force that pushed reforms in those countries," he said.

He also noted one bright spot in the former Soviet area -- Georgia, which has moved up twenty places on the list to 79th spot.

"It is clear that [Mikheil] Saakashvili’s government brought about significant changes and that is being reflected in the opinion of the international business community, and that is reflected by our score," he said.

Russia itself ranks 143 on the list, a slide of more than 20 since last year, a position Marschall called "a great embarrassment for Russia" as it meant corruption was getting worse despite government pledges and commitments. [LR: Gambia, Indonesia and Togo -- those are the countries Russia is keeping company with on the latest index; oddly, none of those countries sit on the G-8 or wield veto power in the UN. Way to go, Mr. Putin! Maybe soon you will make Russia as good as Libya and Pakistan, countries that are currently less corrupt than Russia]

RFE/RL: Would you give a general picture of the level of corruption in the countries of the former Soviet Union and also describe general tendencies -- if they exist?

Miklos Marschall: The sad conclusion is that there is no improvement, generally speaking, and that is because of many reasons: because of geopolitical [reasons] -- there is a growing influence of Russia -- and there is less political will for reforms. Here I can refer to some geopolitics. Wherever there is a stronger influence of the European Union, you see improvement. Wherever Russian influence is growing, the corruption situation is worsening.

RFE/RL: But the Russian authorities say they are fighting corruption very strongly and are doing all they can to rein in oligarchs and make the business environment less corrupt. How does Transparency International rate Russia?

Marschall: The scores are disappointing and especially disappointing for countries like Russia, where a score of 2.3 puts Russia at the bottom of the global list of the index, which is really a great embarrassment for Russia. It shows the downward trend despite all the pledges and the commitments. According to the opinion of the international business community, the Russian public sector is pretty corrupt. And what is even [more alarming]: it is getting worse and worse, so there is no positive development.

RFE/RL: Does Ukraine, which says it is reforming, score better than Russia?

Marschall: In Ukraine, the score was 2.7, which is a very poor score. Nevertheless, Ukraine is ahead of Russia in our rankings, which shows that despite all the difficulties somehow the reform effort is paying a small dividend. Of course it will take decades -- and not years -- until real improvement will be seen. Nevertheless, some years ago Ukraine was behind Russia, now it is ahead Russia.

RFE/RL: The Belarusian authorities also claim to be fighting corruption, but Belarus is in 150th place on the index. Why?

Marschall: That is one of the most corrupt countries according to our ranking. Out of 180 countries, it has the 150th position, with a score of 2.1. It is one of the worst performers in the post-Soviet region. It shows that Belarus is a pretty closed country in the way that you cannot do business easily there and corruption seems rampant.

RFE/RL: Are the countries of the Caucasus -- Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- doing any better?

Marschall: [There is] not much change. Armenia scores 3.0 and Azerbaijan scores 2.1, which is a low score. In Georgia, it is clear that [Mikheil] Saakashvili’s government brought about significant changes and that is being reflected in the opinion of the international business community, and that is reflected by our score.

RFE/RL: Is the situation changing in the countries of Central Asia?

Marschall: I think the bad news is that Central Asia is generally perceived as a very corrupt region in the world -- from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan, from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan -- these are perceived as very corrupt countries. One of the most corrupt countries this year on our list is Uzbekistan with a score of 1.7. And Uzbekistan is among the ten worst performers. So, I think that reflects that Uzbekistan, once a promising country, has lots of political, economic problems.

RFE/RL: You said that growing Russian influence correlates with growing corruption. So, what is the situation in the Baltic States, which joined the EU several years ago?

Marschall: We have good news to tell you as well and the good news is about the Baltic countries. They are doing better. Estonia has made significant improvements but also Latvia and Lithuania have improved. And that fact is reflected in our scores. So it shows that successful reforms of the public administration and opening up the economy can change the situation. And of course this is because of European accession, which was a very powerful external force that pushed reforms in those countries. Estonia stands out with a score of 6.5 (eds: 28th on the list). But, you know, Latvia (eds: 51st on the list) and Lithuania (51st on the list) with a score of 4.8, also can take credit for some developments.

RFE/RL: What is the corruption situation in another country which has been in the headlines for several years -- Iraq?

Marschall: Iraq is really at the bottom of our index and no one should be surprised about that because it has hardly a functioning government. So it is not a surprise that the public sector is considered by everyone as very, very corrupt. Only Somalia and Myanmar are worse.

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