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Russia: Stepashin Says Putin Will Push Anti-Corruption Effort

  • Michael Lelyveld

Former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin promises that acting President Vladimir Putin will push an anti-corruption program if elected. RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld reports on details presented this week by Stepashin in a speech at Harvard University.

Boston, 16 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin this week outlined details of a sweeping anti-corruption program, saying it has been endorsed by Acting President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at Harvard University on Tuesday, Stepashin, who was recently named chairman of the State Duma's Corruption Commission, said that Putin has vowed to implement the new program swiftly if he is elected president on March 26.

The ambitious program contains many proposals that have been promoted by international lending institutions and promised by Russian governments in the past. Stepashin said the difference this time is that Putin is likely to win election by an overwhelming margin, without depending on Russian industrial groups or oligarchs for support.

Stepashin spoke at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government one day after appearing at the National Press Club in Washington, but he said that many details of the anti-corruption program were being disclosed for the first time.

At the top of the seven-step agenda is reform of government finances, said Stepashin, who preceded Putin as prime minister. The reform would include a new budget code, "based on transparency of all the financial flows in the country," he said. Open budget hearings will be held on both the federal and regional levels, said Stepashin. He promised reform and audits of the state purchasing system throughout the country.

The program would implement a treasury system for executing the budget. All financial settlements of the budget would be transferred to the treasury this year, Stepashin said. Better tax administration, equal enforcement, and elimination of arrears would be a priority, he said. The program also aims to reform the country's complex tax laws in the near future.

"Immediately after the elections, we will indeed have the opportunity to do a real tax system reform," Stepashin said, speaking through an interpreter. "It will be ensured by Mr. Putin's victory in the elections, I believe, with a significant lead, and that will give him political freedom to do all things."

Stepashin also pledged to attack corruption in privatization. He said that anti-corruption agreements are needed in privatized enterprises to provide transparency of financial information and the return of any misappropriated funds.

"Of course, all that should have been done in '92 and '93," he said.

The second series of steps in the program cover state administration reform. These would include better checking of qualifications for office holders, regular rotation of officials into new positions and disclosure of financial interests, Stepashin said. Bureaucracy should be reduced and pay improved to prevent corruption, he said.

The third step is to deal with monopolies in the economy and introduce competition at all levels, said Stepashin. The program would examine monopolies in energy, the telephone system and state banking services, he said. It would also seek to improve financial reporting and management accountability.

The fourth proposal is to reduce economic regulation and barriers to the market. Stepashin said that regulatory authority should be limited in cases where it had simply become an opportunity to solicit bribes. Documentation and paperwork must be streamlined and consumer rights assured, he said.

A fifth section includes support for civil institutions. Stepashin called for an anti-corruption campaign in the media and support for journalists who uncover crimes. Citizens should be educated as to their rights, he said.

A sixth provision includes support for reform in the private sector, including approval of a business code and procedures for financial reporting.

The seventh step would be legislative reform. Stepashin said his commission would study existing laws to determine whether they may actually be encouraging corruption. He said the Duma had already agreed to forward all new measures to the Corruption Commission for analysis from now on.

While the program appears to be the most organized effort yet to address Russia's corruption problems, it also seems to echo Putin's recent comment that "democracy is the dictatorship of law."

By introducing his program to a Western audience, Stepashin may have sought to ease fears that Putin would use a presidential mandate to limit personal freedoms. Instead, Stepashin stressed that Putin's power would be aimed at ending corruption, a top U.S. concern.