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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

A new survey says costs corruption at $3bn per year

By Alan Quartly Moscow

If you want to know the time, ask a policeman.

Not in Russia, you dont. Hes more likely to sting you for a bribe which hell pass right on to his superior officer.

Corruption is a popular perception in Russia and its now backed up by a report that says nearly $3 billion a year is paid in bribes to officials in law enforcement, medicine, education and other government agencies.

Many Russians will tell you that greasing palms is an accepted way of making things happen. The figures published by the Indem think-tank in Moscow are a shocking confirmation:

$398 million a year paid to traffic cops and ordinary police $602 million spent for various stages of medical treatment in the ostensibly free health system $519 million to get the best school and university places

The figures are estimates based on a survey. But a brief investigation into some incidents of bribery on an everyday level make the numbers come to life.

Captain Mikhail Pashkin is head of the Moscow branch of the Russian police trade union. With the average salary of police officers being 3,000 roubles (not quite US$100), he says Russian policemen inevitably become corrupt.

"If an officer doesnt earn much, hes forced to steal," he says, believing that most officers take home more than double that amount.

Captain Pashkin assumes they make up the difference between their actual 3,000 rouble salaries with bribe-taking.

Multiply that by 100,000 - the number of officers in Moscow - and you get an idea of the quantities of cash passing through the police coffers, says Pashkin.

"Money is collected all the time in the police stations - for the commanders birthday, for funerals of officers. It works out at around 200, 300 roubles (nearly US$10) a day. Where can the guys get that money from?

"Its a hidden form of bribe-taking by the bosses. He tells his officers he needs money for a good cause, but in reality no-one knows where the money goes."

Natasha, a secretary for a western firm based in Moscow, discovered the hidden cost of healthcare in the Russian hospital system when her elderly mother became sick with a kidney disorder.

"She had some pain, she couldnt eat all her food. The problem started to occur every two or three months. She was like an invalid, she couldnt go out."

One day her condition got so bad that she was rushed to hospital. But treatment was not instant. It was only after a $400 backhander that the doctor started to pay minimal attention to the patient.

College fees

This situation was repeated when Natasha tried to get treatment for her baby child who was experiencing breathing difficulties.

She ended up hiring hospital doctors out of hours at $20 or $50 a time.

"I am lucky because I have an opportunity to pay. But its awful for me to think what I would have done if I didnt have this money to pay. I wouldnt know what to do," says Natasha.

Even schools and universities are not immune to these kind of payments - the amounts can be astonishing.

Parents admit that the practice of paying for places in the most prestigious universities is also widespread.

Alexander, whose 17-year-old daughter is hoping to enrol in a Moscow college this autumn, says figures of $20-$25,000 are standard for entry into the top educational institutes.

"This is a problem for me and my family. Of course we understand we will have to pay some money for my entering university," says his daughter Vera.

"Our world isnt right and in our world we have to pay for everything - for our education, our work. Its a common rule."

Huge effort

Georgy Satarov, author of the Indem report into Russian corruption, was an adviser to former president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and has an inside knowldege of how Russias institutions function.

He blames what he terms the transition period the country is going through, from communism to capitalism. Countries like Britain and America have experienced similar periods in their history, he says.

"You cant win an absolute victory over corruption, but you can lessen the rate. I think this will be possible to achieve here if we make a huge effort - it could be got rid of fast, in less than 50 to 100 years."

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