The Putin administration has been pushing various structural reforms, including legislative initiatives aimed at debureaucratizing the economy and overhauling the country’s largely unreconstructed Soviet-era legal and judicial system, while shaking things up at Gazprom, a textbook case of corporate opacity if there ever were one. All of this should be music to investors’ ears.
Yet there were fresh reminders this week of what a long row Russia still has to hoe. For example, Transparency International, the Berlin-based corruption watchdog organization, came out with its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, listing ninety-one countries according to their level of corruption as perceived by businessmen working there. The good news was that Russia’s cleanliness rating was better than last year, when it came eighty-second, tied with Kenya. That bad news was that it came in seventy-ninth this year, tied with Ecuador and Pakistan. The business newspaper Vedomosti noted sardonically that it least Russia had rated “more honest” than Nigeria, the perennial champion, which placed second-to-the-worst this year, just behind Bangladesh. Vedomosti, meanwhile, published the findings from a probe into Russia’s Railways Ministry carried out by the watchdog Audit Chamber. The agency found that the ministry had spent $2,466,800 in federal funds to buy apartments for four of its top officials, and a bit more than a million bucks to buy a fleet of Audis. That, of course, was just the above-board stuff.