Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The inability of the government to act

When part of the government ignores rule made by other parts of the government, how does the system work? Maybe it doesn't.

Laws to rein in Russia’s pretrial detention system are ignored
Over the last 18 months, President Dmitry Medvedev has signed two laws meant to rein in Russia’s notorious pretrial detention system, an institution often used to extract bribes and enforce widespread corruption. He is trying to make the country more governable and conducive to business.

Medvedev sought to discourage police, prosecutors and judges from throwing businesspeopleinto jail on false charges, often in return for bribes from competitors bent on destroying a rival.

But the system quickly proved itself more powerful than the president. The laws were ignored. Yet another of Medvedev’s promised reforms would go unkept, and Russians would remain fearful of their courts and police.

The failed attempt to strengthen the rule of law illustrates an odd paradox: Even as the government has grown more authoritarian, it has become less capable of exerting its will over the vast bureaucracy beneath when that bureaucracy has other interests.

“Of course, they can say whatever they want,” said Yana Yakovleva, who leads Business Solidarity, an organization that fights for the rights of Russian busi­ness­peo­ple. “But there is not a single agency not poisoned with corruption here, and they will listen to what they’re told only if it’s profitable or when their fear is stronger than the desire for money.”

When a compliant judge denies bail, detention gets a businessman out of the way while his company is stolen. It’s a powerful tool for corrupt officials to extract a bribe: Pay up or go to jail…

In April 2010, Medvedev signed a law prescribing bail or release on personal recognizance for economic crimes and, in January, signed another law stipulating that seriously ill detainees need not await trial in jail.

Yelena Panfilova, who monitors corruption as director of Transparency International in Moscow, said this month that corruption has grown more entrenched in Russia over the last decade: If businesspeople once gave bribes voluntarily, perhaps to get a permit faster, now payoffs have become required. Those who refuse to pay often find themselves in jail, despite the new laws…

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