Wednesday, 08 March 2006

CONFRONTING CORRUPTION IN CHECHNYA

Published in Field Reports

By Alisa Voznaya (3/8/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Baibatyrov in 2003-2004 directed the committee responsible for compensating Chechen victims, who had lost their homes or other property during the years of conflict, and is suspected of embezzling more than 15 million roubles (ca. US$520,000) from the fund. In the same week, the Chechen branch of the FSB security service launched a criminal investigation exploring extensive theft from a project to rebuild Grozny’s main airport.
Baibatyrov in 2003-2004 directed the committee responsible for compensating Chechen victims, who had lost their homes or other property during the years of conflict, and is suspected of embezzling more than 15 million roubles (ca. US$520,000) from the fund. In the same week, the Chechen branch of the FSB security service launched a criminal investigation exploring extensive theft from a project to rebuild Grozny’s main airport. The project to reopen Grozny’s Severny airport for flights to Moscow has been underway since 2001, and its deadline for reconstruction ran out at the beginning of 2005.

The attempt to curb corruption comes after public outcries of the misuse of funds allocated for Chechnya’s post-war reconstruction. The major concerns with the property compensation scheme are that a large number of people failed to receive reimbursements for their destroyed properties, while many others were forced to hand over extensive sums of money to officials to secure their compensation. The problem of corruption is hardly novel in the context of the property compensation scheme. In 2003, thousands of Chechens were left off the lists for reimbursement for their war-damaged property due to a short amount of time allocated to Chechen bureaucrats to order an inventory of destroyed housing stock. But further analysis concluded that in addition to a rushed assignment, there were variable mistakes in information input and significant levels of corruption. In order to obtain their allocated funding, many Chechens had to rely on bribing the officials involved in the compensation process. In 2003, the now imprisoned Baibatyrov assured the people that the errors in the inventory system would be quickly fixed in order to replace those who were entered in error in the list of beneficiaries by those locals who had indeed lost their homes. Initially, there were signs of progress, but as recent events indicate, the problem was hardly resolved.

The fact that only around 40 percent of people entitled for property reimbursements were issued funds for the reconstruction of their domiciles escalated public anger to a point that Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic’s prime minister and unofficial leader, took charge of the compensation committee. Baibatyrov’s arrest was a means to quell the public outrage. But questions arise as to whether this was a false move, for corruption in Chechnya is so widespread that these topical punitive measures against the program director would hardly alter the course of actual fund distribution. Corruption and fraud are prevalent among both the officials and the citizens, with bribery conducted as a regular everyday transaction to obtain the desired end, be it entrance to a post-secondary educational institution or a signature on an official document. Some experts believe that this is simply a PR campaign on the behalf of the Chechen government to assure Chechens that normalcy is returning to their republic, with corruption battles being highlighted as a first step to solving serious bureaucratic problems. Yet, the punishment of the leading figure of the property scheme project fails to identify the endemic corruption schemes prevalent within the bureaucratic community of the local ministries and project funds.

In a similar vein, the FSB case is believed to involve the diversion of project funds, albeit on a much grander scale. In this case, sums of money are not extorted from ordinary citizens through bribery methods, but are misspent or even siphoned on a variety of administrative levels. The Russian national audit office calculated that only 3.5 billion out of the eight billion roubles Moscow sent for the reconstruction of Chechnya had actually been spent. This type of corruption is less visible to the regular public, but it severely undermines any realistic attempts to reconstruct the war-ravaged republic. In May 2004, a team of top state officials and energy executives came together in Grozny to announce a plan to reopen the Grozny airport for flights to Moscow, to install a central banking system, to introduce a telecommunications sector, and to induce more finances for the rebuilding of ruined houses, new roads, schools, railways and hospitals. Part of the plan was securing the funds against corruption. A year and a half later, there is little indication that this plan will succeed. The delay of the opening of the airport continues, the property project consistently emerges as one of the most corrupt operations in the region, and the citizens have become accustomed to a system of dishonest transactions, which have become a way of life.

Corruption is a difficult vice to confront and defeat, and especially so in Chechnya, where military campaigns, abductions, murders and unsanctioned detentions dominate personal security. The governmental initiative, both on the republican and federal levels, to fight corruption must continue through a further investigation of departmental and individual policies on bribe extortion and fund siphoning. Institutional measures must be installed to prevent future cases of fraud. With a mounting fight against corruption, it is possible for the Chechen government to reintroduce a level of normalcy to the otherwise very difficult existence of its denizens.

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