Tours to prisons are to teach Belarusian officials not to take bribes.
On Thursday a group of officials from the Belarusian Ministry of Industry were taken to detention facility ü1 in Minsk. It was not part of their work, neither were they arrested on any charge, but they could not easily escape this visit as it was organized by the General Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutors in Belarus believe that this new practice can help fight corruption.
Tours to prisons as a method to fight corruption were mentioned for the first time by Belarusian General Prosecutor Grigory Vasilevich last December. Then he said that visits to places of detention for senior officials from those institutions most exposed to corruption can help combat this type of crime, working as a preventive measure. "This will help government officials stand against temptations to make offences for corruption", Vasilevich added. Among the most corrupt spheres he listed were trade, agriculture, construction, production and the system of state administration.
Then it was thought of as a joke, but later it became known that such tours, indeed, took place in 2010. For example, in March a group of officials from the Belarusian Ministry of Agriculture visited a detention facility on Volodarskogo St. in Minsk, local media reported. People generally new to such places were shown investigative offices, the canteen and, of course, the cells. They were told that some of them were so overcrowded that inmates had to sleep taking turns. However, the head of the facility, Sergey Kravchenko, explained that the aim was not to scare the visitors, but to show them the reality.
In April the visiting group of officials from the Ministry of Industry included not only employees of the Ministry itself, but also senior managers of Belarusian large industrial enterprises.
Earlier this year, Vasilevich said in an interview to one of the national TV channels that this program would not include all officials in Belarus: "We do not talk about excursions for each and every state official. By this time there have been examples when some senior officials visited detention centers and colonies".
However, it seems that visits to prisons are becoming part of the national educational work in Belarus. "We even bring some students to such institutions, for example, law students, so that they could have idea about this side of life", said Vasilevsky.
Bird in the hand is worth two in the cell
The Belarusian General Prosecutor's Office has many other ideas on fighting corruption. For example, Vasilevsky believes there is not enough 'glasnost' in fighting corruption in Belarus and offenders must not only offer redress to be released on parole, but also must repent in public. "This way we can gain the psychological effect on potential bribe takers", he says. Also, Belarusian prosecutors propose to ban civil servants from working in organizations they supervised as state officials in the course of two years after they leave their office. Such restriction might be imposed on all categories of public officers, including military men, enforcement agencies officials and others.
Among other recent General Prosecutor's proposals is the tightening of income declaration rules for state officials. First, it says that civil servants must file not only their own declarations, but also declarations of their spouses and minor children regardless of their place of residence. Besides, they must account for much more data than other citizens. Officials must give account of income, property and personal interests, which include any benefit for the official, his family, relatives, friends and other people in close personal contact and also for people and entities with which he had business or common political affairs. State official must also mention any funds in banks, loans given or received, services rendered to them free of charge, etc. Some government officials may be obliged to give such income declarations after they leave office.
The new proposals seem to be a reaction to the difficult corruption situation in Belarus. According to Belarusian General Prosecutor's Office more than 26,000 people were convicted of corruption crimes in Belarus in 2009. It is quite a number for a country with population of 9 million people and a state machine of around 25,000 public officers (1 per 427 common citizens). Besides, the 2009 corruption perceptions index prepared by Transparency International put Belarus in 140th place, between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Out of 10 points (10 means no corruption) it had just 2,4 points.
However, both the 'tour to prison' practice and proposed measures fall within the country's general anti-corruption policies. Interestingly, Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko came to power on an anti-corruption platform. Under Lukashenko, new laws on the fight against corruption were adopted twice - in 1997 and 2006. In his latest address to the nation and parliament Lukashenko said that an uncompromising war is being led against corruption in Belarus: "Regardless of posts, titles and closeness to the president, the treatment will be rough, and even severe, for everybody. I have already ordered that amnesty and other indulgences not be granted to people convicted of corruption".
Obviously, at a time of the economic crisis it would be much more difficult to get feasible results from any anti-corruption program. And it is more than certain that neither the number of public officials who visited prison nor the number of officials imprisoned can ensure its effectiveness.
Darya Sologub for RT