Corruption Drive in Chechnya

The Chechen authorities appear to be tackling systemic corruption, but how far-reaching will their campaign be?

Corruption Drive in Chechnya

The Chechen authorities appear to be tackling systemic corruption, but how far-reaching will their campaign be?

Thursday, 22 December, 2005
The arrest of a senior official formerly in charge of a vast war reparations fund appears to mark a new commitment to curb corruption in Chechnya - but there are fears that corruption is so deeply entrenched that it will take more than a few headline-making cases to root it out.

Abubakir Baibatyrov, who in 2003-04 headed the committee responsible for compensating people who lost homes or other property during the years of conflict, was arrested in Moscow on November 28 and is now in detention in Grozny. He has been charged with abuse of office, and is suspected by officials of embezzling more than 15 million roubles, about 520,000 US dollars, from the fund.

IWPR was unable to reach Baibatyrov or a lawyer representing him for a comment on these allegations.

The same week, the Chechen branch of Russia’s FSB security service opened a criminal case relating to large-scale theft from a project to rebuild Grozny’s main airport. Details of this case and of individuals who may be under suspicion have not been made public.

Taken together, these cases suggest the authorities have set about reining in corruption, first focusing on the funds earmarked for Chechnya’s post-war reconstruction.

If that is the message being sent out, such moves are likely to be welcomed by people who feel they have been robbed of the benefits due to them.

The major concerns with the property compensation scheme are that some people have been unable to get money they are owed for destroyed properties, while others have paid over large sums to middlemen or officials to ensure their claims were dealt with.

The thousands of people whose property was damaged or destroyed during the fighting are entitled to 300,000 roubles (10,000 dollars) for homes and 50,000 roubles (1,700 dollars) to cover other items.

A source at the Chechen finance ministry told IWPR that 14 billion roubles (480 million dollars) has been set aside. But only about 40 per cent of the total of 83,000 people who have claimed compensation have actually received it.

Ramzan Katsayev, who lost his house to aerial bombing in Grozny but has failed to get any money out of the authorities, said, “Like practically everyone who submitted documents to receive monetary compensation, I was made an offer to divide the money 50-50 [with fund officials]. I refused, and as a result I can’t get my money.”

Many accuse officials of siphoning off the funds rather than paying it out to those who deserve it.

“What can people do when the state has robbed them down to their last shirt – and not once but twice over?” said Aslambek Apayev, head of the non-government Committee to Protect the Rights of Forced Migrants. After people lost homes in the conflict, he said, “the bureaucrats… then take away even the paltry sum that’s been promised to them. Nowadays, that money is enough only to build decent foundations for a average-size house”.

Public anger over the payments reached such a pitch last year that the most powerful figure in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, took charge of the compensation committee.

A former employee of the compensation body, who asked not to be named, told IWPR that Baibatyrov was being unfairly made into a scapegoat.

“There have been a lot of complaints made against our committee, but it’s quite wrong to place all the blame on Baibatyrov,” he said. With multiple documents relating to over 80,000 claims - some of them fraudulent - being processed by different layers of bureaucracy, he went on, “Baibatyrov simply could not control everything and everyone.

“I think this is just another PR campaign that’s being used to persuade people that everything is getting back to normal, and that the authorities are serious about solving problems.”

The second case involves the Severny airport in Grozny, where work is continuing even though the deadline for reconstruction which began in 2001 ran out at the beginning of this year. Earlier this year, the Chechen government said flights from the airport would resume in the first quarter of 2006, but this date has now been put back a further six months.

It is unclear what the case launched by the FSB relates to, but it is believed to involve the diversion of project funds.

Figures describing the extent to which public funds are being misspent or simply stolen are naturally hard to come by, but a report by Russia’s national audit office which came out on December 16 suggested that the Chechen reconstruction programme was consistently failing. The chamber calculated that only 127 out of the 274 public and business buildings scheduled for reconstruction had been completed. And the problem did not lie in a lack of funding – only 3.5 billion out of the eight billion roubles Moscow allocated for reconstruction in Chechnya had actually been spent.

The suggestion that large sums of money are disappearing from high-profile projects will come as no surprise to people in Chechnya, who see bribery and corruption taking place at every level – in Moscow as well as Grozny.

“Money allocated for the reconstruction of Chechnya is simply being stolen,” said Ali Dakayev, who works for a non-government organisation in Chechnya. “First in Moscow, then here. There is a whole system of kickbacks and percentage cuts being taken and other fraudulent practices that are employed by top federal [Russian] and local [Chechen] officials.

“Bribe-taking and open extortion have reached a terrifying scale, and the most terrible thing is that the public has somehow just grown accustomed to it.”

And it is not all about headline-making corruption scandals - people regularly hand over bribes to get an education, advance their careers or simply cut through red tape.

According to Dakayev, it costs up to 3,000 dollars to get a place on a university law degree course, and about the same to join the police force. Every service also has its price, from getting admitted to hospital to getting something signed. “They take your money for any piece of paper,” he said.

Dakayev believes that corruption needs to be addressed urgently, “At the present time, when people are mostly worried about security and murders, abductions and unsanctioned detentions are still a problem, the issue of corruption is a secondary one But sooner or later it will have to be tackled – and it would be better sooner than later.”

Umalt Dudayev is an IWPR contributor from Chechnya.
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