Nearly two and a half years after the August 1998 financial crisis made the expression "bank restructuring" popular in Russia, the overall feeling is that little progress has been made in this area.
True, several hundred banks have lost their licenses since then. But experts say no general framework has emerged to carry out that restructuring. Prior to the Round Table that The Russia Journal is devoting to that theme on Jan. 23, we asked Pavel Medvedev, chairman of the Duma subcommittee on banks, for his view on the subject.
The Russia Journal: What can the Russian authorities do to help Russian banks restructure?
Pavel Medvedev: One of the key things lacking in Russia is a law strictly specifying all the steps and procedures in a bank's life, from the day it is founded to the day it is liquidated. This chain of events has to be defined. At the moment, many things are pretty vague in a bank's life.
Take, for instance, liquidation procedures. In this country, you have banks that have been in liquidation for years. Another problem is that the courts responsible for liquidations often lack competent and well-qualified people. It takes them ages to make decisions, and one court will often issue several rulings that contradict one another.
RJ: Has the Duma made any progress in drawing up a law that would specify these steps?
PM: A bill has been dragging on for more than a year now. The main reason for that is that our procedure for drafting bills is extremely ineffective. A bill can be initiated either by the Duma, the Federation Council or the President. When any of these originates a bill, this text also has to be examined by the others, and the government also gives its opinion, which is normal.
But instead of getting all these players together to discuss the content and try to reach an agreement, the text just keeps bouncing from one to the other. Each time someone comes up with an idea, someone else disagrees and sends the text back. This goes on forever. Our proposals on the Central Bank are a good example for this. When we drafted them, our text was sent back by the government, which said that we wanted to make the Central Bank dependant on government, which was a bad thing, and asked us to redraft it. So, we redrafted. Then, the new text was sent back by the president, who said we wanted to make the Central Bank independent, which was also a bad thing.
RJ: What should be done to change this?
PM: The problem is that there is a very poor division of tasks, including within the executive branch power. There, at least, the president should be able to tell each person: "OK, you are going to focus on this, and only this." But this is not the case. Everybody gives his opinion on everything and everybody has a different opinion. This is terrible. I hope [President Vladimir] Putin will soon realize that organizing an efficient dispatching of tasks is extremely important.
RJ: Can the West be of any help in fostering this restructuring process?
PM: German experts have helped us a lot. When you draft a bill on a subject like that, there are always moments when you don't know what to do and you need to ask someone else a question. The Germans have been very good at meeting our needs quickly. We have also had some experience with European Commission experts, but that has proved less successful.
RJ: What about the IMF?
PM: There are certain things I understand about what the IMF tells us, and many things I don't. In essence, the IMF is something we Russians are very familiar with: It is a very socialist institution. These people spend a lot of their time telling us, "Come on! Come on!" without telling us explicitly what we should do. Several times, when I asked them what to do, they answered, "We don't know." It seems to me the IMF has spent an awful lot of money just to tell us "Come on."