Under Putin, Russia's Government Has Become More Accountable

The digital age has truly opened up what was previously a “closed shop” in Russia. When a citizen logs a complaint over his personal computer or smartphone, the complaint is systemically monitored. The civil servant cannot simply induce it to disappear or otherwise go away

Mon, Apr 17, 2017
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This year over 6,000 officials were fined approximately 30 million rubles, and 14,000 were reprimanded and disciplined with similar permanent notations on their service records
This year over 6,000 officials were fined approximately 30 million rubles, and 14,000 were reprimanded and disciplined with similar permanent notations on their service records

It is springtime in Russia and as the locals say, “the sap is rising in the trees”, cats are making unholy noises at night, and the Prosecutor General's Office is reviewing punishments doled out to over 20,000 officials who violated procedures in handling and resolving appeals by citizens.

This year over 6,000 officials were fined approximately 30 million rubles, and 14,000 were reprimanded and disciplined with similar permanent notations on their service records. This springtime assessment is about cases where officials look at complaints or requests for too long or completely ignore them. Not too many years ago such officials has a relatively free hand in determining the rhythms of action or inaction which of course paved the way for “sweetening” such requests.

In 2011, a project called Information City was started in Moscow that has been now extended until the end of 2018 with the federal government and many federal regions intently watching and imitating. The city began by investing in ICT infrastructure development, m2m projects, e-healthcare and e-education, public services delivery, citizen engagement and many solutions that now are included in the “smart city” concept.

Over these past six years Moscow implemented a unified e-doc flow and accounting for all governmental institutions, online procurement systems, open budget, automated healthcare and education systems for all public clinics and schools, built IoT platforms for smart metering and city vehicles, deployed citywide e-voting and crowdsourcing platforms and moved more than 200 public services online including through mobile devices. Moscow has become the de facto beta site for the federal government, allowing them to prioritize those systems that can make practical improvements given budgetary realities.

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Today in Putin’s Russia, the practices are far different from even 5 years ago. Russia is taking full advantage of the digital revolution by tracking and monitoring the process of two way communication, and issues resolution between citizens and the government. Old habits die hard, and many of the violations were committed by officials ‘forgetting’ to inform citizens about the status or progress of their complaints or by lazily redirecting appeals to other departments that cannot consider much less make a ruling on them.

In the local vernacular of the past, these pass-the-buck actions are known as "formal unmotivated responses" to appeals. These actions can also include making scholarly references to some arcane fictional regulation, complexly worded, which (very conveniently for the official) ‘prevents’ a response.

This past year, the Prosecutor General's Office found more than 72,000 such misdemeanors. They were committed by, among others, officials of Rospotrebnadzor, the Federal Antimonopoly Service, Rosprirodnadzor, Rosreestr and the bailiff service, as well as non-governmental organizations in the housing and communal services sector. Prosecutors formally reviewed more than 2 thousand decisions made by officials who ignored citizens' complaints, and 18,900 submissions to the state organs.

The choice between disciplinary or administrative punishment depends on the status of the official: the rank and file bureaucrat can be punished only by a disciplinary order, but the boss can be convicted. There are still loopholes insomuch as an official can only be fined within three months after committing a violation. If an offense was discovered later than that, the official only faces a penalty.

As far as I am aware, this is currently being fine-tuned as much depends on improving coordination between the various organs, updating regulations reflecting the new reality, and fast tracking responses by the courts.

For example Rosreestr (the ministry dealing with registrations) considered last year more than 136 thousand citizen applications, of which only 0.05% were handled with violations of some sort.

The work of civil servants be it in Russia, the USA or the Congo are not famous as being customer-friendly or client-oriented. To date the main job for Russia was making services convenient and ensuring useful, accountable, high-quality feedback. The time is now at hand, according to the Minister for Open Government Affairs Mikhail Abyzov, to make inroads changing the mentality of civil servants.

To improve the quality of work that the state organs perform with citizens' requests and appeals, much depends on current programs being introduced that create effective mechanisms for public control over state services. The digital age has truly opened up what was previously a “closed shop”. When a citizen logs a complaint over his personal computer or smartphone, the complaint is systemically monitored. The civil servant cannot simply induce it to disappear or otherwise go away; it must now be responded to and resolved to the satisfaction of the citizen in a defined period.

Organs of the prosecutor's office do not always treat complaints received with full attention, notably disregarding appeals that have a "political component" or relating to "high-ranking figures" like ministers or governors. In general, regional prosecutors work more efficiently and better than the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, reacting to almost all requests timeously and effectively. Nevertheless, this too is changing especially with the developmental experiences gained in the regions; the most effective programs are now being introduced to the main General Prosecutor’s offices in Moscow. The result is to harmonize the application of regulations to reduce or eliminate potentially abusive incidents by using the no-people systems approach. Positive progress is tangible already in the day-to-day lives of ordinary Russians.

Many municipalities and regions have adopted the “one window” approach to serve citizens quickly and with less time wasted. Previously, every step along the way of getting a decision required the citizen to physically find and visit a plethora of obscure officials and offices… not for the faint hearted!

The one window approach has proven itself over and over again as a winner since it requires only one visit, and the chain of events begins, is monitored, flagged, and in a pre-defined period of time will yield a decision. The same one window approach is also being replicated digitally with even better efficiencies. Who can say what this will develop into over the next 5 years? Judging from performance to date, it will be even faster and better.


Paul Goncharoff is Chairman, Disciplinary Committee, National Association of Corporate Directors, Russia.

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