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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2002.

Not All Listen to Putins Orders

By Nabi Abdullaev

When President Vladimir Putin barks an order, the government only springs into action about half of the time. And many of the orders he made last year remain unfulfilled.

The findings by the presidential administrations oversight agency shatter a widespread belief that the tough-talking Putin is also a tough administrator who always gets things done. Red tape and a lack of understanding about how to implement the orders were the main barriers blocking their fulfillment, the Main Control Directorate said.

While Putin is nowhere close to Josef Stalin in spurring his people into action, he is well ahead of former President Boris Yeltsin.

Only 48 percent of the 543 direct orders handed to certain officials last year were promptly fulfilled, the directorate said in a report released on the presidents web site this week. Another 328 direct orders remain unfulfilled.

Putin also signed 1,013 presidential decrees, of which 787 have been fulfilled, the directorate said. Eighty-three percent were carried out in a timely manner.

The report did not measure the effectiveness of the implementation.

The directorate said 81 percent of Putins orders in 2001 have been fulfilled, a large increase from 54 percent in 1999, when a disgruntled Yeltsin sacked and replaced a seemingly endless line of officials.

Although Putin has demanded much better performance, he remains no match for Soviet leaders, said Andrei Neshchadin, an economist who worked in the Communist Partys Central Committee. He said less than 5 percent of all orders from above went unfulfilled before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.

Neshchadin, who now heads the Expert Institute with the Union of Russian Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said the crux of the problem lies in incompetence.

"Many bureaucrats come to their offices from universities and therefore lack professional field experience," he said by telephone Tuesday. "They often dont understand the problems that they are called to resolve and are unable to clearly formulate the task for proper implementation."

Another hindrance is a dubious distribution of power and responsibility between the ministries, he said.

"For example, only in Russia are pensions decided by three agencies -- the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the Labor Ministry and the Pension Fund," he said. "This means that every document has to be coordinated by officials in each one in a process that delays the fulfillment of an order and results in an enormous volume of paperwork."

It is common for ministers and their deputies to become so burdened with paperwork that they end up delegating to subordinates who, in turn, are reluctant to take responsibility, he said.

Red tape is nothing new in Russia, and many consider it a normal part of the government. Peter the Great is even said to have once issued a decree ordering his officials to carry out his other decrees.

In Soviet times, the bureaucratic system was the most streamlined under Stalin, said Anvar Amirov, an analyst with the Panorama think tank. "When his successors tried to replace terror with economic incentives as the driving force for managing the country, the power structure weakened immediately," he said. "After all, this process killed the Soviet Union."

For centuries, middle- and low-ranking bureaucrats were not held accountable to the public, causing them to neglect their work and use their offices for personal wealth, said Yury Korgunyuk, an expert with the Indem think tank. "Even a very strict ruler cannot oversee the whole state apparatus by himself," he said. "It needs control not only from above but also from outside."

He said he believes Putin is doing a good job in getting the most important things done.

"Having control over potential threats to his power is what makes him strong," Korgunyuk said. "Putin secured his power by reforming the Federation Council and installing his representatives in the Russian regions."

Moscow residents will get a chance to see how promptly Putins orders are fulfilled this week. On Monday, Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to put out the peat bog fires in the Moscow region that have blanketed the capital in its worst smog in 30 years.

The last time smoke covered Moscow, in 1972, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev called Moscow Communist chief Mikhail Solomentsev and ordered him to deal with the problem, said an aide to Yegor Ligachyov, a former Politburo member. Solomentsev deployed thousands of soldiers to fight the fires, and in two weeks the smog over Moscow had vanished.

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