Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Budget Problems May Point to the End of Another Putin Innovation – Regional Ministries

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – Moscow is already committed to eliminating the Ministry for Crimean Affairs; now “Novyye izvestiya” reports today, a Duma committee is about to take up the possibility of dismantling of the two other “regional” ministries, the Ministry for Development of the Far East and the Ministry for the Caucasus.

            Nikolay Kharitonov, head of the Duma’s Regional Policy Committee, says that “issues of regional development should be in one set of hands.” Other ministries already have “departments responsible for specific territories” and consequently there is no need for such duplication and competition (newizv.ru/politics/2015-07-14/223777-territorialnyj-spor.html).

At the same time, the chairman continues, he isn’t sure whether these ministries will all be eliminated.  “I have been in the Russian parliament for more than 20 years, and the executive authorities almost never ask out opinion about the utility of creating or liquidating agencies” even when budgetary considerations are paramount.

But Natalya Zubarevich, a regional specialist at the Moscow Independent Institute for Social Policy, says that doing away with these ministries would not save a great deal of money. “The subjects [of the federation] get funds directly [from the center] and these ministries are only decorative. Their effectiveness is small. They only prepare studies.”

She suggests that the importance of these regional ministries lies elsewhere: The appearance of the three over the last three years serves as “a demonstration of the geopolitical interests of the state.”  That will make dismantling them difficult if not impossible because of what their elimination would say in that sphere.

            But there are at least three other reasons why they may survive: First, doing away with them would force the transfer of formal and actual responsibilities to other ministries, adding to bureaucratic confusion. Second, it would create a new class of officials for whom other jobs would have to be found lest they become troublemakers.

            And third, it could lead people in the Duma and elsewhere to raise questions about other duplicate forms of administration introduced by Putin, including perhaps most importantly the federal districts, whose bureaucratic growth has become a problem for both the regions – the FDs interfere in everything – and Moscow, because they are larger and fewer than the subjects and thus potentially more serious competitors.

            But at present, budgetary concerns are driving many decisions as can be seen in Putin’s own order to cut the staff of the critical interior ministry by ten percent, something that other bureaucratic players will see and seek to use for one purpose or another, including for those not in the Kremlin’s interests (argumenti.ru/society/2015/07/407291).

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