Staunton, February 18 – The announcement that the Russian government will spend 25.7 trillion rubles (400 billion US dollars) over the next six years is supposed to encourage Russians that things will get better, Vladislav Inozemtsev says; but an examination of the past two rounds of such projects shows that the only beneficiaries have been officials and their allies.
The very idea of “developmental projects” arose in Russia in 2008 when Dmitry Medvedev came to office and promised massive investment in healthcare, demography and infrastructure (spektr.press/koshelek-dlya-byurokratii-vladislav-inozemcev-o-tom-pochemu-rossijskie-nacproekty-obogaschayut-chinovnikov-a-ne-stranu/).
The results have been anything but promising: In 2007, there were 400,000 HIV cases in Russia; now there are most likely 1.3 million. The number of cancer cases has grown from 2.4 to 3.5 million, life expectancy has supposedly increased from 67.4 to 73.2 years from birth, but the size of the population remained stagnant and has now again begun to decline.
For ten years, the new highway from Moscow to St. Petersburg was promised but not built. The high-speed rail network from Moscow to Kazan wasn’t either; “and all major projects (from Vladivostok to Sochi and the Crimean Bridge) were more for show” than actions that had a positive impact on the country.
“In other words,” Inozemtsev says, “it is difficult to believe that ‘national projects’ fundamentally changed Russian reality.” And the case of those announced in the May 2012 decrees have fared no better: the number of hospitals and schools has continued to fall, and qualified personnel are ever more concentrated in major cities.
That prompts the question, he says, “why then do the authorities again proceed along a path which doesn’t lead to success?” The answer lies in the fact that “the attitude of Russian bureaucrats to state finances is that they somehow belong personally to them and not to the Russian people.”
Instead of investing in people as other countries do and measuring success in terms of how they live, the Russian government allocates money to officials who decide how to spend it, all too often on projects from which they benefit either directly or indirectly rather than on anything that benefits the population.
The measure of success in the Russian bureaucracy is the amount of funds one controls not the success of the projects one is supposed to promote. That leads to increasingly bloated budgets that do not have real world consequences beyond enriching the bureaucratic stratum around the Kremlin.
“As a result, we have what we have: Russian roads are among the most expensive to build in the world, but what is still more surprising is that from 2003 to 2017, the length of new automobile roads fell from 3200 to 1900 kilometers a year” even as the cost of the highway construction program mushroomed from 124 billion to 630 billion rubles (two billion to 10 billion US dollars).
The same thing is true across the board, Inozemtsev says. The government cracks down on waste, fraud and abuse, but only to keep the bureaucracy “in tone” rather than to address the underlying problem.
As a result, “’the priority national projects’ today are in essence a single national project: the elaboration of a system to support the personal interests of the thieving bureaucracy,” (emphasis added) not in the interests of the population or the business community.
And this system is getting worse as each new wave of national projects introduces measures which are easier to fudge. Instead of talking about the number of kilometers of new roads to be built, the latest projects speak of the percentage that meet federal standards and so on and so forth across the board.
Consequently, “all that is worth knowing about national projects is this,” Inozemtsev concludes: they put money in the hands of the bureaucrats.” In Russia that is a national project. Putting money in the hands of ordinary Russians is “something alien and contradicts the basic features of Russian statehood.”
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