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Friday, August 01, 2008

Medvedev and the New Nomenkatura

An editorial in the Moscow Times:

President Dmitry Medvedev should be commended for publicly admitting what everyone knew was a large contributing factor to corruption in post-Communist Russia. Addressing a group of his key aides and selected ministers on Wednesday, the president acknowledged that government posts are filled on the basis of nepotism rather than meritocracy, and in some cases, they are put up for sale.

Medvedev also lamented the lack of qualified candidates for gubernatorial posts and other senior positions, describing the situation as a "personnel famine." The president said he would personally handpick candidates for governors' posts to form a "presidential reserve."

On the same day that Medvedev spoke, a Kremlin official told Vedomosti that the president wants to institute a policy in which appointments will be transparent and comply with clear and objective criteria. Candidates should preferably have experience in both the public and private sectors. The official said career law enforcement and military officers would not be welcomed.

The quality of public administration both at the regional and federal level leaves a lot to be desired, and Medvedev is absolutely right that improvements must be made. One sign of how ineffective some regional leaders are is the stark disparity in economic development and living conditions in the country's regions. Because Moscow has done a lot to force governors to toe its line and receives a large share of locally collected tax revenues, it is also partially to blame for this disparity.

Medvedev's proposal to create a presidential reserve offers little hope that the type of real competition between ideas and individuals that generates and rewards new and more effective approaches will be introduced.

Even with the talk of base requirements in experience and education required from prospective candidates, the proposed list smacks of the old nomenklatura system.

The presidents have been handpicking governors for three years already, and it doesn't seem to have helped to achieve a sustainable, nation-wide improvement in the quality of governance. If the president is serious about making the regional system of public administration efficient, he should be doing a lot more than simply issuing statements about nepotism and corruption in personnel policy. He should take concrete steps to improve the quality of training for officials and design a coherent, transparent system of performance evaluation, in which promotion and pay raises are based on merit. He should also push to make the legislative and judicial branches of power in the regions independent and efficient.

No matter how capable Medvedev's appointee may be, he or she won't be able to do a good job unless there is a robust parliament and judicial system and civil society to provide both help and oversight.

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