State appointments should be based on skills and competence
Russia will not be able to avoid some deterioration in its socio-economic conditions. So the public needs to be confident that the state and Russia’s leading companies are being run by professionals; otherwise, discontent with the authorities is going to grow.
The general impression is that the Kremlin’s personnel policy errors have left the state bureaucracy unable to function with the maximal benefit for Russia – and the authorities are starting to realize this. The presidential personnel reserve list released last week may be an attempt to seek solutions to this problem.
During the years of prosperity, ordinary citizens might not have noticed who holds the key posts at the helm of the state and the economy, or how well these people perform. But now the situation is changing. Russia will not be able to avoid some deterioration in its socio-economic conditions. So the public needs to be confident that the state and Russia’s leading companies are being run by professionals; otherwise, discontent with the authorities is going to grow.
But the present-day state agencies are noteable for a number of glaring bureaucratic discrepancies. Ordinary citizens – and many bureaucrats too, most likely – still don’t know for sure who is really in charge and ultimately accountable for everything. The Constitution says it’s the president. But that doesn’t explain why the Cabinet makes no public response to the president’s public criticism, and why it seems in no hurry to carry out some of his specific instructions.
The triumph of provincial loyalties with regard to appointments is also surprising. Almost all the most important state offices are held by people from St. Petersburg. They include the president, the prime minister, the speakers of both houses of parliament, most of the key federal ministers, the head of the Supreme Arbitration Court, and the heads of Russia’s largest state-controlled companies. Some ministries have seen a migration of entire teams of bureaucrats from St. Petersburg. It’s hard to recall when Russia last experienced such a powerful influx of administrators from the same city.
Signs of nepotism don’t do much for the image of the authorities either. We’re not necessarily questioning the competence of Senior Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and his son-in-law, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov – or the husband-and-wife team appointed at the same time, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Healthcare Minister Tatiana Golikova. But couldn’t the Kremlin find some skilled professionals who weren’t related to each other? After government appointment decisions like these, it’s hardly surprising to see that lower echelons of the state bureaucracy no longer hesitate to appoint relatives. For example, following the recent resignation of Orel Governor Yegor Stroyev, his daughter Marina Rogacheva also resigned as Federation Council member for the Orel region.
Another obviously disproportionate aspect of the state bureaucracy and state companies is the prevalence of people with a background in the security and law enforcement agencies. These people, trained in the special services to guard the state’s interests, have suddenly been transformed from guards to managers. Their level of competence in this new capacity is frequently dubious. But some of the guards have been unable to resist the temptations accompanying their new appointments – leading to a rise in corruption and chekist power-struggles. These have been evident in the Tri Kita furniture-smuggling case, the General Bulbov affair, and Viktor Cherkesov’s open letter to his colleagues, calling on them to stop fighting amongst themselves.
The presidential personnel reserve now being established offers some hope that appointments in government bodies and state companies will go not only to bureaucrats who are personally loyal to individual leaders, but real professionals whose abilities wouldn’t be doubted by anyone.