“Functionaries more often lose the understanding of what can be done and what can’t”

But by thoughtlessly reducing the number of state workers, one can just do harm, thinks expert in state management Pavel Kudyukin

In Russia, which is considered to have a too big army of functionaries (1,2 million people), it’s supposed to reduce administrations of federal ministries by 10% by 2020 and by 15% by 2022. The Federal Ministry of Finance considers that this must be done due to growing digitalisation of processes in state management and also to increase state workers’ salary to a decent level. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, famous expert in state management, Deputy Minister of Labour and Employment of Russia in 1991-1993 Pavel Kudyukin explains why authorities are putting the cart before the horse when reducing the number of functionaries.

“People seem to be laid off, but, in fact, they are transferred to some subordinate organisations”

Mr Kudyukov, why do proposals to reduce functionaries whose number is considered by your colleagues excessive sound constantly, and decisions on reductions are made from time to time, but the number doesn’t reduce anyway?

Before talking about the necessity to reduce functionaries or augment their number, we should find out what they do in fact and should do. It’s of prime importance. And then we can look at how many people functionaries account for and what jobs in our country they are needed for.

To make a conclusion about a necessary number of functionaries with good qualification, we, unfortunately, lack empirical evidence. Yes, in 2003, authorities made an attempt to analyse functions of federal agencies of executive power to find out what functions of functionaries we need, what are in surplus and so on. And this was to have been the first step to decide how many people should perform these functions. But this job remained uncompleted! Though the commission for administrative reform under Vice-Primer Boris Alyoshin completed the analysis of regulators, and this was to have reduced functionaries who deal with these functions. But systematically, nothing is done. And Primer Medvedev has recently said about the “regulatory guillotine”, that’s to say, about the surplus of regulatory norms.

Instead, we again see instruction from the top “Let’s reduce the functionaries by some percentage!” But what are they doing in the meantime? They are reducing vacancies, as any agency has a number of vacancies! Vacancies are held with two purposes – not to “kill” live people in case of layoff spending money on stimulating payments to those who work thus raising the total amount of maintenance of functionaries of an agency. Moreover, people seem to be laid off, as it happened during previous “layoffs”, but, in fact, they are transferred to some subordinate organisations, while these organisations were handed over the functions or part of the functions. And this isn’t very good for society because it turns out that not a state agency deals with managing functions but some subordinate organisation, institution or unitary enterprise. In fact, it turns out that we cancelled people’s status of state workers, but in fact, they continue doing the job with another status. And what’s the sense? In general, they are putting the cart before the horse.

“Before talking of the necessity to reduce functionaries or augment their number, we should find out what they do in fact and should do.” Photo: smolnarod.ru


“If we go to a municipal and join the queue, it means there is not a lot of work in this office”

What would correct, reasonable approaches to the layoff be?

The case is that the work on analysis of functions of state bodies and their examination for excessiveness is to be done quite regularly, but in some places in Russia, it’s done either sporadically or not done at all. I worked in one of the groups that dealt with such a job in 2003. At first, we tried to apply the following approach. We invited a functionary that was to explain the necessity of his functions. And we asked him: “Let’s suppose that your function isn’t needed, prove that it is! What society will lose if we cross a function out?”

Posing the question was unusual for functionaries, and they didn’t prove very convincingly that damage would be done to society if some functions were cancelled. But I understood that the approach for analysing an agency’s functions must be economic. We look at the damage that could be done to society if some function isn’t performed and the value of its performance. Clearly, it’s comparable not only with money because we see a complex economic concept “costs – advantages” in front of us, and here costs and advantages aren’t only monetary.

“Alyoshin’s commission in the early noughties worked during the whole year but didn’t complete the work. But the work shouldn’t be total – it can be done in parts, for instance, to improve regulatory functions first, then take on functions in a specific area of society’s activity.” Photo: tsagi.info

Work in this respect has always been done, but not regularly, and most importantly, it wasn’t enough systematic and consecutive, due to this we can’t convincingly justify the quantity of functionaries and their structure by types of activity.

The fact that there are a lot of functionaries is ingrained in our social conscience, but, on the other hand, if we go to a municipal or state agency and join the queue because there is a shortage of functionaries who work with clients, it turns out there is not a lot of work in this office. And we should start looking at how they are distributed and what they do.

How much time can the commission take to find out how many functionaries the country needs and where?

Alyoshin’s commission in the early noughties worked during the whole year but didn’t complete the work. But the work shouldn’t be total – it can be done in parts, for instance, to improve regulatory functions first, then take on functions in a specific area of society’s activity.

“It would be quite good to increase the number of people working in state labour inspections”

Can we understand now in what sphere had a big deficit of functionaries?

It would be quite good to increase the number of people working in state labour inspections – now functionaries are failing in both meeting citizens’ labour rights and occupational safety because they don’t have enough staff. Of course, the activity and quality of such staff are a problem, which causes even proposals of some trade unionists to dissolve labour inspections so that workers will settle their conflicts with employers.

Then it’s Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor. It’s obvious that its functions can be used to utterly terrorise small and medium-sized enterprises. But, on the other hand, its functions refer to our health: we all want not to be flog something rotten. This is why careful analysis is needed to understand what’s justified in this body’s work and what isn’t. Unfortunately, not always a purchaser can learn about a product’s quality on his or her own, and commercial business doesn’t like the law on consumers’ right protection very much. But our number, the consumers, is bigger than those who sell us something, offer services and so on, and we want our rights to be protected somehow.

“Unfortunately, not always a purchaser can learn about a product’s quality on his or her own, and commercial business doesn’t like the law on consumers’ right protection very much. But our number, the consumers, is bigger than those who sell us something, offer services and so on.” Photo: Maksim Platonov

I have recently read that the layoff in the Central Bank’s system is quite successful: the employees of this body have being laid off for 10 years, while the regulatory’s effectiveness doesn’t fall. What’s the secret here?

The Central Bank is a very specific sphere. But probably the fact that the number of banks in the country has been notably reduced for these 10 years also affected such a result. I will remind that the Central Bank quite strictly works in this sphere, moreover, requirements for credit institutions tighten. Of course, it’s hard to completely exclude cases of abuse, fraud in this activity, too, but the strictness is plain to see. And as you see, there is already a tendency for monopolisation of the banking sphere, and state-led banks are playing a bigger role here.

How do you evaluate the role of digitalisation (automation) in this problem?

These processes run quite well in the tax service, first of all. And though there are complications in this structure, for instance, when tax workers are forced to sign an agreement with quite certain firms making software for tax records (here corruption can be easily suspected), but digitalisation is successful here.

What is a Russian functionary now?

If we’re talking about a functionary who communicates with the populations, there is certain progress here. I have a feeling that they began to do serious psychological training, and they learnt how to talk with people. But, on the other hand, if we’re talking about federal functionaries, the level of qualification of an ordinary performer to the middle chain inclusive has seriously fallen, therefore there is a growing load on employees on higher posts who have to complete the work for their subordinates.

But judging by great scandals, the volume of corruption at the high and middle levels has greatly risen. In some cases, this means the same excessiveness of regulation. Moreover, there is blurring professional ethics of state workers and people who are on state posts. They start to say that corruption isn’t corruption at all, like it’s fine, and the scariest thing is that functionaries more often lose the understanding of what can be done and what can’t.

Perhaps should we pay greater attention to the dialogue of authorities and the business community? Because the interest of both sides theoretically will help to both lay off functionaries and create measures to reduce corruption. Or am I naïve?

There is such dialogue on a constant basis – there are unions of businesses that turn to authorities with some initiatives, there are different social councils in executive power’s agencies, and there is dialogue there too. But this dialogue is very often held not to create a single and transparent system for everyone but rather tearing private privileges and advantages, which, again, is semi-corruptive interaction.

Yes, there is state interest and businesses’ interest, but they don’t coincide in Russia. The famous American formula “What's good for General Motors is good for America” is a lie. And when people say “what is good for a business is good for society”, it’s not always correct. This is why another way is needed to solve problems. Not only businesses in the country have problems – there are hired workers with their own interests, but there are also citizens as consumers, and there must be quite multilateral dialogue here.

Will there be any positive results regarding the effectiveness of functionaries’ performance in some 10-15 years?

I am quite pessimistic here. The case is that these problems are raised in Russia from time to time, and the president often talks about these things, but all this indicates that problems aren’t solved, and I don’t see the real political will to solve them from the point of view of authorities. And our society is quite corrupted, it tries to not just change the situation but adjust to it in corruptive ways.

By Sergey Kochnev

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