“Our citizen's dislike of officials is a common form of distrust of the state”

Former Deputy Minister of Labour and Employment of Russia Pavel Kudyukin about the next campaign to reduce civil servants

“Our citizen's dislike of officials is a common form of distrust of the state”
Photo: rosbalt.ru

Earlier this week, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced the need for administrative reform by reducing civil servants from 5 to 10 per cent — mainly through vacant posts. It was decided to hold it in the period from January to April 2021. Pavel Kudyukin, the former deputy minister of labour and employment of Russia, expert in the field of government reform, discusses what to expect from the next campaign to reduce civil servants.

“It is a common belief in our country that officials are parasites. There is an element of truth here, but far from absolute”

Mr Kudyukin, what is the reason for Mishustin's proposal in your opinion?

There are no special, current reasons for plans to reduce civil servants, and there is an impression that this is a kind of ritual. Every prime minister at some point considers it his duty to announce that it is necessary to reduce the number of civil servants.

In principle, the current reduction — but not by a fixed percentage, but depending on the situation — may be due to the so-called “regulatory guillotine”, which is now quite loudly proclaimed, but which is going with a big difficulty.

It concerns the number of those who are engaged in regulating the activities of economic entities — thus, it can reduce the regulatory burden on businesses from the control and supervisory services. If the idea of the “regulatory guillotine” is implemented, then there will be an objective opportunity to reduce the employees of the control and supervisory services.

Perhaps, the reduction of civil servants, rather than people who perform certain functions, is also due to the transition to the “one-stop shop” principle, that is, the development of cross-functional centres for the provision of municipal and state services. We simply shift the functions of officials on the employees of institutions, and thus redistribute the size limits and funding limits from government agencies to other organisations. Moreover, now it is more convenient for citizens to communicate with multifunctional public services centres than with a huge number of state and municipal bodies.

But until any specific explanations are given as to what Mr. Mishustin had in mind, it is difficult to comment on the new decisions. We hear that, yes, it is planned to reduce officials by 5 per cent in the central office and by 10 per cent in the territorial bodies, but it looks like it did before — we will cut vacant vacancies, but at the same time, we will increase the salaries of those who work, because, as a rule, the unused part of the payroll fund goes to incentive payments to employees.

Photo: open-dubna.ru
Perhaps, the reduction of civil servants, rather than people who perform certain functions, is also due to the transition to the “one-stop shop” principle, that is, the development of cross-functional centres for the provision of municipal and state services

So you don't see the same possible savings in state funds? The ministry of finance said that otherwise, without reducing the number of officials, 100 billion rubles are needed to bring their salaries to a decent level.

Everything is unclear here — well, we have reduced vacancies, and are we reducing the payroll fund for officials or not? Nothing is stated about this. If we reduce it, then there is a problem: the remaining civil servants will receive less money for their work. Will they be happy with it? Strongly doubt it. If we maintain the payroll fund while reducing vacancy rates, the question arises — what has changed?

Most likely, everything will end up like all the previous cuts. In other words, it is possible that the number of staff in a number of departments will decrease for a while, but then it will start growing again.

Why? Because the reduction itself is meaningless if we do not understand what state and municipal employees do in general and in what bodies. Now it is obvious that there are places where they are most likely not enough, and there are places where they are not needed. And this needs to be analysed urgently.

It turns out that after the ministry of finance announced the next reduction of civil servants in April 2019, there have been no changes in this issue?

There have been no fundamental changes. Including in the approaches to this issue.

Why?

We have a widespread idea that there are too many officials, that they are parasites who do nothing, and if they do, they only harm, and this has become a prejudice of public opinion. Certainly, there are elements of truth in these prejudices, but they are far from absolute. But the main reason is precisely in them — we do not see other rational approaches to cuts at the top.

“The impression is that state corporations are departments for transferring public funds into private pockets”

Is it possible to understand now where cuts are really needed?

Let's figure it out.

In the regions, we deal with three different categories of employees — employees of territorial executive authorities, employees of the federal subject, that is, regional state authorities, and, finally, municipal employees. Separate analysis is needed for these categories.

The current announced cuts still apply to the federal authorities, but to answer your question, in principle, based on my observations of recent years, the problem with tax inspections has somehow been solved. They have reached the optimal number of employees who work with visitors, and the Federal Tax Service is developing the forms of electronic interaction.

But with regionals and municipalities, the picture, to be honest, is unclear. Let's take the departments of social protection of the population — some of their functions went to the same multifuntional centres, but how this affected the number of social protection units is unclear.

Photo: Gulandam Fatkhullina
But with regionals and municipalities, the picture, to be honest, is unclear. Let's take the departments of social protection of the population — some of their functions went to the same multifunctional centres, but how this affected the number of social protection units is unclear

In 2019, you said that in general, it would be correct to reduce the officials of some supervisory organisations such as Rosobrnadzor. Some Telegram channels reported that the cuts of officials may now affect the Treasury, Rosreestr. How correct would such decisions be?

In the Treasury, some part may be reduced through automating processes, but we must understand that this is a very responsible body, since its work concerns the financing of the entire budget sector, both federal and regional. And even if the money for the same public procurement is transferred through some commercial structure, it must also pass through the Treasury, because it is also a control body. Does the Treasury have the technical capacity to reduce people? It's hard to say. Regarding Rosreestr — I doubt that there will be cuts. There are still a lot of problems with registering real estate rights, and it is a big question how well the federal registration service will cope with it.

To what extent is it necessary to reduce employees in state corporations?

State corporations are a separate matter, their employees are still not civil servants, and what Mishustin said does not apply to them.

Under Russian law, state corporations are independent in determining their size, and they are not allowed to lower the number of staff and staff schedule from above, they set it themselves.

This raises another question — how justified the status of state corporations and their very name as “state corporations” is. After all, as soon as public money gets into state corporations, it ceases to be state-owned, and the level of state control over state corporations (with the exception, perhaps, of Rosatom, where it is very strictly prescribed) is very inefficient. And it seems that state corporations, with some exceptions, are such departments for pumping state funds into private pockets.

“There are fewer officials per capita in Russia than in the United States, but does this mean that our official is more effective?"

What about local and regional officials?

According to the Constitution, Russia is a federal state, and the subjects of the federation are state entities that, within the framework of legislation, are, in general, independent within their powers — in the same issues of distribution and control of budget funds.

Certainly, the prosecutor's office controls the legality of the actions of any organisations, whether they are federal, regional or municipal authorities. However, federal control and supervisory authorities can check the legality of actions of non-federal bodies in a rather limited way. If we are talking about the powers of the subject, then this is a matter for the subject itself, and control is a matter for the subject itself.

As for monitoring the performance of officials, this is, of course, a weak point in the public administration system. Although the Accounts Chamber has raised the question since the end of the 2000s that it should control not only the compliance of budget allocations with their intended purpose, but also the effectiveness of their use, there are still many problems with this, including in the regions. There are many problems, including because it is very difficult to develop criteria for the effectiveness of officials' work.

The lack of methods for determining the effectiveness of officials' work is actually a global problem. Even in commercial structures, the so-called KPIs are the subject of large and constant disputes about what they should be, how effective these indicators are, and even comes to the question of whether they are needed at all. This is a very difficult question.

Photo: rulenta.com
Although the Accounts Chamber has raised the question since the end of the 2000s that it should control not only the compliance of budget allocations with their intended purpose, but also the effectiveness of their use, there are still many problems with this, including in the regions

But if the effectiveness of officials is not measured properly, can we not say that there are a lot of officials in Russia?

Of course, we can make some estimates and compare our picture with the best examples, that is, compare the number of officials per 100,000 people with other countries. But the difficulty lies in the fact that countries in the world are different, and it is clear that a long country, a significant part of which is sparsely populated, like Russia, cannot be compared with the Netherlands, where the population is small and the country is densely populated. And where the degree of transport accessibility is higher than in our Siberian regions, where access to officials is problematic and where officials really need to be placed more often than at the moment.

Of course, this approach gives you a lot to see. We will see that we have fewer officials per capita than in the United States, but does this mean that our official works more efficiently than the American one? This would be a pretty bold assumption without more research.

This also raises the question — who do we consider a civil servant? A person who has the status of a civil servant? Different countries have different criteria, and the conclusion should be based on comparable criteria.

Besides, do not forget that many functions of state agencies are given to subordinate institutions, and how to take into account the number of these employees if they only partially perform state functions? There are a lot of problems, and they are very difficult to solve, so it is very difficult to say unequivocally that we have reduced so many people and cannot continue to reduce them.

Do you agree that officials would be different if a sound economic and social strategy for the development of the country, where the main goal is people, was adopted at the top? After all, if the attitude to people was at the proper level, it is unlikely that the issue of reducing officials would be on the agenda.

I agree with you. Our citizen's dislike of officials is a common form of distrust of the state. Although most people will say that we trust our native state with all our heart, this is a kind of abstraction. Yes, they trust the president, to a lesser extent the government, but they do not trust officials, because an official is the person of the state with whom a citizen directly communicates.

Photo: pravdaurfo.ru
Officials are not trusted because the official is the person of the state with whom the citizen directly communicates

In other words, the general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the country is transferred to specific officials, who are mostly just performers. Yes, they are not very good performers, but in general, with a better organisation of management and a better organisation of setting tasks for their implementation, even these officials could work better. But so far, we can't expect any drastic changes.

By Sergey Kochnev