Bring Back War Against Cabinet Fat

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The structure of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Cabinet probably reflects his vision of how the government should be run. It has a record number of deputy prime ministers -- seven. This will inevitably create overlapping functions and competition among them, allowing Putin to remain the ultimate powerbroker. For Sergei Mironov, a staunch Putin loyalist and speaker of the Federation Council, this represented the successful realization of public administration reform.

In reality, however, Putin's Cabinet represents the ultimate death of the set of reforms conceived by former Kremlin deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak several years ago.

The reforms, which Putin kicked off with a March 2004 presidential decree, divided government bodies into ministries, agencies and services. The ministries were supposed to formulate policies, the agencies were to implement them, and the federal services were to exercise oversight over the implementation of the policies and compliance with laws in their relevant spheres.

Putin also ordered the number of deputy ministers to be cut to two at each ministry as part of the 2004 reform program. The reforms aimed to divide the functions of agencies in order to improve the efficiency of the country's traditionally bloated public administration system. It also aimed to prevent abuse of power and decrease corruption by distributing among various government bodies the responsibilities of formulating and implementing policies and exercising oversight.

But these reforms stalled as ministries resisted giving up implementation and oversight functions to agencies and services, and Putin appears to have lacked the will to enforce his own reform program. The ministers also eventually defied the requirement to have just two deputies, and the overall number of employees in their ministries mushroomed.

This week, the number of ministries increased by two amid a government reshuffle endorsed by President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin also disbanded a number of federal services and agencies. This decision drove the last nail into the coffin of the much-needed reforms. No resident of this country -- unless perhaps he is a bureaucrat himself -- is pleased with quality of public administration.

In the World Bank's governance indicators for 2006, the effectiveness of Russia's government was ranked in the low 38th percentile, while its rule of law ranking was in the 19th percentile.

Putin and Medvedev are well aware of this poor governance problem. Rather than configuring the executive branch to suit themselves, they should revive and complete the reform of the public administration system, making it a slimmer, efficient machine tailored to the needs of the public.