Bureaucrats Are Facing Pressure to Work Faster

Bureaucrats will be forced to quickly process applications for new businesses, newly purchased property and driver's licenses under a pilot program that targets corruption.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry intends to spend $44.5 million this year to apply "customer charters" to 19 federal agencies and their counterparts in 29 regions.

The ministry hopes to curb bribery and other forms of corruption with the program, which will be applied to officials who register businesses, real estate and cars, offer driver's licenses, issue passports and approve state subsidies for utilities' costs and welfare payments, said a statement posted on the ministry's web site late last week.

The charters spell out, among other things, the maximum amount of time bureaucrats are allowed to spend processing documents or requests.

Under the new rules, a customer cannot wait in line for more than 30 minutes and a request for a specific document cannot be processed longer than 15 days.

The program is part of ongoing administrative reform launched in 2004 to optimize the structure and performance of federal agencies.

Andrei Sharov, head of the ministry's department for state regulation of the economy, which is largely responsible for overseeing the administrative reform, said the customer charter would make it more difficult for bureaucrats to demand bribes.

"Corruption among officials will decline, because the charter and not the official will decide how long it takes to process documents," Sharov said, in comments published in Vedomosti on Friday.

If the program is successful, all federal and municipal agencies will be required to follow it, Sharov said.

It was unclear Friday how the rules would be enforced, and ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

The selected agencies include the Federal Migration Service, the Federal Registration Service and the Federal Labor and Employment Service. The selected regions have not been named.

Observers welcomed the program but said it would be useless without tough supervision to ensure bureaucrats followed the new rules.

"This is certainly a step in the right direction, because the work of bureaucrats must be subject to strict regulation, especially when it comes to time limits," said Oleg Kuznetsov, director of the Expert Institute, a think tank that tracks the administrative reform.

People often agree to pay bribes to bureaucrats in exchange for a promise to speed up approval processes.

Kuznetsov said the charter must be realistic so that bureaucrats would be able to meet the stated targets.

"All that requires a lot of well-thought-out work and considerable expense. Otherwise it might turn into yet another short-term campaign, he said.

Several studies have shown an increase in corruption amid President Vladimir Putin's efforts to streamline bureaucracy. Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks Russia with Sierra Leone, Niger and Albania when it comes to corruption.