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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Meet-a-Minister Program is Launched

Where do I sign up to see a minister?

Perhaps surprisingly, that question f put forward by just about every ordinary Russian who walks in the door of the two-storied building behind the White House where the government processes requests and complaints f is met with an impeccably polite answer: Please go to Room 1-05, where your problem will be taken care of.

On Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's orders, Cabinet members are scheduled to personally receive ordinary citizens and attend to their problems.

According to the schedule posted next to Room 1-05, Vladimir Bulgak, deputy prime minister for industry and communication, is to host the first such audience on Tuesday. Other Cabinet members lined up for meetings through the end of the year include First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov, who will be receiving petitioners Nov. 6.

Primakov himself, however, is so far not on the schedule.

Not everyone is granted an audience with a Cabinet member. Petitioners first must make their case to a government clerk, who judges whether their case merits a minister's touch. So far, applicants have ranged from ordinary people with their own economic programs to Muscovites furious with their neighbors.

"Look, it could be something like, 'Could you please tell [my neighbor] Seryoga to stop blocking the water pipe, because if he does we don't get any water,'" said a government official who works with the general public, and who asked not to be identified. "And they actually want Yevgeny Maximovich [Primakov] to directly interfere and help."

The official said that up to 80 percent of the requests are either far too trivial for the federal government, or can at least be sorted without the direct involvement of the Cabinet.

In fact, so far officials have been hard-pressed to offer an example of a case that does merit a minister's hearing.

Applicant Yevgeny Stepanovich, for example, a pensioner who tried to sign up at the office on Thursday but did not want to give his last name, certainly needs some serious help. His $2,000 savings, needed to buy medicine for his sick daughter, was initially trapped in an account at the failed Inkombank. Salvaging what he could under a government bailout program, Yevgeny Stepanovich transferred his savings to state-owned Sberbank at the highly unfavorable set exchange rate of 9.88 rubles to the dollar.

"But then I heard Primakov's promise to guarantee all private deposits, so I wanted to restore my account in Inkombank," he said. He did not seem to know that Inkombank itself this week flatly announced that it was utterly unable to pay any of its depositors and that they all ought to go to Sberbank.

Yevgeny Stepanovich said he was told he could not meet a minister, but was promised someone in the government would write to Inkombank asking it to make a special exception for him.

Another applicant Thursday was a scientist who gave his name only as Robert. He said he had come to offer the government a plan to ride out the economic crisis. In return for his plan, Robert added, he himself wanted official status as Maslyukov's adviser and control of Russian economic policy.

"They took my address and telephone number and said that they will contact me," he said with satisfaction.