Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strana.ru Takes Pulse of Government Openness

Kremlin-connected web site Strana.ru is keeping an eye on the transparency of federal and regional authorities nationwide.

Together with the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper and the Mediasoyuz journalists union, Strana.ru has ranked 434 government bodies in Moscow and the regions based on their willingness to provide information.

"The problem of authorities' transparency is one of the most important for Russia at the moment," said Vadim Malkin, Strana.ru's information director.

"First, transparency is one of the key principles for a democratic society," Malkin said. "Second, if we really care about Russia's image and reputation worldwide ... that directly depends on the level of transparency of the Russian authorities."

More than 1,000 journalists from Mediasoyuz graded the government bodies on a scale of 1 to 23 based on their public relations services, web sites, rules of accreditation and responses to requests for information.

The transparency index was published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta last week and can be found on the Internet at www.strana.ru/stories/02/04/08/2719/128316.html.

The Moscow region came out the big loser, with the regional Duma and the governor's administration both scoring 0.03 to tie with the Tartarstan Arbitration Court for last place.

Viktor Sokolov, head of the Moscow regional legislative assembly's press service, defended his organization, saying that the press service has done little to provide information itself but has kept nothing secret.

"It's better not to talk about transparency but about the amount of information received by mass media," Sokolov said. "We didn't have many requests [for information] from journalists, partly because the press service was passive."

Other important factors in the ranking were the frequency of news conferences and press releases, the number of refusals to provide information and conflicts with journalists.

The most open government body was the Economic Development and Trade Ministry with 16.76 points, and the runner-up was the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District with 16.74 points.

Galina Voronchenkova, acting head of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's press service, said her organization has already been in the top 10 of similar rankings.

"We were not surprised, but still very pleased. When several ratings show similar results, it probably shows the true state of things," Voronchenkova said. "Our team is very good, and all the specialists are doing their best to give journalists necessary information. On the other hand, we try to present interesting topics to mass media."

The Federal Security Service took 37th place with 8.31 points. The average score for federal bodies was 11.08 points, while regional bodies on average scored 2.25 points. President Vladimir Putin's administration was not included in the survey to prevent a misinterpretation of the study, Malkin said.

"Transparency is the essence of the relationship between the authorities and the people," said Yelena Zelinskaya, vice president of Mediasoyuz.

"We need to do these ratings regularly as a step to push the authorities to change their position in the question of transparency and improve their ratings," she said.

The idea for the survey came about while the Strana.ru team was gathering information for another project -- "Russian Authority," a who's who directory of the nation's politicians and government workers.

However, the project turned out to be more difficult than originally expected, Malkin said, with many regional authorities refusing to give data.

"We had to fight for every biography of a person in power in the regions," Malkin said. "Press services sometimes acted as if they were under arrest and were told about their right to remain silent."

When one Strana.ru journalist was gathering information on the Ivanovo region's legislative assembly, deputies suspected him of spying for Britain, Malkin said.

The directory, at Vlast.rambler.ru, is a joint project between Strana.ru and the Rambler search engine. It attempts to give the public access to information on government officials on the federal level and in the country's regions. Rambler was the initiator of the project, while Strana.ru journalists gathered the information.

"The main idea is that people have to know who their authorities are," Malkin said. "This task is connected with the principle of the transparency of information."

More than 5,422 personalities from more than 700 governmental bodies are featured in the directory, which went online last week.

Strana.ru employees in Moscow and the regions spent a year and a half gathering all the data necessary to launch the site.

Sergei Vasilyev, board chairman at the Russkiye Fondy investment group, one of Rambler's shareholders, said he got the idea from a similar web site covering the U.S. government that "amazed" him when he first saw it.

The portal is made up of two parts, a directory and a news section. The directory is divided into five subsections: President, Parliament, Government, Judiciary and Regions. All of the sections contain biographies of government officials and their contact information.

Some pages have a special link allowing Internet users to write to the officials, although only 28 percent of them have e-mail addresses.

According to the site, the oldest government official is 81-year-old State Duma Deputy Yegor Ligachyov, and the youngest is 24-year-old Dmitry Ovsyannikov, a federal inspector in the Kirov region. The average age of governmental officials is 50.

Vladimir is the most frequent name among politicians and government workers, while Ivanov is the most widespread last name.

The majority of bureaucrats are men, 91.5 percent, and 82 percent have higher education.

Openness Rating of Governmental Bodies

Governmental BodyScore
1. Economic Development and Trade Ministry 16.76
2. Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District 16.74
3. Emergency Situations Ministry 16.50
4. Central Elections Commission 15.34
5. Press Ministry 15.05
6. Central Bank 14.83
7. State Duma 14.80
8. Foreign Ministry 14.51
9. Energy Ministry 14.45
10. Labor and Social Development Ministry 14.34
11. Federal Securities Commission 14.16
12. State Audit Chamber 13.48
13. Health Ministry 13.41
14. Culture Ministry 13.19
15. Education Ministry 13.00
16. Federation Council's advisory committee 12.71
17. Constitutional Court 12.36
18. Presidential representative to the Siberian Federal District 12.02
19. Finance Ministry 11.99
20. Presidential representative to the Southern Federal District 11.33
Sources: Strana.ru, Mediasoyuz, Rossiiskaya Gazet