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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bureaucracy Just Gets More and More Bloated

This week, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly got into a spat over raising the salaries of deputies and their assistants. Salaries are determined on the basis of multiples of the state-set minimum wage, which was raised from 100 rubles ($3.20) to 300 rubles earlier this year. Sergei Tarasov, the Legislative Assembly speaker, said there was just no way the budget could take the tripling of these salaries.

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I'm not against giving the deputies a raise -- the fact that lawmakers responsible for the approval of a $1.9 billion city budget are paid $160 per month strikes me as strange.

But I think that raises for their assistants are an even more important question. If deputies were allowed to use the salary fund according to their needs, they would likely pay higher salaries to a smaller number of employees. But there is little likelihood that this will happen because although the federal government keeps stating that shrinking the bureaucracy is a serious goal the results are the opposite. Last week Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, when asked by a State Duma deputy about administrative reform, replied that people should not expect any radical change but, instead, only "minor corrections" to the system.

In fact, they are headed in the wrong direction. The appointment of presidential representatives -- each with their own administrative staffs -- to oversee seven macro-districts in the country just created more seats for bureaucratic pants to polish.

Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak says the so-called "executive vertical" just promotes interference in regional economies. In a recent interview Prusak said he now has to call the office of presidential plenipotentiary Viktor Cherkesov just to get an additional load of sand to build a road in his region. I hope that Prusak was exaggerating, but even if he was, he's not too far off.

Last week, I read a report on the Northwestern Federal District that was presented to German businessmen by Lyubov Sovershayeva, Cherkesov's deputy: "[We] conducted an analysis of investment opportunities here with the participation of experts, businessmen and representatives of political parties and public organizations. ... The work development strategies have allowed us to better estimate the economical, social and human potential [of the region] ... We believe the Northwestern Federal District is very attractive for investors," Sovershayeva said.

Now, that's informative. Sovershayeva said the document has been approved as a draft and is in the process of "being fleshed out." In other words, "We don't have anything to do at the moment, so we have to pretend." And why not, since they seem just to be pretending to whittle down the civil service in any case.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.