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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Government Revamp Is Not Enough

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The revamped, more "compact" Cabinet unveiled by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on Tuesday has been trumpeted as ushering in a new era of efficient, "joined-up" government.

However, while the federal government's structure appears more rational, the measures announced to date fall well short of root-and-branch reform of the executive and the country's bloated, corruption-plagued bureaucracy -- something that the president has repeatedly singled out as a, if not the, top priority for his second term.

In his comments, Putin rightly observed that the government is hamstrung by overlapping or duplicated competencies, and that the government apparatus is a "parallel shadow government" which has to be transformed into an "effective instrument of administration." What he omitted to mention was that the presidential administration also duplicates the role of the government in a number of key areas and in an equally pernicious fashion. Following the logic of Putin's remarks, it should be abolished or merged with the government to create a single, streamlined federal executive body.

However, the presidential administration also provides Putin with a crucial instrument of control over the political system -- one that he is unlikely to relinquish, even though his position seems unassailable and his control absolute.

Similarly, Putin's drive over the past four years to centralize power and to concentrate it in the Kremlin is completely at odds with the accepted tenets of good governance, which require delegation of responsibility and the decentralization of decision-making.

And therein lies the rub: There is an unfortunate conflict between having political control and efficient government.

Moreover, judging by the Putin administration's attitude to independent media and the institutions of civil society in general, open and externally accountable government is hardly likely to be high on its list of priorities. Yet bolstering Kremlin oversight bodies and beefing up internal accountability is not enough. A vibrant civil society and aggressive media are required to keep a beady eye on the bureaucracy from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, and hold it to account.

This is crucial because no matter how good the reform legislation churned out in Putin's second term may be, implementation will be the weak link. Over the years, bureaucrats have demonstrated an uncanny knack for sabotaging progressive legislation or twisting it to suit their individual rent-seeking ends.

This, in turn, is why measures to tackle corruption need to be at the heart of civil service reform. At the moment, the bureaucracy lacks the material incentives to work for the common good rather than using state employment as a means for personal enrichment. The only way to deal with this is to slash numbers and to hike wages significantly.

If Putin is serious about doubling GDP and freeing small and medium-sized enterprises from the suffocating embrace of officialdom, he must tackle these issues head on.

Whether the Kremlin can overcome its obsession with controlling everything that moves and allow its reformist instincts to get the upper hand, however, remains to be seen.