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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Governors Not Made to Measure

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At last! Two years after introducing a system for appointing rather than electing governors, the Kremlin has come up with a system for publicly evaluating the effectiveness of their work. As a modern version of the old Soviet planning department, the evaluations signal the start of a battle for higher "returns" from each region, thus motivating governors to compete among themselves and with their predecessors.

Reports on governors' regular meetings with President Vladimir Putin are posted on the president's web site. There we see how regional leaders try to emphasize their successes over the course of their tenure, or -- at a minimum -- since their last meeting with Putin. Each meeting usually begins with governors giving an upbeat report on the growth of the gross regional product and personal incomes, successes in attracting investments and updates on major projects in gas production and supply, housing construction, increasing birth rates, special economic zones, and so on.

A foundation has now been laid for controlling the socio-economic situation in the regions and the authorities' efforts to improve it. The preliminary version of the system presented one year ago included almost 150 criteria, but the president's current checklist has just 43, starting with the gross regional product and ending with the degree to which citizens are satisfied with the work of the authorities.

The various criteria are not listed in any particular structure or order of priority. Any combination of points can be singled out to emphasize either the positive or negative aspects of any governor's activities. It is worth noting, however, that the first items on the Kremlin's list are gross regional product, investments and personal incomes.

Budgetary indicators make up the majority of the points. Most relate to expenses, but other items include: real personal incomes, the condition of public health services, education, cultural programs and participation in "leisure activities," housing availability and the condition of residential properties and small business.

The Kremlin's criteria seem to have been formulated in a hodgepodge fashion. The list includes highly specific items, such as the number of library books per capita, as well as fairly generalized yardsticks, like overall death and crime rates. Taken as a whole, however, the list is concerned primarily with economic indicators. Socio-political questions such as strikes, protests, nonparticipation in elections and other forms of protest are not addressed. The evaluation allows citizens to tell pollsters how satisfied they are with the medical and educational systems, and with the activity of local or regional authorities. But in all other matters, people are treated as a labor force in need of constant care by the authorities.

The only demographic item on the list concerns the death rate. Any mention of the unusually low birthrate is conveniently avoided, although data on migration trends might well have served as an effective indicator of the quality of life.

Nothing is included regarding the court system, objections against decisions made by the public prosecutor or inappropriate actions by authorities. Moreover, no attempt is made to assess how authorities interact with the citizens. Of course, no mention is made of one of the Kremlin's primary criteria for measuring a governor's loyalty and effectiveness, which is the number of votes garnered in the region for United Russia candidates and the president. Neither is any opportunity given for citizens to record their grievances against government agencies and public officials. We can only speculate that these issues will be included in future versions of the evaluation.

It would seem that the list of 43 overly broad criteria is designed more to allow governors to sing their own praises than to provide an objective evaluation of their administrations. This is a throwback to the Soviet era, but it has even deeper roots in pre-revolutionary history, when it was common for regional authorities to be viewed not as managers, but as lords, answerable to the Kremlin for every soul under their custodianship. Practically no criteria can be found on the list regarding administrative performance -- this can instead be inferred from the state of affairs in the regions, or from budgetary expenses.

In the end, it remains unclear how an overall evaluation can be made based on this list of odd criteria, much less how to do it by the Aug. 1 deadline stipulated in the president's decree. The previous system of direct elections was a more objective method by which voters -- those most concerned with the performance of the governors and their teams -- made their evaluation.

The obvious political nature of the president's decree does not specify the method by which governors should evaluate their own performance. Regional authorities must present their first reports by Sept. 1 -- that is, three months before State Duma elections and six months before the presidential election. It can be assumed that a battle for numbers and their positive interpretation will now ensue. This will certainly be followed by an effort on the part of those governors who have been fined by Moscow for various offenses (which includes most of them) to outdo themselves in proving their effectiveness to the Kremlin.

The decree might influence the quality of statistics as well. The dynamic of many indicators will probably look something like the teeth of a saw, with a sharp drop the moment one governor leaves office and a gradual rise under his or her successor. We will certainly witness numerous public disclosures of past misdeeds by predecessors. After all, new governors have a vested interest in casting the accomplishments of the previous officeholders in as negative a light as possible, and then proceeding to tout their own accomplishments year after year.

What is important is not only the presidential decree itself, but its execution. Ideal criteria for monitoring administrative effectiveness do not exist; the important thing is how they are used. An objective approach would also go a long way in helping the president's commission to improve state management and the judicial system. But the commission must first develop objective methods for evaluating the effectiveness of authorities' performance using the criteria provided, and then analyze their findings and report on each region. At the same time, it is necessary to understand what can be accomplished, and this depends on how responsive various indicators are to this or that administrative action over time. And every assessment must take into account objective factors in each region, such as geographic, economic and ethno-cultural considerations. If scientists and other experts were to participate in the evaluation process along with state officials, the public might learn a great deal of new information about itself. In any case, perfecting the science of analyzing the performance of an elected official is the government's social obligation.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.