Andrei Klimenko: We need a system of evidence-based policy

All the violent political passions serve to form, in the end, high-quality public administration in the country. But it often does not depend on the fateful political accomplishments, but on meticulous organizational work and trifles. About what factors and events have recently affected effectiveness of public administration in Russia, we are talking with the supervisor of the HSE Institute of Municipal and Public Administration, Head of Department of policy and management of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Higher School of Economics, Professor Andrei Klimenko.

“We know our problems without turning to indexes”

— Andrey Vitalievich, is effectiveness of public administration measurable?

— Yes, it is. Nevertheless, these measurements, indices and indicators are also subject to criticism and analysis. In fact, there are a lot of meters; they are popular among researchers, and, to a lesser extent, among public administration practitioners. For example, there is World Bank government quality indices, so-called WGI — World Government Indicators. They include a number of indices, such as Regulatory Quality, Control of Corruption, Rule of Law and other indices.

Doing Business index, also introduced by the World Bank, measures the comfort of the regulatory environment for business, this is also the quality of management. There is an index of global competitiveness of World Economic Forum, including index reflecting Regulation quality. Many private thematic indices are created by Research organizations dealing with certain topics. So, Transparency International supports the corruption perception index.

— In this regard, I have a double question. What does Russia look like in international indexes? What aspects of measurement and what indicators do you consider as most relevant to us now?

— I would change the question a little bit. You see, for us these indices are relevant with some clauses. True, at one time, in my opinion, in 2012, we inserted some index values even in strategic documents. Now this has been abandoned. Not because everything is bad: in fact, we successfully advanced with the Doing Business index, for example.

Yes, we have a low position on the corruption perception index. We already know that there is a problem. However, I would not set the tasks of our public administration, based on indices. Indices do not specify our tasks, they just illustrate some situations. Moreover, indices are very often politicized, and the methods in their base, for example, for Doing Business index, are very even subject to criticism. There are many questions concerning the indices themselves. We do not have self-sufficient task to reach the first places in the ratings, but we are moving in accordance with general trends.

“We have problems with setting strategic goals”

— I understood your answer, in this case I reformulate the question. How do you think, what aspects of public administration in Russia are the most problematic ones now?

— This is my personal view: we have problems with setting strategic goals, choosing effective ways and means to monitor the achievement of goals. One strategic document is adopted, then another one, and a detailed analysis of problems and errors in the course of their execution is not carried out. Methods of achieving goals are very important, their justifications are needed, as well as the development of the system of evidence-based policies. Besides, we have the task of improving efficiency of public administration.

This is one of the key areas of reform, in particular in the field of control & supervisory activities. But there are often kickbacks back; this is also very important point in terms of resource constraints, when businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses, can hardly adapt to changes in the regulatory environment.

— I imagine if any official now heard what you said about strategic goals, he would say: “Well, here we have so many strategic goals, we have documents where all these goals are written. There are national projects, there are national goals, there are roadmaps on some or other issues. ” What would you say to that?

— I would say writing a strategy paper is not a guarantee of achieving its goals. We manage to write more strategic documents than we are really able to execute. This applies primarily to sectoral and regional strategies.

Endless writing and updating strategies takes a lot of time and money. In few regions only the strategy is taken seriously, monitored, promptly adjusted according to a changing situation. Only direct costs for the preparation of documents are estimated at tens of billions of rubles. Because officials are busy, experts are busy… And huge sums are spent to pay outside experts to develop strategies for regions! This is a practice that requires a critical attitude.

Besides, our strategies are mostly long-term ones, although in conditions of turbulence, period of 4–5 years is already becoming strategic. Long-term strategies, of course, are needed, but first of all in areas where there are clear sustainable trends, for example in demography, natural resources, technological development, so on. Institutional reforms that are not being realized in one or two years need to be an important policy focus.

“I am not ashamed of what I have done”

— It is clear that the answer again can be extensive, to a whole lecture, but: what are the most striking events that affected the effectiveness of Russian public administration in recent years?

— A lot of tasks have been completed, and I am not ashamed of what I have done in this sphere, in general. First of all, administrative reform, reform of public services in the early 2000s. The impact of these reforms has varied. Administrative reform led in the future to the creation of multifunctional centers, and portal of digital services.

Important milestone was law on the provision of public services of 2010: its implementation of which changed the face of the executive power. It has become more human, as they say — client-oriented. A necessary step was the introduction of a regulatory impact assessment system and in general regulatory reform based on evidence-based policies. Important direction in this area is the reform of control and supervisory activities, as well as adoption in last year of two laws on state control and mandatory requirements. Work in this direction involves the abolition of unnecessary regulations, simplification and creation of understandable business terms, improving the business climate as a whole.

— Besides simply reducing some controlling functions that we know today will be cancelled, and tomorrow will be reintroduced, what is the most important in the latest control and supervision reform?

— It is important that control conditions become reasonable, understandable and predictable for business and citizens, so that control ceases to be only a punitive tool but offers measures to prevent violations. As part of the reform, a gradation of the control regime is introduced depending on the degree of danger of the object, assessment of potential damage. In the event of a threat to life, public health, damage to national security, control should be more stringent. In other cases, it can be significantly reduced. So we can redistribute monitoring resources for areas that are really dangerous. In addition, modern digital technologies, artificial intelligence allow the introduction of effective automated remote monitoring system aimed at prevention of dangerous situations.

What else is needed

— Could you name foreign practices that you look at with interest and that could be useful for the Russian Federation?

— I would mention a behavioral approach in regulation, that is, informing and creating motivation systems that lead to the desired behavior of organizations or citizens. As well as establishing regulatory mechanisms that do not involve direct control and supervision, but create attractive patterns of behavior, push for the right decisions. Such methods are quite efficient in the field of energy saving, waste control, etc. The United Kingdom, the United States and other countries have created special groups by the government, which develop appropriate approaches.

— In your opinion, should Russia expand the practice of involving the judicial system in public administration? Expand the number of situations where we can sue in court with state, challenge administrative decisions? I understand that in some countries there is even a special type of court for such matters.

— I look at this topic only from the position of public administration, I am not a lawyer. From this point of view management is based on the law, on normative legal acts. It is clear that the validity of laws and the effectiveness of their application is critical for good governance is. If the court does not promote clear compliance with the laws, does not prevent their evasion, naturally, no matter what good regulations we adopt, they will not work. Therefore, of course, this is a key plot for public administration. At the same time, it is important that public administration do not overload the judicial system, including the possibility of pre-trial appeal of decisions.

“Our civil service system is archaic”

— How do you assess the existing system of civil service in Russia? When it was established, there were very serious disputes, but now we can see how it works in recent decades.

— About disputes — I wouldn’t say so, but discussions were wide. I believe our system of the civil service is archaic and not very attractive from the position of the labor market. This also applies to the compensation system, and, most importantly, to career elevator systems and activity performance assessments.

Over the past years, a plenty of interesting proposals have been formulated, recorded in decrees and other regulatory documents. However, for various reasons, not all of them were implemented. This is largely due to limited resources and a system of responsibility at the public service.

We have a large share of the public sector in the economy, and its functioning directly depends on quality of civil servants. Accordingly, conditions should be created for attraction to the civil service of the best specialists, their proper training and retraining should be provided. The personnel potential of the civil service should be competitive with the private sector. All this becomes the strategic task is not for one year.

Last question. When newspapers report that the state allocates money for a particular project, the public both on social networks and in conversations immediately says: “Yeah, understandably, they want steal money. ” That is, the assessment of the level of corruption is very high, but I am not sure that “popular” opinion is true. Can we say something about evolution of corruption level of our state apparatus?

— We read in the media almost weekly reports on corruption cases of officials of enough high rank. That is, a certain struggle is underway. Income declarations are filled in and analyzed. Creation of electronic services and multifunctional centers largely eliminated conditions for “domestic” bureaucratic corruption. However, obviously, corruption persists.

When public money appears, the foundation for corruption immediately arises, because stealing from the state is often easier than from a private company. Critical in this regard is objective monitoring and control of the efficiency and targeted use of budget funds, which are carried out by the Accounts Chamber of Russia and relevant bodies in regions.

Interviewed by Konstantin Frumkin

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