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30.05.2013

Open Government in Russia: A promising project or just another ‘bubble’?

On May 20, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled Russia’s accession to the Open Government Partnership even though it was planned for this year. The move received a negative response from the media and prompted discussions around the ‘big’ or ‘open’ government project started a year ago.

© Alexander Astafev, RIA Novosti

A lack of the checks and balances system is the main problem of the Russian government system today. As was mentioned in a report by Minchenko Consulting communications holding called “A Year of Medvedev’s Government: Results and Prospects”, positioned as a follow-up to a series of reports named “Vladimir Putin’s Big Government and Politburo 2.0”, Putin is actually relying on the American model, with the president as an absolute leader of the executive power, including the government. However, as distinct from the U.S., Russia lacks a system of checks and balances, in particular an influential parliament that can express its own opinion and oppose the authorities.

To somehow close the gap, the top-level officials came up with pseudo-parliamentary structures as substitutes for a powerful parliament, such as the Public Chamber and the Open Government. These are on the whole disappointing projects based on a false understanding that the “expert in-crowd” can actually be an opponent to the executive power.

It should be noted that at the very beginning, the business community responded very positively to the concept of an open government. They assumed that Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister would be able to focus on connections with the liberal public and businesses, which would increase the chances for businesses to promote some effective ideas for the economy.

However positive may be the idea, the experiment in its present manifestation has proved unsuccessful. There is more than one reason for this:

1) A fairly strong resistance on the part of bureaucratic officialdom which seeks to have its overseeing and regulatory functions strengthened;

2) Dmitry Medvedev’s persistently diminishing authority and, therefore, the projects he supervises become less effective. I believe this is what prompted Putin’s decision to cancel the accession to the Open Government Partnership planned for 2013;

3) Mikhail Abyzov, the minister in charge of coordinating the open government project, does not appear to be a very successful manager.

Currently, the Open Government does not have any real power and is more like a discussion panel for government decisions. Notably, the law on industrial security is the only initiative that has been discussed recently. After long debates, no more than 30% of proposals made by business representatives factored in the final draft – on condition that the bill would be further extended with a number of regulations developed by the relevant body, i.e., the Federal Service for Supervision of Environment, Technology and Nuclear Management.

Moreover, the criteria for selecting representatives in the open government are quite vague and non-transparent. On top of that, members say, the way the work is arranged hinders any in-depth discussion.

Since the concept of an open government is rather promising, there is hope for a ‘reset’ of the project sometime soon. However, under current regime it can only be possible with the support of Vladimir Putin, as it is happening nowadays with the Skolkovo project.

Yevgeny Minchenko is Political Scientist, President of MINCHENKO CONSULTING Communication Group. 

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