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Does Russia’s government need a center to control reform?

February 24, 2015, 19:47 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
Russia's Sberbank CEO German Gref

Russia's Sberbank CEO German Gref

© Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

MOSCOW, February 24. /TASS/. Russian Sberbank President German Gref's idea of creating a special control center under the federal government to run the implementation of reforms has raised many eyebrows.

Gref put forward this proposal at a conference of top economic officials and Central Bank management President Vladimir Putin convened on February 18. Gref’s idea is a special reform control center should it be created above federal government ministries and made subordinate directly to the head of the Cabinet. According to Alexei Kudrin, Russia’s former finance minster, Putin’s response to Gref’s proposal was "very serious," but no decision has been made yet.

"I am not against the existence of institutions responsible for drafting an economic reform implementation strategy. But establishing a special center enjoying powers greater than those already delegated to individual ministries would be inexpedient," the science doyen of the Higher School of Economics, Yevgeny Yasin, told TASS.

"It is true that the Economic Development Ministry, which is empowered to address the reform issue, has failed to cope with its task," said Yasin, Russia’s former economics minister. "This is so not because the ministry’s staff lack good ideas. They have missed the right moment to advance them, though. Now, after the crisis has struck, they have no chance to give thought to reform. They are busy mostly with how to get out of the crisis. But quick solutions are nowhere near in sight. They require tremendous efforts."

"Gref was Russia’s economic development minister in 2000-2007, when oil prices and the Russian economy were booming. But why didn’t he reform the economy then? Why has he raised the issue now, that the conditions have worsened dramatically?" a member of the Russian government’s think tank told TASS on the condition of anonymity.

"The reform control center, the way Gref sees it, cannot be effective as a governing body. The centre will lack the powers to issue instructions and demand their execution. Russia’s body of executive power is the Cabinet. What will the reform control center should be like? What the administrative staff of the Communist Party’s Central Committee was in its day? I cannot imagine such a structure," the president of Vneshtorgbank’s board of directors, Sergey Dubinin, a former Central Bank governor, has told TASS.

"Back in the Soviet era the then economic authority Leonid Abalkin, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, proposed a special reform center under the Russian government, but the idea did not work then, and it is unlikely to succeed now," Dubinin said.

Says senior lecturer at the Russian School of Economics Oleg Shibanov: "Despite all doubts Gref’s idea cannot be dismissed as unrealistic. When China embarked on the path of economic change in the late 1970s, the reformers had to confront far more conservative and rigid institutions. But Deng Xiaoping and his supporters, just as the country in general, were aware China needed economic growth. Gradual liberalization of the economy, better state governance, a crackdown on corruption and decentralization of economic powers made China one of the world’s largest economies. Russia’s state governance has chances to become better - not without assistance from businesses and the academic community."

And the president of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, suggests deciding first what reforms German Gref had in mind when he suggested the idea. "If the focus is on an administrative reform and ways of improving public administration, then drafting the related proposals should be the job of a think tank President Putin has confidence in, and not of some supra-departmental centre with vague powers," he said.

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