Support The Moscow Times!

Leave Government If You Want to Trash It

President Vladimir Putin has warned members of his government and former tandem partner Dmitry Medvedev against publicly voicing their disagreement with a presidential policy proposal.

He implied that government officials should thrash out their disagreements in closed-door sessions without taking them out to the media, and that those who do not accept this limitation should leave government, as former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin did in 2011.

It is, of course, unacceptable for a state official to denounce a government's decision after it has already been made. It is political good manners to leave government if you disagree with its policies. This is what Kudrin was forced to do when he publicly criticized the government's defense spending programs.

But Medvedev and some members of his economic team were not speaking out against a government decision already on the books. They criticized a draft legislative proposal, stealthily introduced into the State Duma by the president's office, bypassing, it appears, the government and its interagency legislative commission.

The proposal would give back to the security services the authority, which is currently with the federal tax service, to file criminal chargers against businesses in tax disputes. The public frustration of Medvedev and his team is understandable given the fact that the proposal would torpedo the government's policy to lure investors to Russia at a time when the country's economy has stalled. That the proposal was clandestinely sprung upon the government, bypassing the standard interagency process, makes going public against it the only possible recourse. After all, Russia's parliament is not a place to defeat presidential initiatives.

The public needs to know whether state officials disagree on a policy proposal. This fuels a healthy debate and allows interest groups to openly present and argue their positions. Ultimately, it leads to sound decisions.

Stifling debate and preventing officials from publicly speaking their minds in early stages of policy development is counterproductive and self-defeating. Sycophancy and fear stifle good judgement. The Soviet leadership never allowed public disagreements within its ranks and made terrible decisions.

In China, notes Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, political debate stops when the government makes a decision; in Russia, it stops when the president makes a proposal.

Maybe the Chinese are on to something.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.

The views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

… we have a small favor to ask. As you may have heard, The Moscow Times, an independent news source for over 30 years, has been unjustly branded as a "foreign agent" by the Russian government. This blatant attempt to silence our voice is a direct assault on the integrity of journalism and the values we hold dear.

We, the journalists of The Moscow Times, refuse to be silenced. Our commitment to providing accurate and unbiased reporting on Russia remains unshaken. But we need your help to continue our critical mission.

Your support, no matter how small, makes a world of difference. If you can, please support us monthly starting from just $2. It's quick to set up, and you can be confident that you're making a significant impact every month by supporting open, independent journalism. Thank you.

Once
Monthly
Annual
Continue
paiment methods
Not ready to support today?
Remind me later.

Read more