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Online to Replace Waiting in Line

British citizen Tremayne Elson recently spent six hours in a Moscow line to reregister the Antal Russia Recruitment Company where he is managing director, starting the ordeal at 5 p.m.

“You queued to get into the compound, then you queued to get into the building, then you queued to get a ticket to give you a place in the queue to go to the counter,” he said. “I got pictures of it. It was just complete chaos.”

Dealing with the government — for both Russians and foreigners — may actually start getting easier next year, because President Dmitry Medvedev is pushing for all state services to be available online. He told a Kremlin meeting on the issue Wednesday that he wanted it done by 2015.

People will be able to apply for some of the services online at by the summer, Communications and Press Minister Igor Shchyogolev said at the meeting. The services will include registration of marriages, obtaining driver’s licenses or birth certificates and filing complaints to the police.

Individuals and companies, including foreign adoption agencies, will have the opportunity to file for visas, set up businesses and apply for various other licenses and registrations. Pharmaceutical companies will be able to seek permission to market their products.

The government unveiled the web site Dec. 1 and is now filling it with information and options. Handled by state-controlled Rostelecom, the portal now tells visitors about the documents, costs and time frames for specific services, has a search engine and lists links to other government web sites. One of the links takes visitors to the Prosecutor General’s Office page that invites tips on corrupt officials.

Clicking on “Required Documents” expands the list of paperwork to include remarks about which papers are required specifically from foreign applicants. But the site will not have an English-language version, said a spokeswoman for the Communications and Press Ministry, which oversees the measure.

Medvedev warned that officials must make a priority of providing online services to build the so-called electronic government.

“Those who will not deal with this matter, are simply not fit for work in modern conditions,” he said at the meeting.

Elson — who said he used the web back home to set up a business and apply for a driver’s license — welcomed the prospect of similar opportunities here.

“For most things that people have to go somewhere for in Russia, the process is just so diabolical that anything to cut down on the amount of physical visiting of state offices has to be a good thing,” he said.

Describing the excruciating line at a Federal Tax Service office in October, he recalled that the door to the compound was one-person wide so that when people started coming out, they blocked the “kilometer-long” incoming trickle. For Elson, all the trouble was to sign just one document.

Daniel McGrath, who works for a major multinational company in Moscow, said he would appreciate saving time on taking care of his Russian driver’s license, which he has to do every six months.

“Once a year I lose at least half a working day, basically, to go to Tsaritsyno to renew my driver’s license,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s districts. “Anything that would speed that process would be more than welcome.”

Stephane Philip, deputy director of the French Chamber of Commerce in Russia, agreed that the electronic government would “make life simpler,” but said French companies needed to learn more about the opportunity.

Luc Jones, a partner at Antal Russia, said most companies employing white-collar foreign staff hire local private agencies to do visa- and work permit-related legwork for their staff. Many such companies and employees may not notice the change, he said.

Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib, said he didn’t have to worry about any of his legal matters.

“If I need some paperwork done, what I basically do is fill out a special corporate form outlining which document I need and normally in two weeks I get it,” he said.

Leonid Romanov, a lawyer with Alinga Group, a consultancy that helps foreigners resolve legal hurdles, said the cost of such services could drop if the web site works well.

The more up-to-date way of tackling Russian bureaucracy is unlikely to affect foreign adoptions, which take 18 months or more, said a Moscow employee at an international adoption agency, who asked not to be identified to avoid possible repercussions for her work.

Couples will continue to have to send their documents by mail and visit Russia three or four times to meet the child and undergo various formalities, she said.

Government agencies have grown more scrupulous in handling foreign adoption requests after several deaths of adopted Russian children in the United States in recent years, she said.

Romanov, the Alinga lawyer, warned that the new web-based system had to guarantee against any leakage of confidential data contained in the online exchanges with officials.

“Data should be properly encoded to make interaction via the Internet secure and trustworthy,” he said.

Online services will take time to work properly and gain popularity but will eventually improve the environment for living and doing business in Russia, he said.

Alexei Filipenkov, a partner at the agency Visa Delight, which facilitates visa and registration formalities, approved of the idea of an Internet savvy government, saying it presented “interesting” options, such as a less-painful way to make official invitations for foreigners to come to the country and register them when they arrive.

Unfortunately, the web site so far doesn’t have a section for companies to apply for work permits for their foreign employees, he noted.

The Communications and Press Ministry spokeswoman said government agencies were still uploading data to the portal.

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