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Good Governance: Russia’s Achilles Heel?

November 7, 2007

Afp_russia_nursing_home_fire_195_05 Today’s Russia faces a paradox. Despite the extraordinary resources flowing into the state’s coffers, Russia’s institutions are not becoming more effective or responsive in delivering political goods to ordinary citizens. Stanford University professor Terry Lynn Karl’s “Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petrostates” explains why oil exporting states tend to have poor development outcomes.  Such energy rich states suffer from a number of pathologies that retard development and good governance.

A meticulously reported New York Times article on November 7 examines an issue that is emblematic of how poor governance in Russia is undercutting basic safeguards that should provide for citizens’ safety. Fires turn deadly in Russia to an astonishing degree in comparison with Western Europe and the United States. The piece notes that:

More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2006 in Russia, nearly 13 for every 100,000 people. This is more than 10 times the rates typical of Western Europe and the United States, according to statistics from Russia’s government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and the Geneva Association, a Swiss organization that analyzes international fire statistics.

As a recently released Freedom House governance assessment of Russia done by Stanford professor Kathryn Stoner-Weiss notes, President Putin has systematically marginalized key societal actors – including news media, independent business and policy institutes, and broader civil society – all of which keep the authorities honest. Rather than increasing his ability to govern, Putin’s program is eviscerating the very institutions that Russia needs to improve the quality of its governance and public policy decision-making.

The New York Times piece points to a host of factors feeding into the lethality of fires in Russia, among them “aging electrical and heating systems in public housing and rural homes; dilapidated firefighting equipment; and widespread violations of safety codes.”

The piece then focuses on the root of the challenge, linked directly to poor governance:

the effectiveness of reform efforts has been limited by the intractable national problems that have continued throughout Mr. Putin’s administration, including a pandemic of corruption and incompetence by officials, and a weak judicial system. For example, fire inspectors have latitude over how to handle fire code violations, and this authority is often abused, said Elena Panfilova, director of the Russian office of Transparency International, a private anti-corruption organization. “Pretty much nobody follows fire safety standards in Russia, but building owners and tenants negotiate bribes with fire inspectors,” she said. “It is common here. Everyone understands it.”

The big gaps in governance have real implications for ordinary citizens in Russian society. There are no shortcuts to improving the quality of governance. With oil edging toward $100 per barrel, the challenge of achieving sounder governance, paradoxically, is bound to become even stiffer in Russia, along with other post-Soviet petrostates.

Photo Credit: AFP via VOA News

From → Corruption, Russia

3 Comments
  1. Rather than accretion his adeptness to govern, Putin’s affairs is eviscerating the actual institutions that Russia needs to advance the affection of its babyminding and accessible action decision-making.

  2. Great blog!!
    I agree with the person above and the commetns they worte.
    I know it dose not sound nice but sometimes truth hurts.

  3. Hi,
    This is a very intry site to read.
    I am doing a school paper on this and was so happy when i came across your site.
    thanks for posting it.
    Thanks,
    Lisa

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