The price of online governance: how the "digitalization" takes bread out of both the government's and the opposition's mouths

The price of online governance: how the "digitalization" takes bread out of both the government's and the opposition's mouths

24 December 2020, 18:04
Citizens of most developed countries have been sitting at home for more than six months, trying to minimize personal contacts. Officials of all stripes and ranks also locked themselves in their residences and offices.

As it turned out, it is not at all necessary to hold mass meetings, after which, as a rule, a buffet table with dishes of that sophistication corresponds to the level of those present.

The hotel suites are also sadly idle while the cleaning staff are leisurely shaking off the dust from the gilded utensils. And business-class cars, which must confirm the importance of a civil servant even before he enters the parquet hall, can be seen less and less on the streets of the capital. All meetings were organized online... and it turned out that the world did not collapse from this! So why hasn't this been done before? Why spend all these billions on organizing events in different parts of the country, the world? The dystopias of the twentieth century were often based on the popular idea of the "virtuality of power", which was usually presented in a negative way. Perhaps the era of the digital state has already arrived, but we simply did not notice, having managed to forget what was “before”?

From the history of the issue

History of Vladimir Pozner, USA, 2003:

“I flew from Moscow to New York. Passed through passport control. I went to the hotel and found that there was no passport. Either it was stolen, or I dropped it, but the fact remained: the passport was gone”…. “In less than one working day, I received a new passport. Frankly, I was shocked. I went to another room, went to the window behind which Chekhov was sitting and said:

“Sir, I can't even find the words to express my gratitude to you for such a job. I am amazed. Chekhov looked at me and quite seriously, I would even say sternly, answered:

"Sir, you pay taxes for this!"

The story of Ilya Varlamov, Russia, 2013:

Last week I received my 9th international passport since 2004. I would not have noticed this event, but the Russian passport has run out of space where you can put stamps on the issuance of foreign countries"... "There are too few pages for visas, the passport physically overflows in a year. And every year you have to go through the ritual of receiving again. I still don't understand why. They gave me a passport for 10 years. In a year, for example, I lose it, or it runs out of blank pages. I cannot get a new one automatically. I need to re-submit photographs, a questionnaire, a work book. Again they will treat me as the first time and in a month they will give out the coveted document. It is difficult to convey in words how this ritual annoys me".

We remembered these stories because they very vividly convey how the most frequent contact of citizens with the authorities used to take place, namely, obtaining documents. Literally a decade ago, any collision with the bureaucratic machine was like walking in agony, when each visit to government agencies for another "extremely important" paper turned into an attraction of humiliation and the loss of a huge amount of time. But bureaucrats with all their nature felt their importance, value (quite measurable in banknotes) and indispensability. To draw up any more or less serious document, you had to go through a couple of instances, naturally located in different parts of the city and with working hours from 13:00 to 14:00 with a lunch break, where in each office you will be politely sent far and for a long time, offering go at another, of course, not exactly specified time. All these "pleasures" gave rise to a whole culture of presentations to all sorts of aunts Anya from the social security department and uncles Vany from the passport office, or, in other words, spawned a whole layer of small officials involved in everyday corruption. Not to mention the main meme “where the card was opened, go there”.

A new era of digitalization has opened the world of electronic services for citizens. Now, instead of picking up brandy for Uncle Vanya or candy for Aunt Anya, a person can arrange everything simply by going to the Internet. Suddenly it turned out that the system can work without corruption!

"We were one of the developers of mos . ru is a service that has received worldwide recognition", - says the managing partner of the digital agency Notamedia Sergey Oseledko, - "Its development was going on in parallel with the creation of the federal project "state service". The Ministry of Digital Industry has been actively developing and trying to implement the standard of the state web, some typical solutions for the last few years. But the question is, rather, the budget for the creation, and not the development itself. For example, the budget of the capital's DIT (Department of Information Technologies) is comparable to the budget of some remote small region. These are billions of rubles. That is why in Moscow the Safe City, the transport structure in terms of IT , the My Documents services, and much more are so well done. Of course, there is still much to grow, in the future, I think that we will take a course on voice assistants with artificial intelligence, so that any elderly person who has problems understanding new technologies can get the service and assistance he needs".

But why is it a “good” that makes life so much easier with such a creak? After all, huge amounts of money continue to be allocated for digitalization. Really, they settle somewhere along the way, not reaching the appointment, and the bureaucrats themselves do not want the offensive of the "figure", and with it the transparency of their work, to succeed?

Online as inevitability

According to Ivan Begtin, the founder of ANO Information Culture, the government's transition to the online communication mode had to happen sooner or later. The advantages are obvious - less costs for physical infrastructure, offices, offices, meeting rooms, chauffeurs, and so on. But there are also disadvantages - unusual communication, communication "breaks", more leaks of backstage negotiations.

- There is one more not the most obvious consequence that cannot be ignored, - says Begtin. - Suppose, for example, the Moscow City Hall also goes online, or the administration of the subjects of the federation, and so on. What will be the meaning of mass events in front of government buildings? Or, as in some post-Soviet republics, the seizures of parliament by protesters took place - it will become meaningless, because the authorities will lose self-identification at their location.

It turns out that online much faster leads the current government to a revolutionary transformation than the entire systemic and non-systemic opposition. Public services often become a sentence of corruption much more inevitable than many of the efforts of law enforcement agencies. And online meetings generally opened up a new situation of "absolute sincerity." Now it is impossible to wink, silence a question, or mutter something inarticulate so that no one understands anything. Officials are reluctant, but forced to learn to make quick, clear reports, prepare clear slides and respond to the point.

This is what the authors of the Telegram channel Kotel № 6 say in their comments to Novye Izvestia: “The online format is much more convenient than the traditional one and allows many issues to be resolved more easily and quickly. Status subordinates are in awe of the First Person on the screen as well as live, this is clearly visible".

But the obvious pluses and the positive feedback from the experts break down on the Russian reality. In practice, the path to digitalization turned out to be thorny and expensive.

- Fifteen years ago I was one of the first experts who asserted and welcomed the imminent arrival of the world of victorious online, - says political consultant Oleg Matveychev, - But now, having seen this utopia in reality, I must say that this has happened the transition has a negative effect.

According to Matveychev, the online transition taking place before our very eyes has shown that the effectiveness of many processes in it changes ambiguously: for example, classical techniques of “brainstorming” or teamwork simply stop working in it. As it turned out, being in virtual online interactions, performers often fall into the trap of “non-existence”, slowing down management processes and spending time on unnecessary and lengthy approvals, or even on activities that have nothing to do with productive work. So, the usual "thievery and incompetence" of the authorities is also intensified by the online transition, in which these negative factors only increase.

"Behind online services, after all, there is the same state, with all its ulcers and shortcomings, which we perfectly understand", - says economist and political scientist Mikhail Delyagin, - "As a consequence, if your appeal is simply inconvenient for a particular official , he is quite capable of effectively "hiding" behind a rather impersonal procedure for online interaction. Relatively speaking, he does not risk that an angry citizen "with an ax" will come to him for a personal appointment. Moreover, in the online world it is much more difficult for citizens to organize themselves: you communicate with the state in your “personal account”, this is your “personal struggle”.

My Kingdom for Digitalization

No matter how many pros and cons the experts list, we still have to admit that online is part of our lives. Whether a pandemic happened or not, it would still happen. Back in 2009, the federal project “Digital State” was launched in Russia, into which colossal resources were “poured” over the past ten years. The latest version of the draft assumes that the country's authorities will distribute 235 billion for the transition of public services online . Although in the 2019 version, it was planned to spend "only" 101 billion rubles for these needs. Now 25 billion will go to e-government, and 2.7 billion rubles - to the online president.

“Prospects for digitalization of the government ended with the first and last presidential term of Medvedev: many who carried out the project at that time are out of work or are sitting. There is simply no request from the Kremlin and the White House for this - digitalization as a process as a result will lead to at least some need to report to citizens and public structures, and this is no longer interesting to anyone, and it is better to “master” funds without prying eyes, ”the author emphasizes. Telegram channel "Something like this" in the commentary of Novye Izvestia.

Official online phobia

Perhaps, realizing that the age of many of their brothers is coming to an end, or at least now they will have to work in full force, officials began, albeit not frankly, but in every possible way to slow down the process of introducing information systems.

"The question is not in digitalization, but in changing the attitude towards communications inside and outside the state. As long as the Government of the Russian Federation itself has a paperwork flow, as long as the processing of citizens' requests under 59-FZ and 8-FZ is also a priority on paper, and so much more, full digitalization is impossible. It is real, and not hype, requires a lot of painstaking methodical work, and we are constantly chasing low-hanging fruits", - says Ivan Begtin.

The effectiveness of using large amounts of funds for "online government" is quite controversial. Government purchases, for example, were conceived as the most "killer" tool against fraud with budgets. At the dawn of the launch of the site, government agencies really honestly posted their tenders, hoping that the inconvenient interface would do its job and confuse the ubiquitous journalists. But the media quickly figured out what was what, a flurry of articles about luxury cars and gift gilded caviar poured out. After only three years, this "mistake" was corrected and the civil servants responsible for publishing the purchases learned to masterfully mask orders that were unexplained by need. Where not everyone will present the documents, where they will "hide" personal "Wishlist" in the lists of required items, and if the purchase is from a single supplier, no one is obliged to show you a modest technical specification.

In its recent audit, the Accounts Chamber found that money has been spent on e-government for the second decade, but with a very modest, if not zero, result.

For example, the report of the Accounts Chamber analyzed the sad history of the portal, on the basis of which, back in 2009, it was planned to create, almost, "Electronic government". The idea was taken from the Singapore Internet portal and involved tracking personal inquiries and monitoring the work of officials. But already in 2012, Igor Shchegolev, then Minister of Communications, said that coordinating hundreds of platforms from different agencies and departments had turned out to be an extremely difficult task. In addition, it is impossible to track what and how many times the funds were spent.

Regarding the report of the Accounts Chamber, I can say that although I respect their work, you need to read their conclusions carefully, understanding the logic of their verification. They take the document and see what the output indicators were, that is, whether the "paper" goals were achieved or not. This is not about assessing quality, but about assessing quantity. The path that we have traveled since 2009 to create digital government is a very long way. Yes, something could have worked out, but something not, for sure, not all questions have been closed, but what has already been done is a lot. There are questions of interdepartmental relations, but their number is decreasing. It is necessary to look not by the means that were spent, but by the result. The result is there and it is obvious. We must also understand that when the indicators are initially laid down, then this thing is not very related to reality. Many factors can affect the completion of the task: crises, the same pandemic", - comments political analyst Anton Khashchenko.

Khashchenko believes that if we had not started a large-scale work on digitalization in 2009, it is unlikely that our authorities would have been able to go online so quickly when they were on the verge of a pandemic. It is clear that some remote settlements still have problems with distance learning and remote work, but this is a very small percentage, isolated cases. For example, imagine, if there were no government services, how would parents receive payments for children that the president gave and now promised again for the New Year? Russia would be plunged into chaos, there would be kilometer-long queues. Therefore, Mikhail Mishustin directs the government's course towards digitalization of management.

How much does an official's day cost offline, why our president does not tweet and are the Russians themselves ready to go online - read the second part of the article of Novye Izvestia.

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