Valentin Bogatyrev: Personnel policy in Kyrgyzstan: the hidden intentions and a model of “autochthonous innovation”
“We need something that can be called “autochthonous innovation”, that is, a model of organization of public administration, an economy based on the national foundation. But it is precisely innovation that is needed, not archaization, and no return to the old models “- the implementation of new approaches in the personnel policy of Kyrgyzstan, maintains Valentin Bogatyrev, head of an analytical consortium Perspective, specially for CABAR.asia.
Attempts to approach assessments of personnel policy of a given period without a real context do not lead to any conclusions other than negative. In a country where instead of the state we are dealing with quasi-state structures, where instead of the party system there are clan groups or joint-stock companies who seek to obtain deputy seats and control over power resources, in a country where there is no national goal-setting and all inherent national mechanisms of social co-organization are lost, there is no and cannot be a “correct” personnel policy, regardless of what you may understand by it.
But this does not at all mean that its current state can be regarded as a chaos and an unmanageable collapsing system. On the contrary, a real personnel policy is developed in a rigorous determination, a clear and strong “steering” from certain positions that can be singled out, comprehended and with which one can work both on the expertise and managerial basis.
If you move away from multiple insignificant factors shaping some or other details (and, by the way, the most frequently used ones to characterize personnel policy, forming myths about it), then, in principle, there are very few of these fundamental intentions that determine the actual personnel policy .
Strictly speaking, there are three of these.
To change policy goals and the philosophy of power
The first can be called a block of interests forming the policy, or what constitutes its content – the struggle for power.
Due to recent historical specificities in the country, there is a certain system of political relations based not on ideological positioning and representation of interests of various groups of the population, but on the struggle for control and distribution of national resources.
This is not a unique situation. Control over distribution of resources is always and everywhere is one of the key motivators of policy making. The question is, for what purpose is it done?
The Kyrgyz political system and its energy generator is predominantly determined not by public but by private interest. Policy making in the country is not done in the public interest but in the interests of individuals, families, clans, and leadership teams.
It is under these circumstances that personnel policy in the state is being shaped and cannot not be formed on the basis of balance of interests of political actors. As a matter of fact, this is what constitutes it, when it comes to political positions. All of them are staffed almost exclusively not on professional grounds, but as a result of alignment of interests of political players.
But there is yet more. The private nature of goal-setting in politics overshadows the feasibility of the operation of public institutions themselves, their effectiveness, their development, placing at the forefront – the maximum possible “post grab”. Therefore, de facto, all posts without exception, down to technical personnel, become “political” in the state institutions.
One may condemn this phenomenon, enumerate ample examples and feel indignant about its manifestations here and there, but this does not by any means change the situation. Any criticism of the personnel policy, based on private interest, is as meaningless as a criticism of the motion of the sun. Moreover, when you see someone reproaching someone else for faulty personnel decisions, it is likely that behind it stands the same struggle for resource control or, at best, a naive journalist or an expert, who is being used for these purposes.
There are two ways to change the state of affairs, if you want the state personnel policy to be aimed at appealing principles of priority of the public interests, professionalism, moral integrity and the like, and not become a victim of political struggle.
The first is conditioned by a change of the philosophy of power, and adopt as its real goals and norms care for society and public interests. This is an extremely difficult task, given that over the past 20 years, there have been formed public perceptions and ethical standards, based on mercantilism, and the primacy of private interests over the public ones. And such are the political elites of the country, the political beau monde that emerged during the years of independence, higher officials, a party to the big business. A distinctive feature of this large group is such a philosophy of power, according to which: the opportunity to manage the state and public resources in personal or clan interests constitutes the major objective of policy making.
And in this regard, any personnel changes made today in the management will be extremely inefficient. One corrupt party replaces another.
President A.Ş. Atambayev, who declared in, as early as his inaugural speech the fight against corruption to be the main task, as yet was able to make little headway in this direction.
Firstly, because the political balancing of power imposes serious restrictions on his actions. This explains the inconsistency, selectivity, and lethargy of anti-corruption work.
Secondly, it is obvious that an unprecedented large number of facts of capture and prosecution of corrupt officials at various levels have not yet created a critical mass for change of consciousness of officials. This is evidenced by the fact that, say, the price of the deputy’s mandate, allowing the use of rank to solve their private problems, not only did not fall, but also reached record levels.
The paramount did not happen: change in position, attitude and sentiments of society toward corruption. People are still hopelessly ceding to the fact that the officials are stealing, that the fight against corruption is ineffective, that bribery is the most effective way to obtain state services. Until recently, perhaps only the president was out of such suspicions, but now, through the efforts of political opponents against him, and certainly — in relation to his entourage, there are public doubts about it.
It is a known fact that the most effective criterion for change in public sentiment against corruption is that the officials quit office on suspicion or public allegations of abuse of power. Today there is a real rockfall of officials from their seats. But it will be a great affectation to believe that the replacements of staff in senior positions, which are being effected in recent years, are the result of social rejection of their behavior. Questions are being solved not by public opinion, nor moral standards or the law, but only by the discretion of the head of state. It is when the system of “manual control” in the struggle against corruption is replaced by the rule of law and social norms, only then can one speak of a change in the philosophy of power.
The second way is to minimize the resource-dispensation component of the authorities, to shift state institutions’ control and dispensation mode to that of service.
Campaigns on downsizing and enhancement of quality of state services in the country come in endless waves, and as well as waves rapidly die down. 25 years after the beginning of the transformation of the Soviet state machine, it can be stated that its nature has not changed after all.
Having said that, the miserably low salary scales at which state employees are being paid, do not leave any illusions and hopes as to whether the situation will change. A teacher, a doctor, an official working on $100-200 per month cannot keep their integrity and will not avert from taking bribes.
This issue also has a direct link with politics. Neither the head of state, nor the prime minister will dare to take decisive steps to downsize the state apparatus, the number of state services, transfer to private hands the current vast package of social obligations of the state, without the risk of losing political support, getting under a sharp attack of political opponents and lose their job. For political purposes they have to say and try to increase social support for state employees and other disadvantaged groups, rather than reduce the social burden of the state, that is, enact exactly the opposite. And it is a vicious circle, the way out of which is provided only by such vague things, lying beyond the horizon of the political life of current politicians, as economic growth, the budget growth, the wealth of the state.
Scarcity of state resources has a destructive impact on the personnel policy. There is a rapid fall in the quality of personnel in the government sector in general, and management, in particular. Competent, highly qualified specialists refuse to go to the state service, including the highest and most prestigious positions. An absolutely dominant motive of joining the government service is an opportunity to use one’s status in dealing with personal problems, and to access the allocation of resources for the purposes of personal enrichment.
Continuity as a factor of stability and promotion of personnel reserve
The second basic factor of the personnel policy are such interests of the direct ruling groups as the preservation of manageability of the situation outside their period in power, the preservation of their fixed interpretation of history and safe private future.
Similar interests and work on their implementation are not something reprehensible or negative by definition. In any country, any leader cannot help but think whether it would be possible to preserve, or realize what has been done or initiated by them, how will people and history judge their term in office, and what will be the attitude toward them after they will have left power.
This is all the more important for the current management team, in view of the examples of the first two presidents, and with what ended their stay in power, what is their current reputation and position.
That is why it is very important for the president, his colleagues and the team to find solutions that would equally guarantee a continuation of what has been started and done, as well as the historical evaluation and people’s attitude toward them after they leave power. Therefore, we see that president A.Ş. Atambayev fairly consistently promotes to key or important positions those people whom he trusts, whom he has tested over the years while working together and who are able to provide solutions to these issues.
Arguments set forth by the opponents of the president and the supporters of the “correct”personnel policy, that he promotes people on the basis of personal interest, loyalty and so on, are not as convincing as they seem and are more likely of a populist nature.
Firstly, because the president has a practice of appointing people from outside of his personal circle. However, there is no evidence that they work better than those whom he had appointed from his team. It will suffice to cite an example of A. Salyanova, whose appointment was effected before A.Ş. Atambayev’s presidency, or any of the prime ministers to the present, who had no relation to the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and, of course, were with A.Ş. Atambayev in hidden, but well-known confrontations. I am not even talking about the heads of the presidential administration. Here, in general, “Atambayev’s people” emerged only in the last year. One can say just the opposite, that almost all of the time, until recently, A.S. Atambayev ostentatiously appointed to high positions those whom one may call “outsiders”. And almost all of these appointments ended in scandal.
Secondly, if we look at the claims towards recent appointees, or “Atambayev’s people”, they merely testify to the fact that these people used to work with him and that they were working at ordinary positions.
But as yet, no one can say that each of the nominated performs worse in their positions than their predecessors. It is impossible to see and identify any significant differences between “Atambayev’s people” and any other appointments.
Undoubtedly, there is a general problem with the level of government officials, which, in our opinion, is drastically falling. But it has deeper roots. Quality of work, the level of professionalism of civil servants fall due to the facts stated above: high clan determinism of the personnel policy and the dominance of self-interest.
But the matter is not only in that people in power cannot not think about their fate. Preserving continuity of power and control has a selfless aspect to it as well. Any statesman, and especially the head of state does not only think about, he is obliged to engage in continuity, he is responsible to the people for the coming to power, for governing the state of decent people.
And the fact that the current president publicly states his intention not to be involved in the transfer of power, nor nominate a successor, it should not be interpreted as his intention to withdraw and leave it all to chance.
Yes, a president in a democratic society, it would seem, should not nominate a successor for the post at his own discretion, and even more so, use his position, administrative resources to directly support and promote the election of a candidate.
But the same principles of democracy oblige him to prepare the personnel reserve, promote the most capable, strong, responsible people to state administration and to politics, that is, engage in the formation of the country’s elite, in the formation of a sufficient and high-quality base for a candidacy.
On the other hand, we see time and again how the outgoing presidents and the heads of the developed democratic governments not only express their position on candidates coming in to replace them, but also actively engage in promotion of those who, in their opinion, are the most worthy. Of course, this is not permissible in a democratic society to use administrative resources to ensure successful election. But only just.
Thus, in the present situation, for this president and the ruling party, personnel policy cannot be unbiased in nature. And the claims in this regard, accusations of perversity of such a policy are, at the least, naive.
To approach personnel selection situation exclusively on professional grounds in Kyrgyzstan will be possible only when the state will be alienated from politics, if this is at all possible.
There is a need for other senior managers and other policy-making models
The third most important factor in shaping and determining the particulars of the personnel policy in Kyrgyzstan of today is the need to change the management elites.
It is dictated by a number of circumstances.
First and foremost, it is the fact that the current senior management elites are the remnants of the Soviet cadre system. The entire staff body of the country was formed in the Soviet normativity, values and control knowhow. It is only now that management positions are being joined by generations, who have grown outside of the Soviet format.
This does not mean that all who are young automatically become the bearers of the new management philosophy, ideology and technology. Change of perceptions is a far lengthier process than a change of active stages of life of the generations. But it is obvious that with each decade increasingly more transformed managers come to the country’s governance.
It is also important to note, that as a result of inconsistent reforms, lack of clear ideas in society about development, high influence of clan interests, the systems and procedures of governance have formed themselves into a patchwork web of a sort in Kyrgyzstan. A negative influence is also being exerted by bad experience of reforms in a number of spheres of governance, starting with the state structure and ending with sectoral reforms.
A distinctive feature of the governing class of the country is in their lack of understanding of the purposes, ways and possibilities for the country’s development, simply because it does not relate to their own interests at all. Or, to be more precise: they can move in the development format in so far as it overlaps with their own interests. And they are ready to change at any moment the ideologemes, assessments and approaches they use in relation to some or other issues, if it serves their best interests. Certainly, it was not to be expected that having grown on the post-Soviet privatization processes, and deformed social values, the personnel cabinet would not have a “congenital” defects. This post-Soviet cabinet forms the backbone of all political parties present in the Parliament. It is no secret to anyone that all shifts of power occurred hitherto were merely internal settlements within this group. And this will continue until a political and moral disposal of the pseudo-elites is made.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that in these years of transition the governance of the country has been joined by the most active, the most “tenacious” personnel capable to struggle for their interests and their advancement in the complex conditions of the ultimate fighting. It is clear that none of them has the intention to agree with the changes of rules to the game, their status. They have and will put up a colossal resistance. And it is this that we are presently observing, when we see all these political centaurs and overtly created parties of officials, the regional elites. They throw enormous resources in order to maintain themselves in power, to stay in politics.
Unfortunately the cadre coming to replace these “wolves” of the initial formation period, though having a different attitude to work, to the country, a different level of professionalism, lack in survival skills. They trained extremely well for how it is supposed to be. But everything happening in the country is not as it is supposed to be.
Therefore, of utmost importance is the preparation and insertion into management positions of a new type of managers. And it is not just a matter of professional training. The task is much more difficult. It can be formulated as follows: create an environment conducive to the expression and discovery of the abilities of people oriented by their lives, their circumstances, their upbringing and education, and most importantly – their own goal-setting and self-determination for top performance of their functions in society in general and governance in particular.
A set of requirements for a new personnel generation is also clear: a new, focused not on a personal but public-interest motivation of coming to power, the ability to think strategically and have innovative creativity, and not only be able to independently develop, but also implement development projects and programs.
Additionally, one must mention the ability to work with the real environment, the actual situation. The education systems are preparing specialists familiar with some project models, organization and operation, having already been in practice and turn successful in various countries. In the meantime, there is a common misconception that it is not necessary to reinvent a bicycle and that it suffices to apply existing knowledge and experience to our situation. But the whole experience of our country shows that it is a deeply mistaken, moreover, deeply damaging assertion and belief. Foreign models are ineffective, and more often – do not work at all. This we can see as in the very model of the state system, as in the numerous private models of organization processes in various fields.
We need something that can be called “autochthonous innovation”, that is, a model of organization of public administration, an economy based on the national foundation. But it is precisely innovation that is needed, not archaization, and no return to the old models.
It is absolutely clear that this is not possible without changing the model of education and training, for goals other than presently available, and based on a different educational knowhow.
Author: Valentin Bogatyrev, head of an analytical consortium Perspective.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of CABAR.asia