Medvedev Says Technology Key to Russian Democracy
PETROZAVODSK, Russia (Reuters) - Modern communications technology should become a gateway to democracy in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, ordering his ministers to improve online public access to the government.
"Free access to information for our citizens is one of the key benchmarks of the democratic process," the Russian leader told a meeting of his advisory State Council in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk.
"Information technology directly affects the political system, accessibility of political institutions and thus the development of democracy," he added.
Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, focused his eight-year presidency on restoring Kremlin control over Russia after a decade of post-Soviet political turmoil.
His supporters say such policies helped sustain Russia's biggest economic boom in a generation. Critics argue that the centralization of power crippled democracy and deprived the economy of flexibility.
Medvedev, who took over in May, has promised to install the "rule of law" and fight corruption, steps analysts say are needed to modernize society and the economy.
Addressing top ministers and regional bosses on Thursday, he said the inability of ordinary people to gain access to the government or receive official information was a big problem.
"(Solving this problem) would naturally contribute to fighting corruption," Medvedev said.
One key aspect of the problem is that computer illiteracy is widespread among Russian citizens and officials, according to Medvedev, who has shown interest in communications technology.
In recent years the government has spent billions of dollars equipping schools, offices, hospitals and libraries with modern computer equipment, but this has failed to replace paperwork and bureaucratic procedures, traditional channels for corruption.
Medvedev ordered officials to revive by 2010 the "Electronic Government" plan adopted under Putin, which would computerize the flow of official documents and contracts, increasing the transparency of government activities.
The stalled project also envisages broader electronic access for ordinary people to official services and information.
Medvedev warned officials that inability to acquire 21st century skills could cost them their jobs.
"An official who does not have elementary computer skills cannot work effectively, that means he has to look for another job," Medvedev said. "Learn or leave!"
He also lambasted the government for failing to organize nationwide computer training, a job done by foreign agencies.
"International training centers run by the U.S. Department of State's bureau of educational and cultural programs operate in 30 cities," Medvedev said.
"There is nothing wrong about this, but generally this is not the State Department's job at all," he added. "We are not a banana republic which is allowed to enjoy the fruits of civilization. We have our own resources."
(Writing by Oleg Shchedrov, editing by Tim Pearce)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved