Interview with Postscript, a TV-Centre show

29 December 2014

Correspondent: Good evening, Mr Sobyanin.

Sergei Sobyanin: Good evening.

Correspondent: You and I are meeting on the eve of the New Year despite the difficult and complicated situation, to quote some people. But I would call this situation interesting and unusual. Moreover, it contains many challenges. This is true. But, as I see it, this situation contains certain opportunities. Are you influenced by the discussions of the complicated economic situation? Or is Moscow like an icebreaker ploughing through it all?

Sergei Sobyanin: First of all, we have always addressed various challenges, problems, crises and pseudo-crises, and Moscow has always dealt with them. And I am confident that it will also deal with the current challenges. Like all major cities, Moscow has a large safety margin and potential for attracting investment and ensuring development. And, of course, we should assess the negative and positive aspects of any situation, including opportunities for the development of the nation’s industry and its domestic producers.

Correspondent: Do you want to tell the people of Moscow that the city is not facing any financial problems today?

Sergei Sobyanin: Moscow now has a well-balanced budget. Unlike other regions, wdid not borrow a lot. Instead of taking on more debt over the past few years, we have reduced it from 300 billion to just 150 billion roubles. This reduction is substantial.

Correspondent: So, are you reducing debt at a time when everyone is borrowing more?

Sergei Sobyanin: That depends on your plans, and whether they are short-term or long-term plans.

Correspondent: So, it depends on whether you are running a short-distance or long-distance race.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes. You need to feel responsible for what will happen. Doing nothing and accumulating debt is the easy thing. And to optimise spending and reduce debt is the most difficult thing to do.

Correspondent: I’ll start with a pleasant question, and then I’ll ask what seems to be more difficult questions. A survey of the most efficient Russian regional managers has placed you among the top ten.

Sergei Sobyanin: People always want to achieve their goals. I personally want to achieve results, and I consider this to be more important than the process itself. Yes, these results may not be achieved today or tomorrow, but you should do everything possible to expedite the process. This is the essence of work. And the opinion of the city residents that you work for is the main criterion.

Correspondent: Let’s get to real issues. Transport. The exit from Kutuzovsky Prospekt was incredibly complicated, now I regularly use that road that goes directly to the Ring Road, and people take different directions from there. I take it that you had two priorities, if it isn’t a complete list, you will correct me. The first one is the expansion of the road network, in particular, with the assistance of new interchanges and new ramps, and the second one is the public transport development. Which of these priorities had a better implementation, do you think?

Sergei Sobyanin: Actually, there are three priorities. This is definitely infrastructure development — road, transport infrastructure, the development of public transport, and undoubtedly, the creation of certain financial motivations for people to chose. You have to offer a choice, first of all, and secondly, create a financial motivation which transport to chose. After perestroika, when people could afford buying a car, they did not have such an alternative. It was believed that once you purchased a car you can drive anywhere, park anywhere and never ever pay for anything. The key to solving the issue is not the number of ramps and interchanges, it lies in that very motivation and the possibility for developing the public transport.

That’s why we are certainly building ramps, thoroughfares, interchanges, as Moscow is lagging catastrophically behind other cities, and whatever we are doing, we should primarily get rid of bottlenecks by construction, by building new infrastructure.

Second, of course, public transport should be developed. And you see that we are conducting a large-scale construction of the metro and expansion of commuter train service. Actually, when we build and upgrade roadways, the priority in thoroughfare reconstruction is the creation of bus lanes for surface public transport. The development of paid parking definitely creates a certain motivation for a person who makes a choice: I might take public transport or pay for the parking.

Moscow is sprawling, the population is growing, and suburbs are growing with the same tempo in the Moscow Region. And we had done nothing, Moscow would have been stalled in a transport collapse a log time ago. Yet we see the improvement, however minuscule, in the situation, which means we are moving the right way.

Correspondent: I remember once they discussed the possibility of paid entrance to the city centre. They have it in London whereas in Paris they don’t, as far as I remember. I understand that you opted against that measure. Do you believe it will yield nothing while creating additional strain?

Sergei Sobyanin: There are two ways to resolve the problem: a radical one by introducing paid entry, limiting the number of cars in the city and a number of other steps; and there is progressive development that we are dealing with now, which is the maximum development of public transport and regulating parking spaces. It seems to me that as long as we have not yet exhausted this way, it does not seem proper to pass over to the other measures. Although, experts are discussing this. Let them discuss, the key is the discussion should proceed in a civilised manner within accepted procedures.

Correspondent: Mr Sobyanin, you know what brings about a lot of complaints? Tow trucks. This has been discussed in the State Duma recently, a new law is being passed, it has been adopted in the first reading. Many Moscow residents think this is a well-lubricated business, a shadow business, of course. Anyway, does this problem exist and how can we tackle it? Using legislation alone or by a tougher control over those structures that are doing it?

Sergei Sobyanin: I don’t believe that there is a kind of shadow business. It is unlikely, and in my opinion it is impossible. It should certainly be regulated. There is nothing bad in the State Duma passing a draft law that prescribes regulating norms. However, I should tell you that if we do not tow away illegally parked cars, we will shortly come back to where we were: all pedestrian streets will be packed with cars, vehicles will be parked across the roads. For that reason, we shouldn’t rush towards populist declarations, we have to steadily pursue our line of actions. There should be order in the city: if there is road sign, it should be obliged; if the parking lot is paid, one should pay for the parking. These are the rules. They exist in all countries, and they are observed everywhere. Our citizens, Moscow residents, when they arrive in Paris, London, even in Finland...

Correspondent: Things are really tough there.

Sergei Sobyanin: No one would want to violate traffic rules, road signs, and then hit a table with his fist and demand explanations why he is being treated so unfairly.

Correspondent: The next questions is one the most complicated ones — healthcare is also extensively discussed. What can Muscovites count on after all those arguments, debates, some protests? What is the system going to be like that should ultimately, as I understand it, give a better result? But things are being reshuffled now. What can they still expect?

Sergei Sobyanin: It did not start now, it has been progressing for several years. During the first stage, we changed the equipment, conducted reconstruction and the repairs of clinics, installed new technologies that allowed to cut treatment time and patient recovery time, to improve the diagnostics. And in fact, we have reached the European level equipment-wise. It was followed by facility restructuring: larger facilities were formed out of smaller ones that were unable to provide comprehensive services. Today, the tuning inside the facilities themselves is going on in accordance with the tasks and assignments they are facing so as to efficiently use the funds they receive. And the main thing that is going on now is that the funding is coming not by calculations or an official’s direction, but in accordance with those services the outpatient clinic or a hospital render. Healthcare is already signaling positive changes now in a number of indicators. It refers to life expectancy in general, and a drop in mortality rate due to a number of diseases, the most challenging and most common ones: heart and blood vessel diseases, oncology, death at giving birth, and some others.

Correspondent: Have the numbers on cardio-vascular diseases and oncology gone down in Moscow? It is noticeable, isn’t it?

Sergei Sobyanin: It is. Why? Because the diagnostics has improved, of those oncology diseases, for one thing, especially women’s oncology. As to cardio-vascular diseases, 22 vascular centres have been set up in the city that provide a comprehensive and prompt assistance. For instance, mortality from acute heart attacks in hospitals has halved. It is a considerable shift, and the level of assistance in this area has already advanced to the European level.

Correspondent: Occasional concerns are voiced that enlarging will lead to lack of outpatient clinics for the population.

Sergei Sobyanin: Nothing of the kind. Outpatient clinics are not closed down. Even when they get enlarged legally, it rather increases than decreases access for patients, since they will be able to use not only their small district polyclinic, but also the central outpatient centre equipped with CT, MRT and a modern laboratory, as well as employing a wide range of specialists.

Correspondent: Regarding social benefits — we know that social benefits have not been cut over the time since you’ve headed City Hall. But the economic situation was more favourable then. This is no longer so. What will be City Hall’s new policies with regard to pensioners and people with disabilities and their benefits? How will you adjust it for this new situation?

Sergei Sobyanin: We are not cutting benefits or social payments. At the same time, we are aware that tensions are growing, and many people feel their situations are deteriorating, even despite growing pensions, due to inflation, higher housing and utilities bills and price rises. So, we do regular probes, we conduct targeted surveys among various population groups. This allows us to organise targeted support. We look at what they need — household equipment or healthcare and rehabilitation services, or anything else — and tune our social support policies to their needs.

I think that this is the most effective way to do it. This way, Government support is not spread thinly across everyone, including those who might not need it. Even if people fall into the same category, they might have different needs and different incomes.

Correspondent: In terms of feedback — I heard praise of the interactive Moscow Government portal where people can report their problems and have a response. In some cases their problems get addressed quite soon. Do you have a large staff doing this?

Sergei Sobyanin: We have the same people as before — building management companies, operation services, district councils, administrative areas’ authorities, departments, and so on. The only thing that changed is that now we take all reports and complaints and accumulate them into a single website. The website is managed by a different team, which is unrelated to the services that are responsible for work itself. This gives us an independent control group. This is my first point.

Second, all the complaints and responses are public. The responses are done by Government officials, not junior clerks — heads of district councils, department heads or their deputies — officials who are responsible for a specific job. It is no less important that the person who reported a problem and got a response can comment if he agrees with the proposed solution, whether or not the problem has been resolved, can upload a picture of a malfunctioning facility, a pit on a road, etc., and say: “No this has not been repaired, and here’s photo evidence.”

Correspondent: Have there been any reports or complaints that you have to handle personally?

Sergei Sobyanin: The system does not work all by itself, even with organisations that provide independent oversight. If the Government head does not supervise the system, it won’t be working. I actually had to fire several Government officials to make them feel responsible for handling these issues.

Correspondent: Since you’ve fired them, I suppose they failed to feel it. But others probably did.

Sergei Sobyanin: People must feel personally responsible for what they do. Anyone can make a mistake of course, one can fail to correctly estimate the time needed to do the job, by a day or two — such minor faults can be punished with fines. But if you lie to people deliberately, this requires the harshest punishment available. This is the only way.

Correspondent: Are you a harsh leader then? Do you think you are?

Sergei Sobyanin: I am not a harsh, or a mild leader. I am a rational one.

Correspondent: You have been included in the top ten regional leaders in Russia. How much of the credit should go to your team, what do you think?

Sergei Sobyanin: I think 99 percent of the credit should go to the team.

Correspondent: So you only leave 1 percent for yourself?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, but it’s the most important part — I recruit the team.

Correspondent: The last question: what do you usually do for the New Year? Do you stay in Moscow or go out of town?

Sergei Sobyanin: I usually stay in Moscow because, as the mayor, my top priority is peace and order in the city, not a feast.

Correspondent: That’s right.

Sergei Sobyanin: I want the holidays to go smoothly and make all the Muscovites happy.

Correspondent: So, may the New Year’s Eve be smooth and peaceful in Moscow, and easy for you, so that you have a good time seeing in the New Year, and I wish you luck and success for the next year on behalf of all Muscovites. Although we may not have an easy year, I still hope that it will end well.

Sergei Sobyanin: Let’s hope that we will overcome all difficulties. I am confident that we will.

Correspondent: I am sure too.

Sergei Sobyanin: Thank you and good-bye.

Correspondent: Thank you.

Sourse: The website of the Mayor and the Government of Moscow

See also
Vladimir Efimov
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Minister of the Moscow City Government, the Head of Department of Economic Policy and Development of Moscow
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Natalya Sergunina on why Moscow does not fear the crisis and what the city’s government is betting on
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Deputy Moscow Mayor in the Moscow Government of Economic Policy, Property and Land Relations
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Sergei Sobyanin’s interview with Moscow FM radio station
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Sobyanin interviewed for Vesti-Moskva on Rossiya-1
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