Tied up in Russian red tape? Send a birthday card

Tied up in Russian red tape? Send a birthday card

MOSCOW – Rude, unhelpful, and often corrupt: it’s the widely held image of the Russian bureaucrat and it strikes fear into the heart of Western investors touching down in Moscow to cash in on a booming economy.

But help is at hand: a one-day workshop offers advice on everything from how to charm an angry official, what to get a regional governor for his birthday and how to dodge requests for bribes. For the business people squeezed into the conference room of a Moscow hotel last Friday, knowing how to deal with Russia’s bureaucrats is as vital a tool as a Russian phrasebook and a pair of warm boots.”The authorities …have their own rules and their own language …If you are not able to decode that, then you will go to the wall,” said one workshop student, a west European businessman who did not want to be identified.Moscow’s RTS share index hit an all-time high of 1 000 points last month, driven by record prices for Russia’s chief export, crude oil.Investors are bullish and growing numbers are moving in to get a piece of the action.The workshop testifies to the fact that doing business in Russia still poses unique challenges.Western businessmen and a smattering of Russian executives attended, pens poised over their notebooks, ready to record any handy tips.Not least among the possible pitfalls for eager investors are red tape and corruption, consistently named in investor surveys as the biggest bugbears and cited by economists as major drags on growth.Ironically, the very oil-fuelled boom that is drawing investors may also lessen momentum to reform the stifling and intrusive state bureaucracy, some analysts and officials say.Russia’s bureaucrats wield immense power because only they know how to navigate through the maze of regulations that govern Russian life.When – as often happens – one rule contradicts another, it is the official who has the final word.However, the canny business executive can find ways to win officials over, said workshop leader Galina Terentyeva.”You should not fear the bureaucrat,” said Terentyeva, a business consultant and former civil servant who has studied the psychology of Russian officials.”They are not necessarily bad people.They are the way that they are because they have objectives that are different from ours,” she told students at the workshop, run by English-language newspaper The Moscow Times.If a male investor knows an important official is going to be aggressive, he should take an attractive female member of staff to the meeting to soften him, said Terentyeva.One way to handle a bureaucrat who is taking weeks to sign a vital document is to find out where he spends his free time and arrange a ‘chance’ meeting.”He will realise …that you move in the same circles and that will win him over because it means you have the same interests,” said Terentyeva, who regularly runs in-house training sessions for companies.Other advice is to dress down for meetings with provincial bureaucrats – “to avoid evoking envy” – and to send the regional governor a greetings card on his birthday.Some governors only accept gifts worth US$500 or over, Terentyeva said, but she advised investors not to comply.”Paying a bribe, not just accepting one, is a criminal offence …We need to seek alternatives to this,” she said between role-play exercises when her students took turns to act the part of obstructive officials.Another student at the workshop, an executive with a multinational company, said Russian bureaucrats can usually be appeased.But it takes a lot of effort.”When I worked for three years in South Africa I met a tax inspector once,” he said.”In Moscow, there is not a week when there is not a check or something like that.This is really special.This is really a different case.”- Nampa-ReutersFor the business people squeezed into the conference room of a Moscow hotel last Friday, knowing how to deal with Russia’s bureaucrats is as vital a tool as a Russian phrasebook and a pair of warm boots.”The authorities …have their own rules and their own language …If you are not able to decode that, then you will go to the wall,” said one workshop student, a west European businessman who did not want to be identified.Moscow’s RTS share index hit an all-time high of 1 000 points last month, driven by record prices for Russia’s chief export, crude oil.Investors are bullish and growing numbers are moving in to get a piece of the action.The workshop testifies to the fact that doing business in Russia still poses unique challenges.Western businessmen and a smattering of Russian executives attended, pens poised over their notebooks, ready to record any handy tips.Not least among the possible pitfalls for eager investors are red tape and corruption, consistently named in investor surveys as the biggest bugbears and cited by economists as major drags on growth.Ironically, the very oil-fuelled boom that is drawing investors may also lessen momentum to reform the stifling and intrusive state bureaucracy, some analysts and officials say.Russia’s bureaucrats wield immense power because only they know how to navigate through the maze of regulations that govern Russian life.When – as often happens – one rule contradicts another, it is the official who has the final word.However, the canny business executive can find ways to win officials over, said workshop leader Galina Terentyeva.”You should not fear the bureaucrat,” said Terentyeva, a business consultant and former civil servant who has studied the psychology of Russian officials.”They are not necessarily bad people.They are the way that they are because they have objectives that are different from ours,” she told students at the workshop, run by English-language newspaper The Moscow Times.If a male investor knows an important official is going to be aggressive, he should take an attractive female member of staff to the meeting to soften him, said Terentyeva.One way to handle a bureaucrat who is taking weeks to sign a vital document is to find out where he spends his free time and arrange a ‘chance’ meeting.”He will realise …that you move in the same circles and that will win him over because it means you have the same interests,” said Terentyeva, who regularly runs in-house training sessions for companies.Other advice is to dress down for meetings with provincial bureaucrats – “to avoid evoking envy” – and to send the regional governor a greetings card on his birthday.Some governors only accept gifts worth US$500 or over, Terentyeva said, but she advised investors not to comply.”Paying a bribe, not just accepting one, is a criminal offence …We need to seek alternatives to this,” she said between role-play exercises when her students took turns to act the part of obstructive officials.Another student at the workshop, an executive with a multinational company, said Russian bureaucrats can usually be appeased.But it takes a lot of effort.”When I worked for three years in South Africa I met a tax inspector once,” he said.”In Moscow, there is not a week when there is not a check or something like that.This is really special.This is really a different case.”- Nampa-Reuters

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