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Officials face fines, sackings for internet disclosures following Facebook scandal

Officials face fines, sackings for internet disclosures following Facebook scandal
Senior government figures have warned ministers and cabinet staff they can be fined or even fired for discussing their official work on the internet, a Russian newspaper reports.

Popular mass circulation daily Izvestia quoted an unnamed government source as saying that all ministers had been gathered for an urgent conference after the recent scandal involving former Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Sergey Belyakov.

In early August Belyakov posted on his Facebook page an apology for a government decision to postpone the transfer of pension payments to private funds, scheduled for 2015. The official wrote that the decision was “harmful for the economy,” and added that he was ashamed as the Ministry of Economic Development had failed to keep its earlier promises on pension reform.

Screenshot from Sergey Belyakov Facebook Page

The post was quickly made popular by Facebook users and the media, and drew comments from Natalya Timakova, the press secretary for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who said it was not right to discuss the already made decision. Timakova deleted her comments and described them as a private opinion in subsequent press comments, but shortly afterwards Belyakov was sacked. The government press service’s report about the event quoted the Law on Civil Service that expressly forbids anyone working for the state to make public or through the media comments or appraisals on the work of state structures and their leaders. The law only makes an exception for those who have such duties officially listed in their employment contracts.

Izvestiya’s source called Belyakov’s move and “extraordinary deed in a negative sense,” as the former deputy minister wrote his Facebook post without warning anyone, and while the pensions issue was being discussed he never expressed any disapproval of the government’s work. “His reaction came as a surprise for many and it actually was a direct violation of discipline as the decision had been already made,” the source added.

At the special meeting all government officials and staff were lectured about the importance of discipline and warned that in future violators will be fined or fired. The exact size of the fines is yet to be approved by senior cabinet officials, the newspaper wrote.

A source in the Finance Ministry has confirmed the meeting took place and added that civil servants unanimously supported the tightening of the screws.

Belyakov himself said in press comments that the government move to prevent future leaks was a logical step. He added that public discussion of work decisions were never allowed, but previously violations had never led to dismissals. However, the ex-official insisted that he did the right thing as “the list of passed decisions was very demotivating for my future work.”

Earlier this year the Russian media reported that the Lower House of Parliament, the State Duma was planning to introduce its own professional social network, named “Parliamentary Portal”. The network will host accounts of all federal, regional, and municipal deputies as well as invited experts in law, political science or the economy. The general public will be able to read what’s in the Parliamentary Portal and can share selected post in other social networks to discuss the topics.