Russian Mayor Bans Phrase 'I Don't Know'

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The mayor of a Siberian oil town has ordered his bureaucrats to stop using expressions such as "I don't know" and "I can't." Or look for another job.

Alexander Kuzmin, the 33-year-old mayor of Megion, has banned these and 25 other phrases as a way to make his administration more efficient, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

"It's a suggestion to the staff that they should think before saying something," Oksana Shestakova said by telephone. "To say `I don't know' is the same as admitting your helplessness."

To reinforce the ban, a framed list of the banned expressions has been hanging on the wall next to Kuzmin's office for the past two weeks, Shestakova said.

Some of the other prohibited phrases are "What can we do?" "It's not my job," "It's impossible," "I'm having lunch," "There is no money," and "I was away/sick/on vacation."

Kuzmin, a businessman who was elected mayor 1 1/2 years ago, wants to "shake things up" in Megion, a town of 54,000 in the Khanty-Mansiisk region, the spokeswoman said.

The region, located some 1,500 miles northeast of Moscow, produces more oil than the rest of Russia combined. As world oil prices have risen sharply in recent years, the region has flourished, and in stark contrast to the rest of the country its population has grown at the rapid rate of more than 7 percent annually.

But construction has not kept pace, and the lack of adequate housing is one of the town's most serious problems, Shestakova said.

"Town authorities are there to make town residents' life comfortable and prosperous," Kuzmin, a trained oil engineer who studied business administration in Canada, said in a statement posted on the town Web site. "Town officials must work out mechanisms to solve and remove problems, not to avoid them."

Officials who disobey the ban while in the mayor's office "will near the moment of their departure," the statement said.

Providing the mayor with wrong or incomplete information, or being late in reporting important information will be considered an attempt to undermine his work, it said.

Anna Borovikova, the mayor's chief of staff, said the novel approach has improved discipline.

"Before, it was so easy to say `I don't know.' Now before reporting to the mayor we prepare several proposals on how one or another problem can be solved," Borovikova said.

At first it was hard to remember not to use the banned expressions, she said, and they "slipped in sometimes."