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MOSCOW, August 21 (Itar-Tass) - The fact that many Russian officials have too expensive and luxurious VIP limos to move about at a time when the economic situation in the country is far from glittering has long been an annoyance to society. Everybody knows that. The authorities are not an exception, so they have been trying to do something to eradicate this sort of abuse. Alas, to little avail so far.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov the other day cracked down on civil servants in the subsidies-dependent republics of the North Caucasus for lavish spending on luxury cars. At a government meeting in the spa resort of Pyatigorsk, in the foothills of the North Caucasus mountains, he mentioned this telling example. Whereas the average ratio of office cars on the balance sheets of government bodies of power per one civil servant is 0.06, in the Chechen republic the rate is as high as 0.27. Also, Chechnya accounts for about half of the office car fleet of the whole North Caucasus Federal District.
In the mass media and blogs, rumours flare up now and then over state-of-the-art office limos Caucasus bosses buy for themselves with budget money. The worst row in the Internet was caused by video footage of the motorcade of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, which consisted of about a hundred vehicles. Most of the escorting cars were expensive automobiles from such renowned makers as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
North Caucasus Federal District officials have repeatedly come into the focus of public scrutiny after the website of government purchases published their requests for acquiring expensive foreign cars. For instance, last May such a bid was placed on behalf of the acting head of Dagestan, Ramzan Abdulatipov. According to the request, the authorities of Dagestan planned to buy ten Toyota Camry cars and four off-road Toyota Land Cruiser 200 vehicles for 24 million roubles. Abdulatipov would later disclaim any involvement in the bidding contest. The attempt to buy the cars was made when Abdulatipov was away. As a result, the bidding contest was cancelled and the head of Abdulatipov’s staff responsible for placing the order was disciplined.
Kaloi Akhgilgov, a former press secretary of Ingushetia’s leader, is quoted by the on-line daily Gazeta.ru as saying the officials in the North Caucasus do not get enough messages from their superiors to fight against this ill properly. “The people who run the nation must issue a clear message Siluanov is very right and his advice is worth following. It would be a clear message, and I believe that it would be quite enough to correct the situation somehow,” he said.
In the meantime, the problem of expensive cars for officials is quite common not just of the North Caucasus Federal District, but of other regions, too. However, there are no formal legal reasons to restrict their spending on cars. Russian officials are still free to choose any cars, however costly, packed with no end of smart gadgets and functions. The law does not prohibit them from doing so.
In the Oryol region, a local court upheld the officials’ right to purchase expensive foreign cars with budget money, says the government-published daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
The law suit against a district administration in Oryol was initiated by the local prosecutor’s office, which demanded that officials should be obliged to sell the Nissan Murano car, purchased for the head of a district administration, Viktor Gromov, and to transfer the money raised to the municipal budget. The court was told that last year, the district received a transfer of 6.6 million roubles from the regional treasury. The Nissan car was bought for 1.3 million. The prosecutor’s office claimed such a waste of public money abused the law, in particular, the principle declaring budget funds must be used effectively and pegged to the end result.
The judge ruled, though, that under the Constitution, the local bodies of self-government were free to run municipal assets, form, authorise and execute local budgets and also address all other local issues at their discretion. The prosecutor’s motion was turned down.
At present, the State Duma has before it a bill restricting to three million roubles the value of motor vehicles that can be purchased for civil servants. The bill has undergone only the first reading so far, and its future is anyone’s guess.
Its brain father, first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Constitutional Legislation and Statehood Committee Vyacheslav Lysakov explains the cap on the price tag does not mean everybody will rush to buy three-million-rouble cars at once. This is a price that has been set for motor vehicles to be used by top officials. Their subordinates will have to chose more modest cars, in keeping with their position and status. As a result, the average price of an office car will be far lower than it is today. But all these speculations are very rough, without any allowances made, and many automobile market experts disagree with it.
The Lysakov bill is the mildest option for officials. In parallel, the Russian Public Initiative Internet resource launched a sign-up campaign on its website in support of a bill proposed by opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny that would ban the employees of state-run corporations and companies under government control to buy office cars that cost more than one-and-a-half million roubles. The necessary 100,000 signatures were collected over three months. Now the proposal has to be considered at the federal level.
It remains to be seen which of the bills will be given a go-ahead, if at all. In the meantime, some regions have been quick to impose restrictions on the prices of cars that can be bought for local officials.
For instance, according to Gazeta.ru, the governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, last March made it a rule local officials were allowed to ride about in vehicles that cost no more than 1.1 million. He imposed restrictions on the price of hiring limousines with drivers, and engines of leased vehicles must meet a 199-horsepower limit.
The head of the Irkutsk region, Sergei Yeroshchenko, has taken a similar step. In his region, officials are not allowed to spend budget funds on cars that cost more than 1.2 million roubles. This money is only enough to buy business class sedans like Ford Mondeo or Toyota Camry.