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Russian bureaucrats may have to use cheaper cars, possibly domestic brands

September 23, 2013, 21:12 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, September 23 (Itar-Tass) - An expert working group has suggested that the Russian government should consider setting a limit to the value of service cars used by officials. The matter of officials having at their disposal less prestigious foreign made cars or even cars of domestic makes, the matter sensitive to the bureaucrats, has not yet been settled. And this despite the fact that representatives of the opposition parliamentary parties and of the ruling United Russia party, and not just oppositionists, first of all Aleksei Navalny, who declare for setting the limit to the value of automobiles for civil servants.

The government, in principle, is ready to gratify the wishes of the population much annoyed with the huge black limousines with dome lights riding in the opposite lanes to carry officials not of the top ranks at all. There are many snags yet, which is understandable: the officials oppose this.

As many as 100,250 signatures were given for Aleksei Navalny’s initiative to prohibit officials, staffers of state-owned corporation and companies under government control from buying automobiles costing over 1.5 million rubles. The website of the Russian Public Initiative has registered the proposal on April 5. Aleksei Zhuravlev, Deputy of the State Duma from the United Russia party, had earlier backed the proposal to set the limit to the value of service cars and drafted the relevant bill. Similar proposals were made by MPs from the Communist Party and Just Russia.

The bill suggesting limiting the value of officials’ cars by three million rubles has been submitted to the State Duma by MPs from the All-Russia People’s Front, who are in the United Russia parliamentary faction.

The federal expert working group, which reviews proposals submitted to the Russian Public Initiative, including Navalny’s proposal, has suggested fixing the prices of service cars depending on officials’ rank. Recommendations to this effect have already been referred to the government.

The working group, however, deemed it unnecessary to set a 1.5 million ruble legislative limit to the value of service cars for officials and staffers of companies with state participation, but suggested that the government should consider fixing the price limit for automobiles depending on an official’ rank.

Considering that high-ranking officials may have to bear expenses for entertaining guests, the limit on the value of cars can be raised, but 1.5 million ruble cars are too expensive for officials of the lower tier, Mikhail Abyzov, Minister for Open Government Affairs, who heads the working group, told the business newspaper Kommersant.

The working group called into question the need for officials to use service cars, suggesting that the government should consider discarding this practice and pay instead compensation to officials for the use of their personal cars and public transport.

According to the information of the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 85 percent of automobiles purchased for civil servants cost from 700,000 to 850,000 rubles, and the annual servicing costs are usually several times the cars’ value. “Therefore, the limit should be set not only to the purchasing price but also to the cost of servicing or renting service cars,” the Open Government suggests.

These documents have already been referred to the government and relevant memos to the Duma. In the autumn, the lower house of parliament may consider the bill setting the three million ruble limit to the value of cars, as suggested by deputies from the All-Russia People’s Front.

Vyacheslav Lysakov, the co-author of the initiative, said “the government may take any stand,” but the deputies would not give up their project.

Konstantin Kalmykov, the top manager of Aleksei Navalny’s anti-corruption project Rospil, fears that nobody can give any guarantees of limits being set to the car value, and the authorities will not set limits on purchases by companies with state participation.

To refer a project to the State Duma means to bury the idea, says Yana Yakovleva, chairwoman of the Business Solidarity movement, has been quoted by the Slon portal as saying. Society wants expenditures on the maintenance of civil servants cut and this is not only a matter of automobiles, she said.

“Japanese-made heated lavatory pans complete with a control console and a 16-point operating manual have been installed on the premises of the Prosecutor General’s Office. What is the need for such lavatory pans?” Yakovleva asks. There must be ways to limit extravagant expenditures on state procurements and possibly there is a need for catalogues of goods and services with approximate prices supplied.

Mikhail Abyzov stated back in June that “the purchase of personal cars for civil servants should be stopped altogether and all maintenance expenses should be reflected in fixed and clear salaries.” He said taxpayers wanted all kinds of maintenance expenditures related to civil servants to be transparent and controllable.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, too, suggested earlier that benefits the state provides to civil servants should be monetised. The premier stressed that the existing practice of benefits for civil servants was opaque.

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who also favours monetisation of benefits for civil servants, said in March 2013 that the total volume of funds the budget spends on benefits for government officials would be calculated by autumn.

Meanwhile, the authorities are still giving thought to making officials travel in domestic made automobiles. The Central Research Automobile and Automotive Engine Institute (NAMI) will be authorised to design the limousine for Russian top officials, says the order Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed.

There are plans to design not only a range of cars for top officials, including the limousine, but also that of commercial transport (down to a minivan) based on the same platform. Mercedes cars are now used for the transportation of Russian high-ranking officials. Both the president and the prime minister have said more than once that officials should use domestic made automobiles.