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Russia prepares large-scale system of public control over authorities

October 18, 2013, 16:15 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 18 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s civil society is to gain additional legal levers to influence the power. The Presidential Human Rights Council jointly with the Public Chamber have prepared a large-scale reform of the country’s public control system. What is more, the idea is supported by President Vladimir Putin. The power is seeking support from the civil society, experts say.

The bill “On the bases of public control’” drafted by the Chamber and edited by the Council guarantees to human rights activists and civil initiative groups unprecedented rights for analysis of state authorities’ and legislators’ activities, Kommersant writes on Friday. Should the bill become a law, it would be impossible to skip public approval of any major documents - from formation of budgets at all levels to addendums to the Constitution.

The bill’s major task is to have a legal base for activities of the many social organisations, which control the power. The document reads the work may feature federal or regional civic chambers, public councils at state authorities, public supervisory commissions observing penitentiaries, trade unions and boards of trustees at state institutions of culture, healthcare, pension funds, and so on. They all will get, for example, a right to reveal legal breaches and violations of anti-corruption standards by officials jointly with law enforcement authorities and courts.

The discussion about a necessary law, which would bind all the state authorities report their activities to the civil society, continues for several years now. However, the decision on the law was taken only on September 4, 2013, when Vladimir Putin had a meeting with members of the Council. By that time, the Council and the Chamber had drafted the document and presented it to the president. Putin ordered to make several changes to present it to the State Duma before March 2014.

It is for the first time that a bill introduces the public control notions: human rights activists will be able to organise public monitoring, expert reviews, hearings and investigations. The document reads state officials will be responsible for considering requests, conclusions and recommendations, suggestions and reports, final protocols and other reports on inspections, as well as for informing public organisations on their further actions.

Besides, the bill suggests a notion of an “obligatory public studies.” For example, it should be binding for drafts of Russia’s constitution, federal constitution laws, regional constitutions and charters as well as laws introducing addendums to them. Obligatory studies will be binding for laws on regional and federal budgets, federal and regional special programmes and laws, which regulate formation of state authorities.

“The president’s order to the Council to prepare a bill for presentation to the State Duma demonstrates his intention to attract the civil society to the changes in the country,” Iosif Diskin, a member of the Council, told Itar-Tass. “I would consider adoption of this law a key indicator of the political trend, as the logics here is very simple - it may be possible to bribe one controller or official, but it is impossible to bribe the entire society.”

The Human Rights Council’s Chairman Mikhail Fedotov explained to Kommersant that with the introduction of the public control system all the studies, which quite many public organisations have been making, will gain a legal status. “This would mean that the conclusions without any problems may be presented to courts or prosecutors,” Fedotov said. Controllers will be working transparently: a special Internet-based portal will become an electronic resource centre for public control.

“With this law the government is trying to settle at least somehow its relations with the society,” Kommersant quotes Sergei Tsyplenkov as saying. He is a member of the Council and Greenpeace Russia’s Executive Director. “However, I greatly doubt the success, as the very practice of public hearings and studies demonstrates those instruments are not effective in this country.”

The power does not consider public studies much, says Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, a member of the Chamber and a co-chair of the Council. “As the chamber began its work, not many would consider those studies, though over the years the authority has grown, and now more people are paying attention to our conclusions,” she told Itar-Tass.

Leader of the Civil Dignity Movement Ella Pamfilova called as good the idea of the bill, adding it would be necessary to study the text before giving any final comments, as “the devil is in the details.” “It may work as a catalyser of the civil self-organising,” she told Itar-Tass, adding the law would be effective “if people see that something depends on them.”

The country’s political leaders have initiated the law of the kind as they realise - for the country’s regular development, for fighting the corruption and the power’s aloofness, it needs new pivot points, Pamfilova said.