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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Little Sense In Docking State Duma




Deputies in the State Duma this week have been complaining to President Boris Yeltsin that they are forced to ride the subway to work because the Kremlin is refusing to buy gasoline for their chauffeur-driven Audis and Mercedes.


Yeltsin, they say, promised to solve the Duma's financial problems if they voted to confirm Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister. They did, but now they say, Yeltsin has gone back on his word.


The immediate reaction to this complaint is: tough luck. It is common knowledge that a large section of the deputies in the lower house use their seats to line their pockets. They get the use of free apartments, free flights around the country, subsidized holidays, and rumor has it, are not averse to accepting fat envelopes from political lobbyists.


The deputies' carping looks particularly craven because it is a tacit admission that legislators swallowed Yeltsin's offer of a bribe and approved Kiriyenko in the hope of cashing in on the Kremlin's gratitude.


But for all this, the problems with cash flow that emerged this week point to a broader, and much more serious, problem that has been dragging on for over a year.


The housekeeping expenses of the Duma, and the Federation Council or upper house of parliament, are disbursed by Pavel Borodin, Yeltsin's old tennis buddy and the Kremlin's head of household administration.


For the last 18 months or so, the Duma's administration has been short-changed by Borodin and as a result struggles to make ends meet.


Probably the most absurd consequence is the shortage of paper and photocopy machines. This regularly leads to the surreal situation where, in the highest legislative organ in the land, a deputy will often have to search for hours to put his hands on the written text of a law.


Things are worse still in the Federation Council. There, space is so short that governors of huge regions are forced to work two to a wardrobe-sized office.The effect of this financial hardship is twofold. First, parliament does not have the resources to do the normal, everyday work a legislature should do. And secondly, when it comes to the crunch, the Kremlin can use its control of the purse-strings, like it did during the Kiriyenko confirmation hearings, to blackmail legislators.


There is probably little that can be done about lazy and corrupt deputies. But if parliament's funding were separated from the Kremlin's budget and protected by law, Russia would at least have a slim chance of getting the independent and competent parliament it needs and deserves.