. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truant Legislators Fear Having to Face Music

ST. PETERSBURG — The deputies of the Legislative Assembly made an attempt at constructive self-criticism this week when they discussed a bill that would levy fines against deputies who miss assembly sessions without a valid excuse. "It's about time," I thought when I heard this.

When I was at the Mariinsky Palace on Thursday, I was greeted by an all-too-common sight: About an hour before the end of the day's session, fewer than a dozen deputies were at work. In fact, I counted nine, including the acting speaker. And all of them were running around frantically, voting for themselves and their absent friends.

Luckily, I spotted Igor Mikhailov, a lawmaker with whom I particularly wanted to speak for a story I was working on. But he couldn't answer my question because at the time he was juggling a handful of voting keys, trying awkwardly not to spill them all over the table. But before I could say anything, Mikhailov had scurried off to the other side of the hall.

So it is obvious why the pro-Kremlin Unity faction put forward a bill that would deprive absent deputies of their financial bonuses, which are routinely passed out to lawmakers for "intense and effective" work. These bonuses generally amount to 2,000 rubles ($67), or about 50 percent of their normal month's salary.

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And the problem is not just limited to assembly sessions. The work of Legislative Assembly committees is also often stymied by absent lawmakers. "Deputies often sign up for several commissions at once, and then don't participate in any of them. As a result, the commissions can't gather a quorum and can't make any decisions," said Vadim Tyulpanov, head of the local Unity faction and author of the bill to fine deputies.

I was actually surprised when Tyulpanov's initiative failed. Only 23 of the necessary 25 deputies voted for it. This result surprised me because, to be honest, 2,000 rubles doesn't mean very much to a lot of our deputies. Deputies like Igor Rimmer, Sergei Shevchenko and Vladimir Golman are serious businessmen who might easily drop that much money in a few minutes at a downtown restaurant without even thinking about it.

So why didn't the bill pass? I think it isn't because of the money, but rather because the deputies don't want anyone keeping track of how often they are not to be found. They don't want voters to know who comes regularly to do the job for which they were elected and who just shows up now and again to lobby some special interest.

You'd think that voters would have a right to know these things. Lawmakers might agree, but that doesn't mean that they are going to run out and tell them.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.