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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stepashin Casts Eye Over Resources

Itar-TassSloppy resource management has reduced the country's timber harvest to one-third of its volume ten years ago.
Sloppy resource management has decimated Russia's fishing stocks and reduced the timber harvest to one-third of its volume 10 years ago, Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin said on Thursday.

Russia would do well to learn from countries like Norway and channel part of its oil windfall into conservation projects, Stepashin told an international conference on environmental auditing.

"In some cases, we are witnessing the predatory exploitation of our country's natural resources, resulting not only in huge potential losses of the state funds but also in irreversible environmental damage," Stepashin told the gathering of more than 140 auditors from 65 countries in the President Hotel.

Russia started environmental auditing in earnest only five years ago, said Alexander Nazarov, the chief environmental auditor at the Audit Chamber.

"Of course, we are novices in this business," Nazarov said on the sidelines of the conference.

Over the past four years, Russia has lost at least one-third of its most valuable fish stocks -- including the king and blue crabs -- because of loopholes in legislation and a faulty distribution system of quotas, Stepashin said. Poaching is an additional problem, Nazarov said.

Similarly, mismanagement of resources had caused Russia to lose two-thirds of its timber harvest compared with a decade ago, Stepashin said, causing the sector to become a net receiver from -- rather than donor to -- the federal budget.

Valery Stepankov, deputy natural resources minister, told the gathering that his ministry had begun to hammer out Russia's first ecology code and will forward the first chapters to the State Duma next year.

Over the past four years, the Audit Chamber said it had carried out more than 40 checks into how ministries were spending budget money allocated for environmental protection.

The Natural Resources, Agriculture, Defense and Industry and Energy ministries were among those that came under the chamber's scrutiny.

"So far, none of the ministries has anything to boast about," Nazarov said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Stepashin said the Audit Chamber was drawing on foreign experience to improve the management of natural resources.

Stepashin said that Russian auditors would next year begin working with their Norwegian counterparts to look into funds spent on improving the ecology and fishing practices in the Barents Sea. Illegal fishing is causing huge losses to both Norway's and Russia's budgets, Stepashin said after his speech.

In the past week, Russian fisherman have clashed in several incidents with Norway's coast guard over charges that they were engaged in illegal fishing in the Barents Sea.

Stepashin also said the Audit Chamber would present proposals on how best to manage the $34 billion stabilization fund -- the government's pot of windfall oil revenue -- by year's end.

Norway presents a good example of how to successfully manage the wealth from natural resources, Stepashin said.

As of June, Norway had accumulated more than $180 billion in its Petroleum Fund.