Severe Russian Frost Makes People Freeze in Their Houses

Russian State Duma deputies decided to find out, why water pipes burst in people's houses

The winter vacation was very good for the deputies of the Russian parliament. They have had a very good rest and returned back to work fresh and vivid. The first day of the Duma’s winter session was devoted to the new draft law pertaining to the Russian language (PRAVDA.Ru has recently reported about it). Thank God, there were smart people, who offered to delay the consideration of the document.

Then the people’s deputies paid their attention to the situation with the regions, where people freeze in their own houses. Lyubov Sliska, the First Vice Speaker of the State Duma, told journalists on Thursday that the Duma decided to discuss the mentioned situation with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, chairman of the Russian State Construction, Nikolay Koshman and with Anatoly Chubais, the head of the Russian energy giant, RAO UES of Russia. All these high-ranking officials were especially invited to participate in the Duma discussion regarding the freezing regions.

As Lyubov Sliska said, several deputies demanded the government of the country should take very serious and urgent measures about the situation in the regions. Someone even suggested the voting of distrust for the cabinet of ministers. Nikolay Kharitonov, the leader of the Agro-Industrial deputy group stated that the voting of distrust would be an actual issue for the State Duma, if the government was not going to give the complete answer concerning the current crisis in the field of public utilities.

A lot more people froze last winter, but the deputies were not really concerned about it. The current year is a special one, for parliamentary elections are to take place in December of 2003. The Russian government is perfectly aware of that, that is why it decided not to succumb to peer pressure. Mikhail Kasyanov did not wish to come for the discussion with the deputies (there is a rule to invite the prime minister five days before the actual date of an event). Kasyanov sent his deputy instead, Viktor Khristenko. Most likely, governmental officials will blame the severe Russian frost. Nikolay Koshman, the State Construction chairman, will probably complain of the lack of funding for the field of public utilities.

One hundred and thirty-three kilometers - this is the length of the Russian heating pipeline network. The State Construction says that ten thousand kilometers of pipes are in an emergency condition. They need to be replaced very urgently. About one-third of the produced heating power is wasted over old pipes. RAO UES of Russia owns the majority of heating arterial pipelines. The pipes that are linked to apartment buildings, are under the municipality jurisdiction. About 133 billion rubles have to be found somewhere within eight years in order to modernize all that. This would allow to replace about five percent of water pipes every year. Breakdowns will be inevitable otherwise. This will make thousands of Russian people freeze in their own apartments.

Several deputies did not want to wait until the tomorrow session of the Duma. They decided to set out their position regarding the issue before the session took place. Gennady Seleznyov, the Speaker of the Duma, believes that the reasons of the current crisis ought to be found in the way that public utilities services get ready for the winter season in the country. “I am afraid that they will simply find someone to blame and all discussions will be over, as it happened before,” said the speaker. Seleznyov believes that up to 90% of the funds that are assigned to arrange winter season preparations, are basically spent on officials, not on new pipes.

Russian deputies believe that the public utilities crisis is caused with the failure of the government's policy in the field. Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the Yabloko faction of the Duma, stated that the cabinet of ministers did nothing but raised tariffs, which did not allow to prevent the critical situation. The situation is very critical in the following regions of Russia: Karelia republic, Komy republic, Yakutia republic, the Novgorod region, the Leningrad region, the Arkhangelsk region, the Kamchatka region and Sakhalin. The only way out of this situation is to start real structural reforms in the field of public utilities. Yabloko suggested the following: to release private non-monopolist enterprises from the tax burden for the period of three years. After that, those enterprises could be given tax benefits for the period of five years. The faction also suggested the reduction of public utilities tariffs by 75% (this was suggested for those citizens, who have meters), to conduct auditing process at monopoly companies, and to publish auditing results in the press.

Dmitry Chirkin PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov