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gazeta.ru October 8, 2003

The Duma Gets out of the Kremlin's Control

By Yelena Rudneva

Defying the Kremlin's stance, and the government's strong disapproval, State Duma deputies have passed a draft law on parliamentary inquiries. The draft enables lawmakers to carry out their own investigation into any kind of crime or wrongdoing by highly-placed state officials and also to probe the legality of using armed forces inside and outside the country. In line with the draft, only the head of state may refrain from testifying before parliament.

The authors of the draft, approved by the lower house in the first reading this week, call for the establishment of special investigative commissions, under the control of the Russian parliament, that would probe cases of grave violations of human rights during a state of emergency, grave violations of the Constitution during elections to the federal and regional executive authorities. Parliament will also probe the activities of judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Higher Arbitration Court, the Prosecutor General and the chairman of the Central Election Commission that are incompatible with their official status. The commission will also be able to launch inquiries into territorial disputes between regions of the Russian Federation, and probe the legality of using armed forces inside and outside the country.

"Society today feels helpless when confronted with power, that power goes unpunished. That is why the national anti-corruption committee has entrusted me with the task to submit the draft," said State Duma deputy Nikolai Gonchar who presented the draft law to the lower house before its first reading on Tuesday.

"According to Gonchar, the current legislation stipulates no punishment for state officials who refuse to provide parliamentarians with information, ignore State Duma sessions or give false evidence.

"Gonchar assured his colleagues that the parliamentary investigation commission would not duplicate the functions of the courts or the police. Their role will be "to take power away from people who abuse it."

"However, the Duma Committee for State Construction refused to support the draft law, saying it ran counter to Article 103 of the Constitution (outlining the jurisdiction of the lower house). The committee's speaker, Nikolai Shaklein, recalled that a draft on amending the Constitution, to authorize the lawmakers to carry out such inquiries, had been passed in the first reading by the Duma during the previous assembly, but then the document had been put on hold and eventually lost in the archives.

"Parliamentary inquiries are an important function of parliament: as long as the Constitution does not allow us to undertake such enquiries, we cannot pass the law. Parliamentary commissions will, in fact, duplicate investigative agencies," Shaklein protested.

"However, the liberal Yabloko, and Union of Right-Wing Forces factions actively backed the draft law. "It is clear that the only way to investigate the conduct of state officials in such situations as the Kursk submarine accident or the hostage-taking in the Nord-Ost musical theatre, is to carry out parliamentary inquiries," SPS deputy Boris Nadezhdin said. "Russia, indeed, remains the only country, where parliament has no such powers."

"Siding with the authors of the draft, deputy Boris Reznik of the Regions of Russia group, recalled that the lower house's committee for combatting corruption has so far failed to call to account certain state officials involved in corruption. Reznik recalled that although the commission had on many occasions disclosed corruption in the government involving high-placed federal ministers (Adamov, Aksyonenko and Artyukhov), the deputies' conclusions remained unheeded by the Kremlin and the government.

"Eventually, in defiance of the objections from the Kremlin and the government, the lower house approved the draft law in its first reading. The law received the support of the People's Deputy Group, Yabloko, SPS and the Communists.

"Members of the pro-Kremlin Unity and Fatherland All Russia factions were so convinced that the law would not make it through the first reading that many of them did not bother to attend the Tuesday session.

"The presidential envoy to the lower house Alexander Kotenkov did not conceal his disappointment as he gazed at the voting results on the scoreboard. He clearly had not expected such an outcome, apparently hoping that the Kremlin-controlled factions would block the passage of the law, just as they had done in late 2002, when liberal factions called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Nord-Ost theatre raid in Dubrovka.

It appears highly unlikely that the draft will ever make it through the second and final third readings. The pro-Kremlin factions have a strong influence in the lower house, and the December elections are expected to further strengthen their positions. If the United Russia mega-bloc, as planned, wins the majority of seats in the house, the draft law on parliamentary inquiries will most likely be put on hold for another four years.


See also:

Human Rights

gazeta.ru October 8, 2003

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