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gazeta.ru, December 2, 2002

Duma Succumbs to the Government's Version of Housing Sector Reform

By Marina Sokolovskaya, Artyom Eiskov

After concerted efforts by the government and the pro-Kremlin Duma majority, the much-disputed package of draft laws on reform of the nation's dilapidated and heavily subsidized housing and municipal utilities sector has eventually received the approval of the lower house. On Friday 244 deputies voted for the draft law, once again pledging unswerving allegiance to the Kremlin.

On Friday Gennady Goudkov of the People's Deputy Group addressed the house with a proposal to review the government package of draft laws narrowly rejected on November 27. Goudkov urged his colleagues to adopt the document, saying that the shortcomings of the reform plan could be eliminated before the second reading. Communist Nikolai Kolomeitsev objected, saying that in line with house regulations a document once rejected cannot be resubmitted to the house for voting.

The presidential envoy to the State Duma Alexander Kotenkov objected, saying that by law the State Duma may independently modify house rules. The Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Georgy Boos backed Kotenkov, saying that although a decision meant that the house would create a precedent, the move would be legal. Consequently, the draft was included in the agenda.

Having won the first round, the pro-Kremlin centre went on the offensive. The head of the People's Deputy Group Gennady Raikov suggested that the house vote on the package without debate, as the debates had already been held. Nonetheless, some deputies did not fail to draw attention to themselves by blasting the draft as ''anti-social''.

Deputy Head of the liberal YABLOKO faction and outspoken critic of the government's programme Sergei Mitrokhin said that if the housing reform draft laws were passed, rent and utility payments would increase threefold in 18 months. In his opinion, the document lacks requisite mechanisms for conducting structural reform in the housing sector and creating competitive services in that sphere: in other words entities providing communal services would retain their monopoly status and the reforms would end up with an increase in utility rates, while the quality of services remains poor.

Nonetheless, despite protests from the Communists and YABLOKO, on Friday the draft law gathered enough votes to clear the first hurdle. An alternative version drafted by the member of the Duma committee for labour and social policy Oleg Shein was not even included in Friday's session. Shein's draft was rejected by the Duma council last month ''due to technical factors'' and therefore never made it to the plenary session.

After the voting on Friday, YABLOKO's Mitrokhin called the draft law eventually approved by the house as ''the most irresponsible draft that is totally unrelated to reforms''. The deputy asserted: ''The government has pretended that it made amendments [to the draft law], and the centrists pretended to believe this statement.”

The government's package of draft laws on housing sector reform envisages the phasing out of subsidies for electricity, water and gas. The initial variant of the draft law submitted by the government to the lower house last month was rejected by the Duma's governing body - the Duma Council - and the government was forced to review the document hastily.

The main concession made by the cabinet to the State Duma was the exclusion of a provision obliging low-income households to pay for communal services in full. The government also agreed not to abolish all the privileges presently enjoyed by war and labour veterans, teachers in rural areas and doctors - altogether, some 26 million Russians on low incomes.

The concessions, however, will only be effective during the transition period, until 1 January 2005, whereupon they will be replaced with targeted subsidies that will be granted only to those in dire need. The government also excluded a provision allowing the eviction of tenants for failing to pay six months in a row.

See also:
Housing and Communal Reform

gazeta.ru, December 2, 2002

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