Russia’s main travails – corruption and roads
Even in the XXI century, poor road condition remains one of the main problems Russian citizens face on a daily basis. Obsolete technologies and materials, millions of budget funds stolen, poor quality of repair works — all this and more turn road trips into another type of extreme sport. Drivers and passengers who are stuck in the pits, who bounce over the potholes losing wheels, traditionally blame the Federal Road Agency (Rosavtodor). Indeed, for the last several decades this branch of the Ministry of Transport has been considered the nest of corruption. It is not surprising, for it combines two of Russia’s main problems — roads and thievish officials.
No amount of money is enough
Road maintenance in Russia is a huge and complex system, which includes not only highways, bridges and other engineering structures, but also scientific and design organizations, industrial enterprises, and educational institutions. As part of an integrated transport industry of this country, the road system performs an essential function, connecting the major cities with remote villages.
Depending on their significance, the highways are divided into federal, regional, and local. Which means that officials of an appropriate level bear responsibility for their construction and repairs. For instance, the length of federal roads in Russia is 50 700 km. In addition to highways, Rosavtodor is responsible for 5 560 bridges and overpasses, and 27 road tunnels.
For obvious reasons, this industry is one of the socio-economic priorities, and it is always generously funded from the state treasury. But the federal budget not only spends billions of rubles for the construction and reconstruction of the main transport routes in Russia, it also helps regional and local administrations to repair highways.
The amount of funds allocated by the government for the road system under the state program "Development of transport system" is as follows:
· in 2013 — more than 174.5 billion rubles;
· in 2014 — more than 211 billion rubles;
· in 2015 — more than 224.6 billion rubles;
· in 2016 — more than a 243.8 billion rubles.
Since the program will last until 2020, there are plans to spend additional money on the development of the road system in the near future:
· in 2017 — more than 255 billion rubles;
· in 2018 — more than 267.5 billion rubles;
· in 2019 — more than 282.8 billion rubles;
· in 2020 — more than 296.5 billion rubles.
As we can see, the sums are impressive. And the important thing is that they are only increasing every year. If we add to these volumes the funds allocated from regional and local budgets, it may seem that the road system in this country is thriving.
However, in reality it does not. Car owners have already got tired of making stories on this topic. Public organizations regularly prepare anti-ratings of the regions with the worst road condition. Constant corruption scandals in Rosavtodor published by the media are perceived as habitual. The officials take kickbacks from businessmen for lucrative contracts, deliberately overstate the value of contracts, and deposit budget funds in commercial banks. At the same time, the quality of work is their least of their concern.
Taking bribes with gas
One of the recent corruption scandals was that with the deputy chief of the Office of Land and Property Relations of Rosavtodor, Timofey Mescheryakov. He is charged under part 5 of Art. 290 of the Russian Criminal Code (Bribe-Taking on an especially large scale).
Photo: Timofey Mescheryakov (photo from video by ntv.ru)
According to the St. Petersburg Department of the Investigative Committee, when Timofey Mescheryakov was the Head of the department of property relations at the Sevzapupravtodor State Federal Institution, he received three magnetic fuel cards from representatives of three commercial structures. Using them from August 2014 to May 2016, the official himself, his relatives and friends refueled their cars at the Neste gas station for free. Thus, the total amount of bribe, according to the investigators, reached 730 000 rubles.
As part of this criminal case, on June 28, 2016, law enforcers searched the Moscow and St. Petersburg offices of Rosavtodor. The staff of the regional offices of the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Investigative Committee seized documents that may be relevant, and also interrogated the suspect’s colleagues. The businessmen who gave Mescheryakov the fuel cards were also questioned.
New defenders can still appear in this case, because the accused had first headed the property relations department in Sevzapupravtodor, and then was promoted, moving to the central office. He was supervising the acquisition of land plots, which were then used for the highways, from individuals and legal entities. Mescheryakov also issued permits to businessmen for the construction of roadside service facilities (gas stations, hotels, shops, cafes, and so on). It is unlikely he pulled off those illegal machinations alone — this slice of cake was too large after all. The investigation will show who else among his colleagues or management stood behind this profitable business.
As stated in the official report of the ICR regional department, businessmen paid Mescheryakov "...for the overall protection during the conclusion, implementation and acceptance of works performed under contracts with these business structures."
Connivance or crime?
Law enforcers regularly reveal officials, who committed certain abuses of authority in the construction or repair of highways. For example, in August 2016, the prosecutor's office of the Ryazan Region reported significant violations in this area. Members of the Regional Ministry of Roads and Transport actually turned a blind eye to the contractors, choosing not control the quality of their work and the deadlines.
As a result, prosecutors noticed a lot of potholes and pits on the Akhmatovo – Popovka highway in the Kasimovsky district and the Ural – Isady highway of the Spassky district. Ryazanavtodor and DSU Spasskoe Company, which had been supposed to repair the roads under the concluded contracts, were in no hurry to fulfill their obligations.
Sometimes it is difficult to draw the line between ordinary connivance, or indifference, and crime. Still, the checks in the road system, organized by law enforcement officers, often lead to criminal cases. This was the case with employees of the Direktsiya Kommunalnogo Khozyaistva y Blagoustroistva (Directorate of Public Utilities and Beautification) in the city of Saransk.
The Mordovia prosecutor's office has uncovered a crime which caused the state treasury to lose 86 million rubles. Certain officials were accused of lobbying the interests of the Transmagistral construction company. Despite the fact that the organization failed to complete in time the works on 15 municipal contracts signed in 2014 for the repair of sidewalks and roads in Saransk, the management of Directorate of Public Utilities and Beautification of Saransk commissioned 20 more contracts to the said company.
Officials constantly extended terms of contracts, making it impossible to exact the surcharges, forfeits and fines from Transmagistral for the delay in execution of its commitments. In May 2016, the Investigative Department of the Leninsky district of Saransk initiated a criminal case under part 1 of Art. 286 of the Russian Criminal Code (Abuse of Authority). The security forces are now working to establish those responsible for the crime, and the degree of responsibility for each of them.
Another story is with the former head of the state institution Department of Road and Transport of the Perm Region Sergey Belokon, who has already been convicted for taking a bribe worth more than 1 million rubles.
As stated during the court session, the officials not only received money for the overall protection and connivance from the CEO of one of the contractors. The grateful businessman also paid rent for a prestigious 4-room apartment, where Sergey Belokon lived from July 2013 to September 2014. The accommodation cost 75 000 rubles a month. In return, the official provided favorable conditions for the contractor, positively assessing the quality of work on repair and reconstruction of roads and buildings in the Perm Region.
Sergey Belokon was sentenced to 8 years in a strict regime penal colony and a fine of 73.5 million rubles.
Why so expensive?
According to the above-mentioned state program Development of Transport System of Russia, the repair of 1 km of road costs on average 27.6 million rubles, and its construction or reconstruction — 132.4 million rubles.
The Vedomosti newspaper reported that, following the results of 2015, the most expensive highway in Russia was the M-5 Ural, bypassing the village of Oktyabrsky, Moscow Region. Every kilometer of the road built on the outskirts of the capital cost 250 million rubles. The price of construction works, according to representatives of Rosavtodor, was strongly affected by the construction of the bridge across the Moscow River. For comparison, the reconstruction of the road P-257 Yenisey, which connects Krasnoyarsk with Mongolia, cost 17 million rubles for 1 km. That is almost 15 times cheaper. Apparently, it is the proximity to the capital that affects the cost of the work.
Rosavtodor representatives justify the high cost with several factors, the main being:
· unfavorable climate in many northern regions of the country;
· high cost of transportation of construction materials;
· large production cost of transferring technical installations and infrastructure in the way of future highways;
· significant costs on the redemption of land from the owners.
However, most experts, including the head of team working with infrastructure and transport enterprises of the KPMG international audit company in Russia and CIS Alexey Romanenko, believe that the real causes are the use of obsolete technologies and building materials, as well as the use of low-efficiency equipment.
Another factor that leads to a substantial increase in budgetary expenditure, is deliberate overstatement of the value of contracts by officials, who hunt for the so-called kickbacks from the businessmen.
In an interview with RG, the head of Rosavtodor Roman Starovoit told that the construction and reconstruction of roads in this country is performed with advanced production methods.
- There are no such technologies in the modern world, which have not been implemented on Russia’s federal highways, - the Head of the federal agency said.
Photo: Rosavtodor head Roman Starovoit
He noted that enterprises in the industry had started using a solid and durable material — stone matrix asphalt concrete. Modified bituminous materials, which are more resistant to moisture, are now used more often. In addition, the road workers learn to use geosynthetics, which extends the service life of asphalt canvas by 1.5 times. Other innovations are also employed.
If we believe the senior official, we have the picture of a bright future. However, that does not help much the drivers and passengers. Potholes do not disappear all by themselves. In the end, why would Rosavtodor need roads that can survive many years without repairs? How will they receive the state funds then?
To see how road companies work in Russia, we can refer to Chuvashia, where the road builders were punished for the low quality of repairs at the Cheboksary – Surskoe highway.
According to the republican department of the ICR, the Acting Director of the Poretskiy Road Repair and Construction Management of Chuvashavtodor, Pyotr Tuitsyn, and specialist for construction and mounting works Sergey Matorkin, were convicted under part 2 of Art. 238 of the Russian Criminal Code (Works which do not meet safety standards that have entailed through negligence the infliction of grave harm upon human health).
During the trial, it was established that on September 15, 2015, the accused were engaged in the repairs of a highway in the Alatyrsky district of the Chuvashia Region. Tuitsyn and Matorkin absolutely neglected the rules — they used inappropriate gravel and defective equipment, and hired a worker, who did not have the necessary qualification. They also failed to install the signs to warn drivers about road repairs.
As a result, the asphalt quickly collapsed, which led to four traffic accidents that occurred in the first 14 hours after the repairs. Passenger in one of the cars suffered a double fracture of the spine and lost two fingers. A total amount of damages caused to the owners of the vehicles exceeded 900 000 rubles.
The defendants Pyotr Tuitsyn and Sergey Matorkin fully admitted their guilt. Each of them was sentenced to a fine of 130 000 rubles.
Corrupt officials may also be guilty of the incident. The lion's share of funds allocated from the budget for the reconstruction of roads often disappears without a trace on the offshore accounts. Only bread crumbs remain for the work, and they are not enough to purchase materials of decent quality and to hire skilled employees. In the end, Russian roads are repaired by god knows who and how. All the talk about innovative technologies is just words.
Ulyanovsk and the lost billion
The Moi Dorogi (My Roads) portal published the list of the worst highways in this country, made this year by activists of the All-Russia People’s Front. According to the results of the examination, the extremely unpleasant first place was taken by Ulyanovsk, and the two other prize-winners were Yakutsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
Photo: Pit at the intersection of Sozidateley Prospekt and Druzhbi Narodov Prospekt in Ulyanovsk
It is noteworthy that in 2013, the Ulyanovsk Mayor’s Office cheerfully reported about plans to spend more than a billion rubles for the reconstruction of roads in the near future. The officials wanted a complete overhaul of:
· Oktyabrskaya Street
· Pushkareva Street;
· Zheleznaya Diviziya Street;
· Marat Street;
· Leninsky Komsomol Prospekt;
· Imperatorsky Bridge over the Volga River;
· section of the Ulyanovsk - Dimitrovgrad – Samara road;
· highway bypassing the city of Inza.
In addition, there were large-scale plans for patching the asphalt in the yards of the regional center.
If all of this had been done not only in words but in real life, it is unlikely that Ulyanovsk would have been pronounced the city with the worst road conditions in Russia.
According to the All-Russia People’s Front activist Aleksandr Vasilyev, the public inspectors are usually looking for pits and potholes on the highways. But in Ulyanovsk, on the contrary, it is difficult to find a section of the street where the asphalt surface has not been damaged.
The scale of corruption, which thrives in the road system, is no surprise to anyone. This industry has traditionally been considered the sweetest honeypot for bribe takers of all kind. Officials have ample opportunities for various frauds with budgetary funds. The most tragic outcome is that it leads to the deaths and maiming of the drivers in the outright horrific road conditions, and the overall number of accidents grows.
Surely, the road system needs wholescale reforms. The current situation cannot be resolved by any innovations or advanced technologies, while the corruption level in Rosavtodor, its regional branches and other agencies, remains this high.
In less than three years, Vadim Potomsky, Governor of the Orel Region, became involved into so many scandals that rumors about his upcoming dismissal circulate persistently. Furthermore, the region under his rule has made a mark during the live teleconference with the President: a complaint made by Orel resident Klavdia Stavtseva became one of the most high-profile episodes of the broadcast. What could be the next twist in the career of Potomsky?