Bees against honey. Internal conflict of governor Marina Kovtun 

Bees against honey. Internal conflict of governor Marina Kovtun
Marina Kovtun Photo: The CrimeRussia

On December 15 governor of the Murmansk Region Marina Kovtun announced results of the expiring year to the Regional Council and territorial authorities and set the main objectives on the coming year. According to her, the Polar Region prospers, investments and production are in good state - evident growth, and the governor called “preserving in the region of social and economic stability” the main achievement of 2016. The paramount purpose for managers for 2017 Marina Kovtun sees “increase in efficiency of use of the budget resources”. The very truth itself.

Against the background of a series of scandals around the Murmansk governor connected with an inappropriate expenditure of budgetary funds, the task declared for a year looks as a witty, but cynical joke. Or a veiled promise from now on to count budget money. In the period of Marina Kovtun's governorship which began in 2012 the administration of the Murmansk Region have never done that.

'Queen of the Polar Region'

Era of government of the 'Queen of the Polar Region', as users of social networks nicknamed Kovtun, began in April, 2012. On this post she replaced the retired Dmitry Dmitriyenko. The situation for receipt of the new governor developed favorable. Dmitriyenko though left 'at his own will', was not really loved in the region. Creation of negative image of the former governor was promoted by the military settlement of Alakurtti which was left without heating in the severe polar winter and a number of the technogenic states of emergency shaking area during the three-year period of his board: death of crew of a drilling platform Kolskaya, fires on the nuclear power icebreaker Vaygach and and the Yekaterinburg submarine, explosion at factory of Apatit plant. Besides, Dmitriyenko was a 'stranger' for the Murmansk citizens, as he was a protege from Moscow.

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Dmitry Dmitriyenko

Deputy governor Marina Kovtun appointed on April 4 was well known in the region since the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League. Then there were years of work in regional administration, Federal Tourism Agency in Moscow, and again Murmansk and Norilsk Nickel where she was brought by the former chief in Rostourism Vladimir Strzhalkovsky heading the company from 2008 to 2012. Government of future governor in the local Council began in November, 2011, after dismissal of the predecessor, and a year later Marina Kovtun already headed fraction of United Russia. That means that residents of Murmansk considered Kovtun a 'native', therefore at first she was welcomed. The inauguration was held in 9 years.

But euphoria did not last long. Approximately in a year after Marina Kovtun entered her duties, Izvestia newspaper, quoting a source in the Kremlin, announced fast early resignation of the Murmansk governor.

As the first reason the newspaper called crisis of housing and public utilities. On February 9, 2013 meeting against increase in rates which grew on average by 225% was held in Murmansk. Regional deputies from the CPRF (and later also from LDPR and Just Russia) demanded resignation of the governor and members of her team, responsible for “a municipal lawlessness”. Privatization of the Murmansk port, which Kovtun started, was also negatively apprehended.

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Protest in Murmansk

Vladimir Putin personally interfered into the situation. Having scarified growth of rates in the country, he paid special attention to the Polar Region, however he dismissed only the Minister of Energy and Housing of the Murmansk Region Gennady Mikichura. Besides, the governor addressed heads of municipalities with furious criticism, actually accusing them of growth of rates on which she personally imposed new standard rates earlier. Then Marina Kovtun for the first time nationwide showed her talent to come off clear, which over the years she brought to perfection.

Komsomolochka

In 2013 it became clear that a housing-and-municipal collapse – not the only problem of the Region. In the period of Marina Kovtun's governorship less than in a year the Polar Region, which was rich with natural resources, was brought to a condition of social and economic depletion and began to turn from the flourishing region with its own international seaport into “the remote depressive region”.

The governor, despite of strong indications of economic decline and the crushing blow caused by crisis by housing and public utilities on needy segments of the population, ruled the Polar Region with really lordly scope, spending with surprising generosity budgetary funds for needs of administration. Marina Kovtun simply avoided local journalists who were puzzly questioning “what was going on”, calling them once “network hamsters” at a meeting of local Public Chamber.

“I know her from former work. This komsomolochka – very small and vindictive person, a tank roller without conscience and honor. She does not disdain any means in achievement of her purpose. Her main goal - enrichment, but she is very slippery and will work carefully. Meanwhile she will be optimizing and cutting down our income in the region. She will squeeze out area just like juice of a lemon”, former colleague from the Murmansk regional committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League characterized the governor.

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Kovtun has also never hid the fact that her governorship in Murmansk region – a direct consequence of a work experience in Norilsk Nickel. “If the largest company works in Murmansk region, it has an understanding who could head this territory”, she directly said once in an interview to the Noviy Vest-Kurier.

Kovtun’s appointment to the native region initially seemed strange to political scientists. One of them, the Muscovite Aleksander Kynev, in 2012 warned that a Kovtun’s governorship bears policy risks to the area, as she represents the interests of powerful group of influence.

Not everything in life is fair

Population’s debts for 'communal flat' promptly grow in the Polar Region (in Gadzhiyevo locals owe Kaskad managing company 36 million rubles, in Polar – 70 million). In Murmansk citizens are excited with the forthcoming value increase of transportation in a public transport to 28 rubles for one trip.

Last year Marina Kovtun deprived teachers and tutors of preschool institutions of 15% of their salary that constituted 7-10 thousand rubles, by two laws on change of coefficient of wages indexation, which she personally introduced in Regional Council. However, the city hall of Murmansk threw down to the regional power a challenge, having protested their action in the Supreme Court. As Kovtun's laws did not correspond to the federal legislation, and in particular to May Decrees of Putin, the Supreme Court cancelled their action, recognizing correctness of the Murmansk city administration.

Last year's scandal with teacher's salaries has not been forgotten yet, while another one is on its way. This time the governor, and from her giving also regional council of new convocation went from the other side. Teachers of Murmansk, which won a judicial victory over deputies a year ago, fell under the blow. This time in the bill, introduced in the Councill it was offered to increase a basic unit of a teacher's salary, but at the same time 'to cut off' the stimulating payments. Factually, in case of adoption of this law teachers will receive less money. The bill was disqualified, but only to send back for revision.

The government of the region explains an essence of all these measures with one purpose – optimization of budgeted expenses and aspiration to save the state money. However, amounts and scales of state procurements for needs of regional administration raise serious doubts in sincerity of officials from Marina Kovtun's team.

A movie not for everyone

Nearly two years ago the city hall of Murmansk ordered to the 100 anniversary of the city which was celebrated on October 6 this year, two documentary four-serial movies worth 27 million rubles. Follows from the cost of the tender, which was won by a certain Moscow individual entrepreneur Solovyov - each series costs to the budget approximately 100 thousand dollars. By data of Kommersant Dengi, for a similar 52-minute series of the documentary Channel One pays up to 60 thousand dollars, and Russia TV channel – up to 25 thousand dollars. Anniversary of Murmansk passed, and so nobody saw documentary masterpieces (judging by cost). The story with movies caused a resonance in the region, but law enforcement authorities did not react.

The scandalous attempt of purchase of office off-road vehicles for needs of the government of the Murmansk Region in October, 2015 on the amount of 27 million rubles among which there were two jeeps almost on 3 million rubles everyone is at least indicative.

When the indignation was expressed by activists of the All-Russia People’s Front (ARPF), officials explained urgent need to update the 'wheels' by deterioration of the government's fleet of vehicles, in which about 80 cars among which there are several cars of a business class of AUDI A8 and BMW-750 at the moment are registered. However, governor Marina Kovtun in a month after she lost the lawsuit on teacher's salaries to the Supreme Court, decided to remove purchase.

Now the Murmansk department of All-Russia People’s Front drew attention of prosecutor's office to purchase of sets of video cameras for fixing of violations of traffic regulations. The idea itself is good, but it is planned to purchase cameras for one billion rubles.

According to social activist from the ARPF Pavel Baranov, serious questions to this tender are raised not only by the unreasonable sum, but also its necessity – road accident percent in the region is not the highest about the country, while in the Chelyabinsk Region, where this percent is twice higher there are six times less cameras. But the government of the claim did not apprehend, calling them “far-fetched” and refusing to cancel tender.

One more fresh example – development of the animated interactive map for the official site of the governor of the Murmansk Region. The initial cost of the tender constitutes 296 thousand rubles that is much higher than average market value of similar works. “Presentation card of the increased complexity with an exact geographical binding of objects” is possible to order for a cost from 10 to 30 thousand rubles in studios of development.

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The fact that the government does not intend to save on the price of the equipment for itself is also confirmed by the last year's auction of Committee of public procurements of the Murmansk Region on acquisition of the camera. The most tradable professional cameras in the price range from 150 to 250 thousand rubles, apparently, did not interest the authorities of the Murmansk Region - he start price on delivery of the camera with the additional equipment in the tender No. 0149200002314001874 is designated in 364 192 rubles.

Earlier information on purchase by regional customs of 220 monthly tickets on the bus for journey of officials of the Murmansk customs in the office purposes in a public transport for 292,6 thousand rubles and the estimate on servicing of a country Hotel lodge for the high-ranking officials of area, where purchase of the hair dryer worth 9300 rubles and other 'funny things' was found, became known to the public.

Meanwhile, the fact that in the Murmansk Region officials are inclined to live luxury at the expense of the state - not combination of circumstances. They have a bright example.

Budget is not too heavy for the pocket

The freshest scandal over an expenditure of budgetary funds by the Murmansk governor burst in October of this year when the Murmansk website Bloger51 which is conducted by the local activist and the fighter against official abuses Aleksander Serebryannikov, told that Marina Kovtun's accommodation in the St. Petersburg and Moscow hotels during trips comes out for taxpayers in pretty impressive amounts. For 4 years of Kovtun’s governorship the media amounted at least 14 million rubles.

According to Aleksander Serebryannikov, the Murmansk government registers considerable expenses on the governor's business trips through the budget payments disguised under state procurements.

The social activist reports that on the website the state order of the Murmansk Region usually at the end of December tens of auctions with very vast descriptions in which purchase of the services connected with the direction of the worker in an official journey, and also with participation in holding festivals, concerts, representations and similar cultural actions (including tours) based on invitations to visit of the specified actions suddenly appears.

While the governor does not stay at every place and does not drive any car – the status is higher. Also flights - exclusively a business class. Therefore the gathered amounts are considerable. So, in one day in luxury hotel the government of the region pays for the governor up to 60 thousand rubles (for example, InterContinental in Moscow or Domina Prestizh St. Petersburg), and the price for each flight from Murmansk to the capital and St. Petersburg, and then back constitutes from 20 to 28 thousand rubles. Cars are also rented for the governor, what totally in a year costs at least 1 million 350 thousand rubles. Later the government of the region explained such amounts with requirements of the increased safety for the head of the region.

Habit to use the regional budget as her own pocket, is not new for Marina Kovtun. It is known that the governor sold two apartments in Murmansk, sending children to Moscow, while she moved to a state apartment on Sofya Perovskaya Street for which, as she said, several deputies of the regional Council applied directly.

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Marina Kovtun and Aleksander Batalov

By the way, after Marina Kovtun's moving to 'the deputy house', her old 'fellow soldier' general of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Batalovб who in Murmansk is considered the faithful guardsman of the Queen of the Polar Region, appeared to be her neighbor, while the Federal Security Service is interested in a figure of the chief of Regional Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs across the Murmansk Region for several months, suspecting him of abuse of official powers. As the CrimeRussia reported earlier, Marina Kovtun uses her friend general as intimidation discordant with her policy.

Besides, together with Batalov and a group from other government persons the governor flies on the state helicopter of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs to hunt and fish from time to time to places “never before imprinted by the foot of man”. In the presence of the helicopter in the Polar Region there are a lot of such marvelous places. By the way, the flight hour in the helicopter costs in the range from 50 to 70 thousand rubles (for example, MI-8). The whole flight can cost the budget several thousands.    

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Award to yourself as method of fight against corruption

Marina Kovtun is known as the irreconcilable enemy of corruption among authorities. It least it seems so from her words.

“It is inadmissible to be reconciled with corruption. We are also not able to afford to approach negligently anti-corruption work which is sometimes conducted 'for show'- Kovtun declared at a meeting on providing law and order in the Murmansk Region.

At the same time the head of the region urges executive power and law enforcement agencies to approach anti-corruption activity 'informally'. She offered quite original way of 'informal approach' once.

In October 2013 she signed a decree “On Modification of Some Legal Acts of the Murmansk Region in the Sphere of Public Administration”, appointing herself a quarterly award, to equal 5, 5 salaries. To members of the regional government the annual bonus in the amount of 18 monthly salaries, and to deputies of the Murmansk regional Council by whom this law was adopted, in the amount of 13,8 salaries was established.

For the sake of objectivity, it should be noted that Marina Kovtun is also capable of opposite acts. For example, she cuts down not only teachers’ salaries, but also herself salary. When last year the president of Russia Vladimir Putin reduced himself, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, the head of the Investigative Committee and the government salary by 10%, his faithful guard followed his example. Since March 1, 2015 Marina Kovtun reduced a salary to herself and ministers of the regional government also by 10%, what her media service announced. 

But as Putin prolonged 10 percent decrease in salaries to himself and ministers only for 2016, as soon as the year came to an end, the governor of the Murmansk Region increased her salary exactly by the same 10%. Now she will receive about 285 thousand rubles a month.

Except a quite good salary, Marina Kovtun, according to her also receives a pension. She did not call the exact amount, but judging by her salary it is possible to suggest that it is certainly higher than pensions of other pensioners of the region.

The governor prefers to treat this question philosophically. At a traditional conference following the results of year, anxious journalists noted that lump sum payment in 5 thousand rubles in the future January instead of due indexation compensates little and pensioners of the region will lose much more because of high price level in the Polar Region. The governor answered them: “Not everything in life is fair”.

The statement continued a topic of conversation of Medvedev with the Crimean pensioners to whom the prime minister wished to 'carry on'. Words of Kovtun became a saying in a week, Ekho Moskvy radio station held a competition on the best quatrain on topic of the day. Here is one of them:

“Pensioners! We could have helped you,

but I will tell you fairly, unvarnished:

“There is something fair in life!

But not now. Not here. And not for you”.

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