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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Stepashin, I know the Accounts Chamber is hard at work. You have some results for the first quarter, and the half-year will soon be coming up. What, in your view, are the biggest results over this period?
Accounts Chamber chairman Sergei Stepashin: First, among other things, acting on your instruction, for the first time ever in the Accounts Chamber’s history, we are working together with the chambers in each region to carry out a comprehensive audit of how effectively budget money allocated to the housing and utilities sector has been spent. This is the most complex, costly, and also interesting area. We will have the results by October.
Second, Mr President, something for which I am very grateful is the move over to the contract system, which we discussed six years ago now. Audits of state defence procurement, the defence procurement orders in general, including medical orders, revealed the loss of up to one trillion rubles [$33 billion]. This does not mean that the money was stolen, but it does indicate a big problem in terms of effective use of budget funds.
The Accounts Chamber has now been included in the working group that will complete drafting work on the law on the contract system. I see this as the second stage, because economising and ensuring the conditions for effective use of budget funds once the contract system is in place are very important indeed.
There is a third thing that I wanted to see you about, and I thank you for finding the time to meet today. During your election campaign, you spoke of the need for a new approach to choosing the people who run the Accounts Chamber.
Furthermore, Mr President, in December, the UN General Assembly examined the issue of independent financial monitoring for the first time. Evidently, the 2008 crisis put this issue on the agenda, and the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on the need to bring the national legislation of UN member countries into line with international law.
Under the Russian Constitution of which you are the guarantor, in Russia international law has priority over national law, and so we have drafted a new version of a law that will enable us to work according to international standards.
We worked closely with you during your time as Prime Minister, and so you know about the situation. These are the three main things I wanted to talk about today. There is one other thing, given that you are now President. At the Communications Ministry’s request, as soon as the 14 billion in budget rubles in funds and 14 billion rubles from other sources were made available for installing web cameras at polling stations, we carried out an audit and found that the funds were spent effectively on the web cameras, making it possible to conduct a transparent election. This is a fact, whether one likes it or not.
Second, and a very good thing, is that these web cameras were installed in schools, and what’s more, approximately a quarter of them were installed in regions where there was previously no real communications link with Moscow. These cameras are connected for information reception to the President Boris Yeltsin Library in St Petersburg, and to the Academician Kutafin Moscow State Law Academy in Moscow, where, as you recall, young lawyers took part in the election campaign. A legal assistance centre has been opened there now using the web cameras. This is thus a direct result and example of genuinely effective use of budget funds.
Vladimir Putin: Nothing has gone missing?
Sergei Stepashin: I give you my honest word that in this case, nothing has gone missing.
Vladimir Putin: Excellent, but I ask you to keep monitoring the situation, so as to make sure this equipment does not vanish anywhere.
Sergei Stepashin: Yes, of course we will do this. All of the other matters regard amendments to the budget (I am due to address the State Duma soon), which, it should be noted, all have a social focus.
We are targeting to have a deficit-free budget. Overall, oil prices are giving a big boost to budget revenue, and the Accounts Chamber has therefore given a positive conclusion on your decision to use additional revenue for increasing the budget.
We received the document from the Government just recently and have made our conclusion. I will address the State Duma on this matter on May 16.
Vladimir PUTIN: Thank you.