During the meeting, the regional heads also proposed the candidacy of Valentina Matviyenko as speaker of the Federation Council.
Taking part in the meeting were head of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov, head of the Republic of Komi Vyacheslav Gaizer, head of the Republic of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, Governor of Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev, Governor of Krasnoyarsk Territory Lev Kuznetsov, Governor of Ryazan Region Oleg Kovalev, and Governor of Sverdlovsk Region Alexander Misharin.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with heads of a number of regions
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
I have invited you here today to discuss several initiatives that I outlined recently in what you could call an as yet just preliminary form. I am referring to the idea of decentralising some of the powers that are currently the federal authorities’ responsibility.
We regularly examine and assess in general the way powers are distributed between the different levels of government: federal, regional, and local government. We are still in the process of building and perfecting this system, and given that we have been doing this for what is not really such a long time – only around twenty years – of course there are still improvements to be made.
I imagine you have ideas and proposals of your own on what we could do to decentralise a substantial number of powers, so that you, as regional leaders, have the full powers you need to decide on the wide range of issues of primary concern to the lives of the republics, territories and regions that make up our country, and the powers you need to develop and improve life in your regions without having to do the rounds of Moscow offices each time just to settle basic issues.
“I am not certain we will find the ideal solution, but at least we can try to establish a better balance of powers that will help us to resolve the various social and economic problems more effectively.”
Let me say right away that I am not certain we will find the ideal solution, but at least we can try to establish a better balance of powers that will help us to resolve the various social and economic problems more effectively. If we succeed in this, our people will have greater confidence and greater protection.
This is one of the things I want to discuss with you today.
I think those present no doubt have a few words to say on this and the other subjects before us.
Who would like to start? Go ahead.
Head of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov: Mr President, this is indeed a very important matter, and the decisions we make on it will have a big impact on our country’s future. We realise that this is an issue we do need to address, because over the last years we have seen a trend towards greater centralisation, but also greater rights and responsibilities, especially for the regions.
As regional leaders, we are responsible for practically everything in our regions. We carried out a thorough analysis of the situation in preparation for today’s meeting. We are aware of the need to develop the provisions of Article 72 of the Russian Federation Constitution and clarify the laws defining the status of the country’s regions and their powers. I think that this is where we need to look for the solution.
The problems that frequently come up are in the relations between the budgets at the different levels, personnel decisions, relations with the law enforcement agencies, and so on. All of these things need to be clarified in the laws that we have to start working on now. But we can already make some steps towards decentralisation. We need to fully clarify the municipalities’ powers, for example. In practically almost all of the country’s regions the municipalities all get by on budget subsidies at the moment. In Bashkortostan, for example, only 25 percent of the municipalities earn enough revenue to support themselves. All the rest rely on subsidies.
If we go down a level, to the local authorities in the rural districts, the situation is even worse. They have many powers, but they have neither the resources nor the money they need. They could work on getting the gas connection network expanded, building roads, construction, but they do have the resources. We need to get these resources flowing from the municipal level to the rural settlements.
The situation is a bit better in the regions, but we are also very dependent on the federal budget. Even big and developed regions such as Bashkortostan, Sverdlovsk Region and others are highly dependent on the subsidies we receive from the federal authorities.
In short, there are many problems. I want to raise one other issue too. We have the instruments and institutions we work through, of course, including the Federation Council. This is the house of parliament representing the country’s regions, and I want to say to my colleagues here that I think we need to look at how to get this, our upper chamber, involved in lobbying in the positive sense of the term – lobbying the region’s interests. For a number of reasons, the chamber is without a speaker at present, and I think that if we governors could propose a candidate, say…
Dmitry Medvedev: Propose, if you have an idea. Of course, this is for the Federation Council itself to do, but go ahead even so…
Rustem Khamitov: We discussed this matter today, and it is the regional leaders’ view…
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m sure the Federation Council will take your view into account too.
Rustem Khamitov: Yes, of course.
We think that the Federation Council really needs someone with a broad horizon, some with solid experience and authority, who knows the country and is already known as an influential politician. It should be someone who has worked in the regions and perhaps in the Government too. I think this person should be a regional governor.
Dmitry Medvedev: You think this person should be a governor, someone with experience as a governor. I have heard this view. Do the governors have a candidate in mind?
Rustem Khamitov: There are suitable candidates among the governors. We discussed this matter in preparation for this meeting. Valentina Matviyenko is someone who needs no introduction I am sure. She is someone with a tremendous wealth of experience. She is known not just here, but abroad too, seeing as St Petersburg plays host to some very big events. I think that my colleagues will support this candidate…
Reply: We support her, but we don’t know yet how she feels about this idea.
“If a woman holds one of the top offices in our country it will help to set our country on a better and more modern development track.”
Dmitry Medvedev: I am sure we will find out how she feels about this matter. In the meantime, I can share my thoughts on your proposal. I like this idea. I think that Ms Matviyenko is someone who does indeed have a lot of experience in state administration. She has been a very successful governor, and before that, she worked in the Government and held senior posts. She is someone who works genuinely hard to get things done and is good at resolving the problems that arise. I think that if a woman holds one of the top offices in our country it will help to set our country on a better and more modern development track. Of course, we will need to find out her thoughts on the matter, and the views of the other governors and the Federation Council itself. But the Federation Council’s members include your representatives too, people with ties to you. Anyway, I can say that I like this idea.
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Dmitry Medvedev: Talking about government in general, we do indeed need to discuss the question of decentralisation today, and decide on the instructions to give. Of course, this whole process will bolster the Federation Council’s role. This is not to say that the Federation Council is not working at present, for it is, but it needs to work more actively. I think that your idea of putting someone representing the regional governors at its head has its merits. After all, it is probably easier for you to deal with one of your own, even as far as being able to get on the phone and say, “you know, such and such a law going through at the moment seems to us not very wise, and we would like the Federation Council to give it its attention, make some adjustments perhaps, even veto it, perhaps.” This is the reality of the situation, after all. The State Duma might have its arguments, and the upper chamber, the Federation Council, might have different arguments. The presence of someone of the kind you propose at the chamber’s head would create an additional instrument that could help you to resolve the issues before you, and in this sense I think that your idea is certainly relevant today, anyway.
As for the proposals on decentralisation, to come back to our original topic, I have a simple proposal: let’s set up a working group. All of you here, as the heads of big regions, and as effective governors, should make your contribution, delegate your representatives, and draft proposals for discussing either at a State Council Presidium meeting, or at a big State Council meeting, which would probably be the better option. We will go over everything then. This is a subject that we examine every three or four years, and I think the time has come to return to it now. We will examine the budget powers at the different levels, the tax revenue distribution, and the revenue base’s formation, for we are very much aware of the difficult situation the municipalities are in today. We will look at how to optimise the interaction between the different state mechanisms. I think this would be the right approach, I think.