President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, it has been a year since you have assumed the post of Human Rights Commissioner.
Russian Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova: More than 18 months already, Mr President, and they flew by in a flash.
Vladimir Putin: The year is coming to an end, and you and I meet regularly. Is there anything you would like to talk about?
Ella Pamfilova: First, I would like to thank you for pointing out a number of important human rights aspects in your Address [to the Federal Assembly]. This is of great importance. I would also like to thank you for your constant support of the institution of the human rights commissioners. This is very important, especially for my colleagues. This support has made the institution more recognisable and it is now in greater demand.
In the final count, this is not merely for the sake of status. People are getting more opportunities now, especially the unprotected, low income people – those, for whom it is best to protect their rights using this institution as they do not have the opportunity to use the media or hire expensive lawyers. It is the regional Commissioner who gets to the rural communities and meets with the old people, people with disabilities and all those categories, which are in the most difficult situation.
So, thank you for that. These days my colleagues and I have been discussing the entire range of issues facing us, and I am certain that despite all the difficulties, this institution has become more mobile and efficient.
As people share their most pressing problems with us, I would like to discuss one such issue with you – one that ever more people are bringing up now. This has to do with the growing number of all sorts of unreasonable payments people are forced to make – there is such a tendency. I will give you a few examples.
It is simply astonishing when our authorities at different levels plug the holes in their not-always-effective activities, or try to plug them with the help of the public, increasing these fees, which are not always founded. It is particularly ironic, I have data that I will show you later, in instances when money is taken from poorer people to give to richer ones; it is an absolutely abysmal situation.
I would like to focus on several aspects pertaining to inadequate legislation and law enforcement practices. (Ella Pamfilova went on to discuss shortcomings in collecting land taxes and charging contributions for overhaul repairs of housing. According to Ms Pamfilova, there are many unexamined factors causing justified indignation among the public.)
Another important issue concerns the balance of environmental and socioeconomic interests. There is a whole range of high-profile cases in many regions where a “Bermuda Triangle” is formed, consisting of the federal authorities, local authorities and residents. The “Bermuda Triangle” of misunderstanding, inability to align interests, inability to talk to people and take their needs into account. The flipside is knowing how to explain the importance of particular rules for the state. This is something that should be learned.
Let’s take a particularly acute situation with regard to Lake Baikal. There is a great misunderstanding and inability of the parties to explain their reasoning to one another. This is also true in Bashkortostan with construction of the Kronoshpan, where they are trying to build, say, a factory. For example, I was able to strike down an attack on the Water Code, where people were trying to fill the Volga floodplains to build elite cottages and so on.
The topic of harmonising environmental and socioeconomic interests is increasingly relevant because people are get involved in it more actively. And here, we need to find opportunities to discuss it; that is the role of an “open government,” rather than sweeping the problem under the rug.