The tragedy in Perm exposed the weaknesses inherent in the Russian bureaucratic apparatus. If it were not for the corruption of local officials and the subsequent dereliction of their direct responsibilities, we could have averted such a large death toll in the fire at the Хромая Лошадь (Khromaya Loshad: Lame Horse) nightclub. Analyzing the events, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressed a meeting of the Presidium of the Government with a proposal to tighten the criminal and administrative penalties for violations in the sphere of state control and oversight.
Truly, the incompetence and dishonesty of the officials involved and their corruption led to the deaths of more than 140 people. Another 90 victims with severe injuries and burns are in hospital in the best centres in Moscow, St Petersburg, and Chelyabinsk. This tragedy has left children orphaned and old folks without support. Why? There were those in the club that violated basic rules of fire safety; using the excuse that “it was cold”, they lit ordinary fireworks in the basement. As it was, originally, the room that housed the nightclub opened as a café with 50 seats. Eventually, it became a nightclub with a capacity of 300 people. Instead of the large stained glass windows indicated in the technical documentation, which people could use in an emergency as additional exits, there were dull brick walls. Didn’t the inspecting agency see all of this? I’m sure the head of the Russian government saw it. Only, so to speak, they were “persuaded” not to attach importance to these violations, so, they carried out their duties in a cursory manner. Prime Minister Putin said that we should punish such officials severely for showing such an attitude to their jobs. He said, “The problem is not that the officials lacked authority. They have enough control over their offices. Not one of them adequately used their power. Not any of the offices (орган) [did so]! Not any of the officials involved! We need new legislation that increases penalties for government officials for violations in the field of state control and oversight, especially for the improper performance of official duties that lead to tragic deaths”.
Several other countries have already chosen a similar method [to fight corruption] by increasing penalties for criminal acts. For example, in China, the taking of a sufficiently large bribe can lead to a public execution. However, even such harsh measures are not able to eradicate corruption in the ranks of Chinese officials. “Such things shall not help us in the fight [against corruption] in the Russian bureaucracy”, according to Gennady Gudkov, the deputy chairman of the Committee on Safety of the RF Gosduma. He said, “We should, perhaps, not intensify penalties, but, enforce the statutes that are on the books. Indeed, many articles provide alternative punishments. This may be a fine, house arrest at one’s place of residence, or it may take some other form. We should only threaten imprisonment in cases of significant misconduct; it is a serious deterrent measure. There is not a lack of severity in punishment, but, the sense that it is inevitable is lacking. Most avoid punishment by ‘influence’ (по блату), ‘making phone calls’, and pay-offs”.
In other words, officials at any level should understand that corrupt schemes lead to jail. However, this does not mean that only bureaucrats are liable. Business also needs to know that violation of safety rules and deliberate disregard of the regulations of oversight agencies is a direct path to the dock. Today, five suspects received indictments [in connection with the fire], they are now in custody, and are giving their testimony [to the police]. At the same time, more than 20 officials and state employees at various levels in Perm lost their positions, as the investigation of their role in the corruption scandal continues. “You must bring down the circle of friends that ties together both state bodies and business”, noted Kirill Kabanov, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee. He said, “Unfortunately, corruption infests the whole system of governance of our country, according to both our prime minister and our president. The Perm tragedy is not the first, nor shall it be the last [incident of this sort] in this crooked system. Corruption kills… society needs to understand that. Only public scrutiny can contend with this phenomenon.
What happened in Perm led the government to think about how it could improve Russian legislation. In this case, it is not only to amend the Criminal and Administrative Code with the intent of tightening the enforcement of its provisions. Once again, the government has reopened the discussion about mandatory insurance for civil liability for damage resulting from the operation of a hazardous article. “Such a measure would prevent such tragedies; I’m sure”, in the words of Galis Bikmurzin, the director of Development for Rosgosstrakh Comprehensive Insurance Company. He said, “If Russia had introduced compulsory insurance for all entertainment premises, or, in principle, for all public places where people congregate, the insurance company would insist upon compliance with fire safety regulations before entering into a contract”.
That is, no shop, café, discothèque, or cinema could get insurance protection, if their level of security was sub-par. Moreover, if the measure becomes mandatory, then, we can simply close any uninsured premises.
12 December 2009
Voice of Russia World Service