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Local self-government in the Republic of Tatarstan
 
 
 

Local Self-Government in the Republic of Tatarstan

 

Rafik Abdrakhmanov

 

Like many republics in the Russian Federation, the laws in the Republic of Tatarstan tend to limit the powers and coverage of local self-government, but Tatarstan’s laws go even further than most in maintaining the “power vertical,” which allows state authorities to keep tight control of local self-governments. This control is exercised officially through the laws, and in practice, with financial controls. The local self-governments have difficulty with self financing and are left beholden to state authorities.

Because the heads of the 43 administrative districts and 11 large cities in Tartarstan are directly appointed by the president, he exercises rigid control all the way down to the local level. And, because these administration heads are allowed to run for parliament, the president has also consolidated considerable power on the level of the republic’s government.

In effect, government on the level of the administrative districts and large cities in the republic is completely in the hands of the president and his appointees, who also have financial control over local self-governments. Recently, the president’s appointed administrators have sought to exercise more of their independent power over local politics. Although they don’t want to appear outwardly disobedient to the president, who has the authority to remove them, his appointees use their power over budgets and property to control the political situation on the local level.

Apparently, because the existing “power vertical” has become unruly, the president is looking to replace it with another. Under a new system, established by a presidential decree, the ministries on the republic level will have local branches, controlling areas such as health, education, etc. The budgets for these local services would therefore be controlled at the ministry level, and the local “kings” would lose their power. This new system offers the promise of increasing democracy on the local level, yet it still maintains a new type of “power vertical.”

Eventually true democratization on the local level in Tatarstan will involve broader changes in the republic’s government. But this will only be possible once a clear concept for reform of local self-government is developed for the entire Russian Federation.

 

1. An Ethnographic and Political Portrait of Tatarstan

 

1.1  Ethnic Makeup

The Republic of Tatarstan is situated in the European part of the Russian Federation, with a territory of 6,783,700 hectares. It borders on Chuvashia in the west, on Mari El in the north-west, on the Kirov Region in the north, on Udmurtia in the north-east, on Bashkortostan in the east, on the Orenburg Region in the south-east and on the Samara and Ulyanovsk Regions in the south.

The republic owes its name to the Tatars, the second-largest ethnic group in the Russian Federation after Russians. There are 5,522,100 Tatars in the Russian Federation, while in the whole USSR there were 6,648,700 by the 1989 census. The Tatar language belongs to the Kypchak group of the Turkic family, alongside the Kazakh, Bashkir, Karakalpak, Nogay, Kumyk, Crimean Tatar, Karachaev, Balkar and Karaim languages, as well as the Kypchak dialects of the Uzbek language. The Bashkirs are closest to the Tatars in their linguistic and ethno-cultural aspects.

The Tatars are divided into three major ethno-territorial groups: the Volga-Urals, Siberian and Astrakhan Tatars. The largests of these groups, from the Volga-Urals, includes the Kazan, Kasimov and Mishar ethnic sub-groups and the community of Kryashen Tatars, who are Christian, and distinct for this religious confession. The Siberian Tatars have a population of about 180,000, and the Astrakhan Tatars are the smallest subgroup, with 25,000 members. Most of Russia’s Tatars live in the Volga-Urals area, which had 3,414,000 Tatars, or 83.8 percent of their total population, in 1959 and 4,010,700 Tatars, or 81.2 percent of their total in 1989. Within that area, the Tatars are most heavily concentrated in Tatarstan, with a population of 1,765,400 Tatars, and Bashkiria, where there are 1,120,700 Tatars.

The Tatars are one of the nationalities whose population is dispersed among most of Russia’s regions. According to the 1989 census, large Tatar diaspora groups were found in Uzbekistan (more than 600,000 Tatars), Kazakhstan (about 300,000 Tatars), Ukraine (133,600 Tatars) and Kyrgyzstan (about 70,000 Tatars). There are also large groups of Tatars in Tajikistan and Turkmenia. Central Asia as a whole has about one million Tatars, which is the largest population outside of the Russian Federation. In recent years, there has been considerable Tatar migration from Central Asia to different regions of the Russian Federation, particularly to Tatarstan and Bashkiria. Further outside the former Soviet Union, the number of Tatars totals approximately 100,000, including about 35,000 in Romania, up to 20,000 in Turkey, 5,500 in Poland, 5,000 in Bulgaria, 4,200 in China, about 1,000 in the United States, less than 1,000 in Finland and 500 in Australia.1

By the 1989 census, the total population of Tatarstan was 3,641,742, including members of 107 ethnic groups: There were 1,765,404 Tatars, or 48.5 percent of the republic’s population; 1,575,361 Russians, or 43.3 percent of the republic’s population; 134,221 Chuvashis, or 3.7 percent of the population; 32,800 Ukrainians; 28,900 Mordovans; 24,800 Udmurtians; 19,400 Maris; 19,100 Bashkirs; 8,000 Belarussians; 7,300 Jews; 3,900 Azeris; 2,800 Germans; 2,700 Uzbeks; 2,100 Kazakhs; 1,800 Armenians; 1,300 Georgians; 1,000 Moldovans; and 10,800 people from other nationalities.2

In the 1990s, migration processes increased after the disintegration of the USSR. Most of the immigrants to the republic were Tatars: In 1994 they made up 85 percent of those immigrating to Tatarstan, compared to Russians, who made up 6.5 percent of the immigrants.3 But it is not only immigration that increases the Tatars’ proportional share of the population: The Tatars’ birth rate is 1.4 times higher than that of the republic’s Russians - 1.3 times higher in the countryside and 1.5 times higher in the cities - and their death rate is 1.13 times lower. In 1995, the Tatar’s share of the total population exceeded 50 percent.4

The urban population of the republic is concentrated in two large industrial centers - Kazan, with a population of 1,100,000, and Naberezhniye Chelni, with a population of 500,000 - and four medium-size cities, Nizhnekamsk (population 192,500), Almetyevsk (population 130,000), Zelenodolsk (population 95,000) and Bugulma (population 90,000). The larger cities have 42.6 percent of the total population. In the rural areas, Tatars make up 65.9 percent of the population and Russians make up 22.9 percent. In the cities, Russians account for 50.9 percent of the population, while Tatars make up 42.1 percent of the population. Put differently, 63.4 percent of the republic’s Tatars live in the city, while 85.7 percent of the Russians there are urbanized. The majority of the urban population in the republic are first- or second-generation city-dwellers.5

 

1.2  An Overview of the Government Structure

The Republic of Tatarstan has 43 administrative districts, 19 cities and 22 urban-type settlements. There are 11 major cities, which are not included in any of the administrative districts but are directly under the control of the republic’s government. The other cities, towns and settlements are within the district administrations. Kazan is the republic’s capital.

The system of state government and local self-government organs has evolved over the past decade on the basis of the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitution. Under Article 89 of that document, the supreme representative, legislative and controlling organ of state power in the republic is the State Council, or parliament, which consists of 130 deputies. Half of these deputies are elected by territorial electoral districts, each of which have an approximately equal number of voters. The other half of the State Council’s deputies are elected from within administrative territories, which have large differences in the number of voters. For example, the administrative territory of Yelabuga has a population of 7,700, while Naberezhniye Chelni has a population of 400,000, yet both get to elect one deputy each.

The parliament holds two plenary sessions each year, from Jan. 12 to June 30 and from Sept. 1 to Dec. 25, for considering the most important issues. As a rule, about 25 percent of the deputies work on a permanent professional basis. At present, this permanent core numbers 28 people’s deputies. The State Council has the following functions: passing, amending and interpreting the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitution and other laws; regulating property relations; and organizing the republic’s government and economy. The parliament and other representative organs are elected for the term of five years. The latest parliamentary election was held Dec. 19, 1999.

The executive power in the Republic of Tatarstan is exercised by the president and the Cabinet of Ministers, which, taken together, are also known as the government. Article 106 of the Constitution gives sweeping powers to the president as the head of state. The president is responsible for: leading the system of state government and providing its interaction with the State Council; directing the activities of local administrations; appointing and dismissing the heads of district administrations, with the approval of the local councils; presenting the annual budget to the State Council; representing the republic in international relations; signing the republic’s laws, or else returning bills to parliament for further debate. The president may be relieved of his post by the State Council if the Constitutional Court determines he has breached the republic’s Constitution. The impeachment proceedings may be started by a vote of at least one third of the State Council, and the decision to impeach must be passed by a two-thirds majority in an open vote. The first presidential election, held June 12, 1991, was won by Mintimer Shaimiyev, who was subsequently re-elected March 24, 1996 and elected for a third term on March 25, 2001.

According to Article 116 of the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is the republic’s executive and governing organ, which is subordinate to the president. The president presents the prime minister for the approval of the State Council and personally forms the cabinet. The president has a right to cancel the government’s normative acts if they contradict the Constitution or presidential decrees. The ministries, state committees and other departments are responsible to the cabinet - and also directly to the president. But the Constitution does not specify whether the president has a right to participate directly in the work of the cabinet. The powers of the prime minister are not quite clear, either. In fact, given the presidential powers and the principles of interaction between the legislative and executive branches of the state as they are described in the Constitution, it seems that the republic has a mixed presidential-parliamentary form of government.

Judicial power in Tatarstan is exercised by the Constitutional Court, the courts of general competence and the Arbitration Court. The Constitutional Court supervises constitutionality of laws passed by the State Council, normative acts issued by the president or the cabinet and international treaties concluded by the Republic of Tatarstan. This top court also tries disputes over the division of powers between state or district organs and the authorities in major cities. The Constitutional Court considers complaints by citizens, or their associations, of breaches of their rights and freedoms. When requested by other courts, it rules on the constitutionality of laws, legal norms, decrees, etc.

In keeping with the law “On the Republic of Tatarstan’s Human Rights Ombudsman,” passed March 3, 2000, an ombudsman is elected by the State Council for a term of five years. The ombudsman is to collect and analyze information on questions of human and civil rights and freedoms, to prepare annual reports on the situation in that sphere and to take part in preparing bills pertaining to civil rights.

To satisfy a Russian Federation initiative, started in 2000, to unify the federation’s laws, the republic’s parliament is preparing certain amendments to its Constitution and other laws concerning the organization of the republic’s state powers and local self-government.

 

2. Evolution of Tatarstan’s Local Self-Governments and Challenges they Face

 

The principles of local self-government in the Republic of Tatarstan are defined by the Russian Federation’s 1993 Constitution, as well as several federal laws: “On the General Principles of Organizing Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation,” “On the Financial Basis of Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation,” “On the Basis of the Russian Federation Municipal Service” and “On Providing the Constitutional Rights of Russian Federation Citizens to Elect, and Be Elected to, Organs of Local Self-Government.” The republic’s own 1992 Constitution, and several of Tatarstan’s laws, also help define local self-governement. These defining measures include the Republic of Tatarstan’s laws: “On Local Self-Government,” “On the Elections of Deputies to the Representative Organs and of Officials of Local Self-Government” and “On State Property and Local Self-Government Property.” The recently initiated process of bringing regional laws in line with the federal legislation made it necessary to suspend preparation on some other essential laws on local self-government in Tatarstan, such as the republic’s proposed laws “On Local Referendums” and “On the Financial Base of Local Self-Government.”

 

2.1  Deviations from the Russian Federation’s Norms

In establishing its model of local self-government, the Republic of Tatarstan took an approach that was different from the federal model in that it preserved the old “power vertical,” which allows state authorities to maintain more centralized control over local self-governments. Unlike other republics, Tatarstan did not transform all its local state power organs into local self-government organs of corresponding levels. The republic particularly deviates from federal recommendations in keeping, to this day, the medium level of the local Soviets (councils) of People’s Deputies, and their executive organs, within Tatarstan’s administrative districts, major cities and the urban districts of those cities. The development of local self-government in the republic began from below - from the level of villages, urban settlements and small towns within the administrative districts.

The legal basis of local self-government provided by the Russian Federation’s Constitution may be summed up in four postulates:

•  The people exercise their power through the organs of local self-government.

•  The Russian Federation recognizes and guarantees local self-government.

•  Local self-government is independent within the limits of its competence.

•  Organs of local self-government are separate from the system of state power.

Article 72 of Part I, Item “H” of the Russian Federation’s Constitution says: “The joint competence of the Russian Federation and of its constituent territories includes ... setting the general principles of organizing the system of organs of state power and of local self-government.” Chapter 8 on “Local Self-Government” in the federal Constitution defines the basic organizing principles for local self-government. This chapter contains loose, general provisions, which leave scope for variations in solving specific local problems. Thus, Article 131 says: “Local self-government is exercised in the urban and rural settlements, and on other territories, with consideration to the historical and other local traditions,” but it does not set rigid spatial limits or specify the historical hierarchy of territorial administrations.

According to the section on “The Basis of the State and Public Order of the Republic of Tatarstan” in the republic’s 1992 Constitution: “The people exercise their power directly, and also through the system of organs of state power and local self-government.” And in the section on local self-government, the republic’s constitution stipulates: “Local self-government is exercised in urban and rural settlements and on other territories and provides, in keeping with the law, independent solution by the population of local issues according to the local peculiarities and traditions.” The same section says: “The organs of local self-government are not part of the system of organs of state power and government.”

But on the subject of the size of settlements that can have local self governments, the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitution differs with the federal one. Article 12 of the Russian Federation’s law “On the General Principles of Organizing Local Self-Government” says: “Local self-government is exercised throughout the Russian Federation’s territory in urban and rural settlements and on other territories. ... The population of an urban or rural settlement, irrespective of its size, cannot be denied a right to exercise local self-government.” (Italics added.) That means that the federal law sets no territorial limits for municipalities, but even contains a formula banning these limits, regardless of the size of a municipality. In that way, the law clearly answers any question of whether this or that settlement has a right to set up organs of local self-government.

Unlike the federal law, Article 5 on “The Territory of Local Self-Government” in Tatarstan’s law “On Local Self-Government” says: “Local self-government is exercised by the population in the limits of urban and rural settlements within the administrative districts. In the republic’s major cities, local self-government is exercised in the limits of housing complexes.” (Italics added.) So the republic’s law radically limits the zone of exercising local self-government. The 11 major cities and 43 administrative districts are excluded from forming local self-governments, and are instead administered by the local organs of state power and government. This means that the heads of the executive organs in these cities and districts are appointed by the president of the republic, under Article 130 of the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitution.

Can a constituent territory of the Russian Federation, such as Tatarstan, ignore the provisions of a federal law? Who has jurisdiction in setting the principles of organizing local self-government in the constituent territories? As it stands today, the federal legislation gives no unequivocal answer to those questions. The Russian Federation’s Constitution, in Article 72, says local self-government regulations are established through the joint competence of the central and territorial powers. But the specific federal law on local self-government says the federal powers definitely take precedence, as will be discussed more below.

The issue is further clouded by a legal case in which the Russian Federation’s Constitutional Court approved as constitutional a similar system on representative and executive organs of state power in cities and administrative districts in the Udmurt Republic. In its Jan. 24, 1997 decision, the federal court legitimized banishing local self-government from the larger administrative units in the constituent territories of the federation.

Furthermore, Article 2 on “The System of the State Power Organs in the Russian Federation’s Constituent Territories” in the 1999 federal law “On the General Principles of Organizing the Legislative and Executive Organs of State Power in the Russian Federation’s Constituent Territories” does not ban the existence of local organs of state power in the constituent territories, but stipulates that: “The system of state power organs in a constituent territory includes: the legislative organ of state power of that territory; the highest executive organ of state power of that territory; and other organs of state power of the territory formed under the constitution (charter) of the territory.”

Yet, as we mentioned above, the federal law “On the General Principles of Organizing Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation” states in Article 12, Part I, Item 3: “The population of an urban or rural settlement, irrespective of its size, cannot be denied a right to exercise local self-government.” Moreover, Article 7, Part 3 of that law also says that “The federal laws and the laws of the Russian Federation’s constituent territories setting the municipal legal norms shall not contradict the Russian Federation’s Constitution and the present federal law by limiting the rights of local self-government guaranteed by them.” On the strength of the latter provision, jurist V. Kronsky, L.D., speaking at an international conference on federalism, held in Kazan, June 2001, said: “The interpretation of that law permits the conclusion that the federal law ‘On the General Principles of Organizing Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation’ has superior legal force over other federal laws, and certainly over the laws of the Russian Federation’s constituent territories.” In the opinion of that author, “The court practice of settling disputes on the right of local self-government organs to solve local issues independently rests in many cases on the legal priority of that law over the laws of the Russian Federation constituent territories.”

It is only fair to note that most discrepancies between federal and regional laws that exist today arose out of the legislative work of the early 1990s - when the constituent territories often had to pass some laws and other normative acts ahead of the federal center, which was moving too slowly. This is the case with the laws on practice concerning local self-government in Tatarstan, and in most other constituent territories where these norms deviate from those of the Russian Federation.

The first organs of local self-government in the republic were elected in 1995. The next local self-government elections in the urban and rural settlements came in April–May 2000, as prescribed by the provisional rules of each local self-government council and the Republic of Tatarstan’s law “On the Elections of Deputies to the Representative Organs and of the Officials of Local Self-Government in the Republic of Tatarstan.” A total of 7,096 deputies were elected, as were the chairmen of the local self-government councils. At present, 959 local self-government organs are functioning in the Republic of Tatarstan, including 908 in villages, 21 in urban settlements, seven in towns and 23 in the housing complexes of Kazan. As the local self-governments have formed in the republic, there has been a tendency toward a sort of two-level system of local self-government organs:

1.  local self-government organs formed in small towns, settlements and rural districts on the basis of historical traditions of territorial organization, instead of the former village and town Soviets of People’s Deputies;

2.  urban local self-government organs, based in housing complexes and neighborhoods in the major cities.

Certain steps have been taken toward providing for economic independence and development of local self-government organs in the republic. Since 1999, the Republic of Tatarstan’s budget has included a line to provide these organs with some of the tax revenue. The Republic of Tatarstan law “On the Budget System of the Republic of Tartstan for 2001” recommends that local Soviets of People’s Deputies fund local self-government budgets with part of the revenue from sales taxes, individual property taxes, individual income taxes, the land tax and rents collected by the district and city budgets. If the sum resulting from these sources fails to cover the minimal social norms and standards for local self-government funding, the local Soviets are recommended to allocate subsidies to the local self-government organ. Some progress has been made in this field: The total sum of budget funds available to the local self-government in 2000 was 58 percent higher than in 1999.

 

2.2  Budget Questions and the Dependence of Local Self-Governments

Despite these efforts, specialists point out that, in most districts, local self-governments have no proper financial and economic base. In 2000, the average local budget financing for self-government territories covered only 73 percent of the minimal requirements. At the same time, the revenue for local self-government budgets came mostly from subsidies: Plans called for subsidies to contribute 84.5 percent of local government budgets, and in reality they contributed 78.3 percent.

The district administrations, which are the local organs of state power, often choose to centralize all tax revenue and other budget funding. In such cases, local self-government councils can only list expenditures - for wages - in their budget. This is the situation when all available means are used for solving problems on the district level, and local self-governments receive any funds not taken up by the district -  the so-called “left-over principle.” That’s basically what happened in the Nurlat District, where the administration failed to comply with Article 23 of the law “On the Budget System of the Republic of Tatarstan for 2001,” which stipulated that some of the tax revenue raised on a local self-government’s territory should be handed over to that local self-government. In fact, the district administration never handed over any taxes at all to any of the 26 local self-government councils in Nurlat.6 The administration did not leave the local self-governments penniless: It gave them subsidies from the district budget, but that method of financing is actually a convenient way of “taming” the local self-government leaders. Therefore, as experts point out, it is necessary to define clearly the structure of local self-government budget revenue - and the minimal share of taxes that can be allocated to them by the local Soviets. Until that is done, local funding basically depends on the attitude of the head of the district administration toward local self-government organs.

Currently, most local self-government organs are dependent on the heads of local administrations, just as the former village Soviets were dependent on the chairmen of the collective farms. And just like the old farm chairmen, today’s local administration heads are unwilling to yield any of their power, which is linked, as usual in Russia, with property and other benefits. Analysts note that the local state powers give local self-government organs only what is absolutely necessary - such as the wages for the members of the local self-government staff - plus what the administration heads can, or more precisely wish, to concede, on the basis of their good will or personal relations with the local self-government members.

According to Tatarstan’s Finance Ministry, even if 100 percent of the taxes due to local self-governments were handed over, it would still not be enough to cover the budgets of some of them, because of the discrepancies in the taxable bases of different territories. For instance, in the Bugulminsk District, 100 percent of the property tax yielded just 10,000 rubles, whereas in the Petrichinsk District, only 16 percent of that tax amounted to 410,000 rubles.7 Such problems came up in preparing the bill “On the Financial Base of Local Self-Governments.” For example, there was a question of how to deal with the existing differences in territories - not only in their economic, but also demographic, ethnic and natural characteristics. Policy makers wanted to provide fair financing for all the local self-government organs, so that a doctor or a teacher in one locality should not subsist on minimum wages while their colleagues in other areas receive an adequate income. That obviously required a more flexible approach to the distribution of financing than simply guaranteeing equal shares of the local tax revenue for all local self-government organs.

Another problem is the shortage of personnel specially trained for work in local self-government: Out of 1,742 local self-government organ chairmen and their deputies working on a permanent basis, 33.5 percent have higher education or unfinished higher education, and 48.3 percent have secondary education or vocational training. But there are too few economists, lawyers and specialists in municipal management among the leaders of local self-government organs. And yet it is clear that the practical realization of local self-government rights and powers depends on the presence of adequate managerial staff with some legal knowledge. There is some awareness of this problem in Tatarstan: With its developed network of good colleges, the republic has done a lot to train, or re-train personnel for local self-government. There are special courses functioning under the Republic of Tatarstan’s State Council, as well as local self-government and sabbatical courses, run by the Institute of Civil Service, to train local self-government organs’ chairmen and their deputies. Some of the leading personnel in local self-government are enrolled as corresponding students of the Kazan Technological University, the Tatar-American Regional Institute and the Almetiev Municipal University.

Other efforts are being made toward improving the situation of local self government organs. The commission of State Institutions and Local Self-Government in the Republic of Tatarstan State Council is preparing a legislative package that is meant to give local self-government organs real powers. That package would include a bill on reserving certain state functions for the local organs, in particular notary and registrar procedures. There is also a proposal to give local self-government organs some other, financially backed functions, such as maintaining health and education facilities; controlling public utilities, like gas supply; the improvement of the local territory; and even a right to collect local taxes and undertake commercial activities to raise profits that can meet local needs.

In 1999, the Republic of Tatarstan set up a Council on Local Self-Government, which was chaired by the speaker of parliament and included some leading members of the government apparatus, deputies and heads of parliamentary commissions. The council was to provide interaction between the organs of state power and the local self-government organs. To help in this work, the district Coordinating Councils on Local Self-Government were formed in 2000. These councils are supposed to work out the legal and financial relationship between state structures and local self-government organs, to represent the interests of the latter in the legislative and executive organs and to study the experience of local self-government. The Coordinating Councils’ plans for 2001 included the following urgent measures for the development of local self-government:

•   helping to set up a department for the support of local self-government attached to the Cabinet of Ministers and helping to create a fund for the support of local self-government in the republic - an idea that has already been discussed for several years;

•   putting forth proposals for preparing and passing “The State Complex Program of Support for Local Self-Government in the Republic of Tatarstan,” as well as the following laws aimed at the realization of local self-government in the republic: “On Citizens’ Meetings,” “On Recalling Deputies of the Representative Organs and Officials of Local Self-Government” and “On the Financial Base of Local Self-Government in the Republic of Tatarstan.”

The republic’s Council on Local Self-Government has reportedly discussed the possibility of allowing local self-governments to take over the collection of rent or taxes for: the use of land for summer cottages, the use of mineral resources, the use of roads, hunting and fishing. Specialists point out that the local self-governments can collect such taxes more successfully, which was confirmed in the case of land taxes. After collection was handed over to local self-government organs in 1999, land taxes, which had been collected at 50–60 percent of the estimated value in previous years, were collected at 204 percent of the estimated value.8

Local self-government organs should be allowed to more completely exercise their right to set their own local taxes and duties. Even after local self-government officials collect the taxes due to them, they still have to deposit that money in the bank accounts of the local administration and then beg to get that money back from the same admin-istration. The next stage of developing local self-governments should involve giving them the right to form and dispose of their own budgets according to certain social standards and norms. Furthermore, local self-government organs should have the right to deposit their tax revenue directly into their own bank accounts, instead of going through the district administration, as it is done now.

Still, financing is only part of the problem faced by local self-government organs in the republic. As of a year ago, when Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin began a policy of unifying Russia’s laws, new problems have arisen in the efforts to reform local organs of state power and to widen the scope of local self-government to the level of administrative districts and major cities of Tatarstan.

 

3. The Prospects of Developing Local Self-Government in Tatarstan

 

As was mentioned above, the Constitution and other laws of the Russian Federation stipulate that leaders in cities and administrative districts of the constituent territories belong to the system of local self-government, and they should be elected. Chapter 3 of the law on “The Organs and the Officials of Local Self-Government” says that “the existence of elected organs of local self-government in municipalities is obligatory.” The law specifically describes a local self-government organ consisting of elected deputies and the head of a municipality, who is an elected official leading the activities of local self-government in the municipal territory.

When it comes to rural and urban settlements of Tatarstan, and small towns within its administrative districts, the republic’s laws comply with the federal regulations. Article 6 of the Republic of Tatarstan law “On Local Self-Government” stipulates that “Local self-government is exercised by the population through representative organs and officials of local self-government, through the organs of public self-government and directly, by holding local referenda, meetings and other forms.” Under Article 21 of that law: “Representative powers of local self-government may be exercised only by elected organs and elected officials of local self-government. ... Executive powers of local self-government are exercised by the organs and officials of local self-government.”

But things are quite different in Tatarstan on the level of the republic’s administrative districts and major cities. This situation is spelled out in Section III, Chapter 13 of the republic’s constitution, which is entitled “The Local Organs of State Power and Government.” According to this chapter: “The representative organs of state power in the admi-nistrative districts, major cities, and urban districts in them, are the corresponding Soviets of People’s Deputies. ... The functions of government in a district, a city or an urban district are performed by the local administration. ... The local administration reports directly to the corresponding local Soviet of People’s Deputies and to the higher executive and governing organs.”

Elections to those representative organs of state power are regulated by the republic’s 1994 law “On the Elections of People’s Deputies to the Local Soviets of People’s Deputies of the Republic of Tatarstan.” There is nothing unusual about the rules for elections to the local Soviets.

What is unusual is the means for choosing the Local Soviets’ executive organs and the heads of local administrations. Article 130 of Tatarstan’s Constitution says “The activities of the local administration are led by its head. The head of the administration of a district or major city is appointed by the Republic of Tatarstan President, with the approval of the respective Soviet of People’s Deputies, or is elected by the citizens on the proposal of the Republic of Tatarstan President if he is not a deputy of this territory.” (Italics added.) As we’ve mentioned before, Tatarstan is divided into 54 distinct administrative units - 43 administrative districts and 11 major cities - and the highest officials in all of these are appointed by the president.

Furthermore, these appointees are also able to gain power in the parliament of Tatarstan. This is because the administrative districts serve as electoral districts during parliamentary elections, so that, along with the large urban districts in the major cities, they choose 63 of the parliamentary deputies. The other 67 deputies are chosen by ordinary territorial electoral districts that are designed to have approximately equal number of voters. Under the Constitution and the law “On the Elections of the Republic of Tatarstan People’s Deputies,” the president’s hand-picked administration heads are allowed to simultaneously hold their office while being deputies in the republic’s parliament. Understandably, these presidential appointees, who are already in positions of financial and political power, have a huge advantage in parliamentary elections, and they win easily.

Because of the low level of the population’s political culture - particularly in the villages and small towns - and because local self-governments are financially dependent on the district Soviets and administrations, local self-government leadership is made up mostly of people loyal to those administrations. Thus, the president of Tatarstan has concentrated colossal power in his hands: He controls his appointed administration heads - who are chairmen of the local Soviets and also become parliamentary deputies - and through them the local self-governments. As the head of the republic’s executive power, he also personally forms Tatarstan’s government. And the president takes advantage of this power. When looking at the legislative practice of the past decade, we can say that, though the president has to abide by the law, the law, in turn, is given by parliament, mostly in compliance with his will. Essentially, presidential power is limited only by the expression of the people’s will at the presidential elections, held once every five years.

True, since 2001, the Republic of Tatarstan’s Constitutional Court has begun functioning properly. Ideally, the court is supposed to supervise the constitutionality of laws made by parliament, decrees issued by the president and activities of officials at all levels. But we can hardly expect in the foreseeable future that the court will become completely free of the influence of the executive power. As it is, strong state power in the republic is concentrated in the hands of one man. Indeed, as not a hair falls from one’s head without the will of Allah, so not one important decision in Tatarstan’s economic and political life is passed without the will of President Shaimiyev.

In March 2001, Shaimiyev was re-elected president for a third term. The process and the results of the election, which was observed by representatives of different political forces and international organizations, leaves no room for the opponents’ accusations of falsifications or abuse of administrative resources as the main factors behind Shaimiyev’s victory. Instead, the election indicated the continued trust he receives from the voters. The turnout at the election, compared to the total number of eligible voters, was 79.4 percent. The turnout was 69 percent in Kazan and averaged 94 percent in the administrative districts. The balloting produced the following results:

•  79.5 percent for Shaimiyev - which can be broken down to 89.9 percent in the districts, 68.5 percent in Kazan, 74.4 percent in Naberezhniye Chelni and 77.3 percent in Almetyevsk;

•  5.78 percent for S. Shashurin, a deputy in the Russian Federation State Duma;

•  5.5 percent for I. Grachov, a deputy in the Russian Federation State Duma and a candidate of the Tatarstan opposition bloc “Equality and Law”;

•  4.43 percent for R. Sadykov, the secretary of the republic’s Communist Party;

•  2.8 percent against all candidates.

 

3.1  Efforts to Maintain the “Power Vertical”

Though the president’s consolidation of power is a legitimate cause for concern, it has also had some benefits. The local organs of state power, or more precisely the heads of local administrations, formed the core of Shaimiyev’s “power vertical” and helped to keep the republic governable during the most difficult initial period of Russia’s economic and political reforms. In my opinion, that “vertical” played, a positive, rather than negative role, in the 1990s. It helped to shield Tatarstan from the social and economic chaos generally observed during the course of economic and political transition in post-totalitarian Russian society: the massive sales of state property at symbolic prices; the crunch of industrial and agricultural production; the disastrous fall in living standards caused by uncontrolled price rises for basic food products; etc.

But now, instead of favoring a “cautious” pace of reforms, the “power vertical” seems to encourage stagnation of the present transitional forms of economic and political systems in Tatarstan, including the sphere of local self-government. It appears that the “power vertical” is getting out of hand - even the hand of its creator, Shaimiyev. Problems have arisen from within the president’s mainstay - the heads of local administrations - who have begun to acquire their own economic interests and developed certain political activities to maintain their status of local “kings.”

A group of local administrators dared to openly manifest their desire to control the political process for the first time in May 1988. The State Council was electing a new speaker, and Shaimiyev proposed Prime Minister F. Mukhametshin. But several deputies tried to rebel against the president’s wishes by seeking to nominate Naberezhniye Chelni’s Mayor R. Altynbayev. He won 50 votes, which was not enough for his election.

There was nothing strange about these rebellious administration heads attempting to become independent political actors. They have absolute power and financial and organizational resources within their districts, and they seek to obtain more. But the president, who appointed the administrative heads to their lucrative posts and can remove them at any time, wants his local leaders to be obedient team members, rather than independent political players. Because their social and political status gives the administrative leaders objectively different interests from the president, their union with Shaimiyev is doomed to disintegration.

Yet Shaimiyev is certainly not the sort of leader who would part with a functioning, albeit archaic, “power vertical” without finding an adequate substitute. In the current situation, the structure of the district and city Soviets and administrations resembles the old-fashioned structure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s district committees and Soviets. Although that structure has a certain effectiveness in a totalitarian command system, and even in the transitional period, it cannot adapt well to the current system of changing market relations and emerging democratic institutions. Under modern management theory, the solution to this situation would be to create a different, parallel managerial structure that can take over the functions of the old one. Indeed, it seems that this is what Shaimiyev has in mind. His plans to reform local state and government organs appear to signal the first steps in the creation of a more modern “power vertical.”

In his annual address to the State Council on February 2001, the president clearly pointed out the inadequacy of the style of work and level of professionalism of the republic’s government structures for today’s needs. Shaimiyev could also argue that reform is necessary, because the republic’s law on local self-government has to be brought in line with the federal legislation, which would involve introducing local self-government at the level of administrative districts and large cities. This reform could radically change the status of the administration heads, because their posts would be contested in local elections.

Trying to anticipate the direction that the reform will take brings us into the realm of political forecasts, but some current events seem to indicate the president’s future plans: On July 11, 2001, Mukhametshin, the chairman of the republic’s State Council, met with S. Kiriyenko, the Russian Federation president’s envoy in the Volga Federal District. According to official reports, they discussed the alignment of Tatarstan’s laws on local state powers and self-government with federal legislation. Mikhametshin said that, since the federal level still lacks a totally clear conception of local self-government, it would be unreasonable to change anything in Tatarstan, where a system of power organs working in contact with the people has developed. He cited the findings of experts of the Volga Federal District commission on the alignment of regional and federal laws, who supported his position. In the end Mukhametshin and Kiriyenko agreed that the best course for the Republic of Tatarstsan State Council would be to carry on its work in the chosen direction by way of an experiment. On the same night, Mukhametshin met in Moscow with the Russian Federation president’s head of staff, A. Voloshin, and discussed the same issues with him.

It would seem from these actions that Tatarstan’s leadership is trying to maintain the peculiarities of the republic’s political system as long as possible, at least in the relations between the local self-government and state power organs. And, even in the eyes of the federal government, the events in other regions of the Russian Federation justify a conservative approach. Conflicts over power and budget sharing between the mayors of large cities and the regional governors, both in Udmurtia and in Primorye, only harmed the local population, which was supposed to benefit from local self-government. So it seemed that there would not be any speedy, radical change in Tatarstan’s model of the “power vertical,” at least not in the sphere of local self-government.

Yet it would be a simplification to say that Shaimiyev is just interested in maintaining the status quo. On July 16, 2001, the president issued a decree “On Measures for Improving the Activities of the State Power Organs in the Republic of Tatarstan.” The gist of the decree is to unify the executive powers in the republic by extending the ministries’ reach down to the local level. Before the decree, many of the republic’s ministries had no branches on the local level, or else these branches only had a consultative status. Each district or city administration has departments of education, health, social protection, agriculture, industrial development, etc. For example, a district’s education department controls that district’s schools. These departments are supposed to coordinate their activities with the republic’s ministries. But, in reality, they are controlled by the local administration head, who is appointed by the president and is therefore independent of the ministries. As a result, these district departments are practically autonomous from the ministries and other government departments. So the heads of local administrations run all the aspects of life in their district or city. Being simultaneously chairmen of the local Soviets, the administration heads fully control district budgets for the various departments of health, education, etc.

Under the new presidential decree, this situation is changing, as the specialized departments of the local administrations are transformed into territorial branches of the republic’s ministries. For instance, a district or city education department will become a territorial branch of Tatarstan’s Education Ministry and will be financed by the republic’s budget - though the schools and other educational establishments will be financed by the local budget. The process of forming the territorial branches of the ministries is now in full swing, with the help of experts who used to work in the local administrations and therefore understand local problems. Certain changes are being made in the structure of local administrations, to avoid duplication of functions.

In my view, the decree is not quite consistent, and that may weaken its effectiveness. The territorial branches of the ministries still retain “horizontal” subordination, because they report to the local administration’s heads. And the chiefs of the ministries’ branches are appointed on the recommendation of the administrations’ heads. This double affiliation is supposed to produce better results: The ministry will control their branch’s specific function - be it economic development, education, health services, etc. - and the local administration head will ensure their integration into the district’s support system. But I suspect that double affiliation will actually generate chaos and irresponsibility. It therefore seems likely that the ministries’ branches will be brought completely under control of the ministries.

On the whole, the decree should help solve some urgent problems for both the republic’s government and for local self-government. By giving financing of special services to the ministries, the decree deprives local administration heads of some of their financial and organizational levers of power. To put it plainly, it will prevent them from abusing district budgets.

It is no secret that the misuse of budget money is chronic among local bosses. An inspection of three districts conducted by the Committee of Parliamentary Control during the period of 1998–2000, found serious breaches in the execution of budget expenditures: Some items were under-financed, others - particularly the item “state government” - were over-financed. Too much was spent on transport services, communications, equipment, capital construction and management and current expenses. In the Arsk district over-financing in these areas amounted to 40,531,000 rubles; in the Kaibitsk district it was 10,042,000 rubles; and in the Muslyum district 14,502,000 rubles. There were also sums spent for purposes that are not supposed to be financed from the district budgets, such as support of livestock breeding, subsidies of animal products and compensation for price rises on mineral fertilizers. Spending for such inappropriate purposes amounted to 72,352,000 rubles in Arsk, 12,785,000 rubles in the Kaibitsk district and 1,135,000 rubles in the Muslyum district. At the same time, the district administration and the management of state-owned enterprises failed to take adequate measures toward solving urgent problems of repaying debt on outstanding wages. The Arsk district was 21,771,000 rubles behind in wages; the Kaibitsk district was behind 5,789,000 rubles; and the Muslyum district owed 11,414,000 rubles in this category. Furthermore, the district administrations relieved some enterprises and organizations of taxes and duties, in spite of their already sizable debts to budget and non-budget funds.

It is not only budgeting by local administrators that causes concern. Many of the republic’s politicians and experts express the opinion that local administration heads hamper the development of private farms and farm privatization. These leaders obviously have more resources at their disposal as long as the farms remain under state control. The slow pace of private farm development was outlined in a report “On the State and Development of Private Farms in Tatarstan,” which was presented by the deputy-head of the president’s Control Department at a joint meeting with the Committee of Parliamentary Control.9 As of April 1, 2001, the republic’s 1,603 private farms had 2.7 percent of the arable land at their disposal, and they only owned about half that land. These farmers produced about 1 percent of the republic’s agricultural products. The report noted other indicators that agricultural reform in the republic is proceeding slowly: In some districts there are less than 10 farms, in others there are none at all.

The fact is that leaders in local administrations and their commissions, who are responsible for allotting land for private farms, are not fair to beginning farmers. A poll of 26 heads of large state or collective farms showed that 58 percent of all private farmers wishing to go on their own were denied their fair share of land. Many district administrations failed to lease out farm machinery to private farmers from the pool specially reserved for that purpose. They also by-pass private farms when building roads and electric power lines - in defiance of an officially established order. More than 60 percent of the farmers polled say their work is hampered by problems with obtaining long-term credit, and most of them are not happy about their relations with the district administrations.

Similar accusations are leveled at the administrations’ heads in the large cities: arbitrary rule and graft by officials in the leasing or privatization of urban property, administrative curbs of free competition, misuse of budget funds, etc.

By reconstructing the “power vertical” to give the republic’s government and its ministries more resources and authority on the local level, the president hopes to provide better organizational and financial conditions for developing market relations, in agriculture and in the large cities. Anyway, if no progress is made, not only the president, but also the State Council, can hold the government and the prime minister responsible.

Previously, government on the district level was essentially handled by 54 remote and unruly administrations, which functioned as mini-governments that were appointed by the president and answered only to him. The president and his hand-picked administrators alone were responsible for the republic’s successes and failures. The successes are considerable, especially when compared to the average performance in the Russian Federation, and include a record-breaking grain yield of 5 million tons in 2001. The failures are also numerous, particularly in developing market relations in agriculture and in the low degree of political democratization. But the “power vertical,” based on the local administrations’ heads, has become hard for even the president to control. Administration heads have learned how to pursue their own ends quietly, without showing any political insubordination: They sabotage the development of private farming; they hamper the privatization of state property by open fair tender; they prevent conditions for free competition; and they misuse budget funds for building their luxury mansions and purchasing expensive import cars and domestic appliances.

By dismantling this old “power vertical,” the president may be setting the stage for alignment of Tatarstan’s law on local self-government with the federal legislation. Once the political and financial resources of the heads of major district and city administrations are transferred to territorial branches of the ministries, the president can safely sanction the broadening of the local self-government sphere to the higher level of administrative districts and large cities. He can even do away with the system of appointing administration heads, and permit their election, as is required by federal law. Despite giving up his power over local administrations, he could be sure of maintaining control over social and economic processes during this period of urgently needed market reforms, because the levers will be in the hands of the republic’s state government, which has already shown its reliability and professionalism. That would also spare Tatarstan from the kind of political destabilization that occurred in Primorye after the election of independent administrations’ heads. Furthermore, the process of local elections and freer competition for local leadership posts would produce administration heads that are different from the entrenched local “kings” - and this would go a long way toward democratizing all spheres of the republic’s life, particularly in developing market relations.

If President Shaimiyev really intends to implement, in one form or another, the script described above, that will be, to my mind, a positive step toward making the republic more dynamic and more capable of carrying out the needed reforms. But it will only be a step forward compared to the present situation. In the future, after the special commission set up by President Putin and headed by D. Kozak delimits the powers between the federal government, the federation’s constituent territories and local self-governments, it will become necessary to delimit powers between the republics’ governments and local authorities. No matter what they are called - self-governments, municipal, or local state power organs - they are to be elected and, within their competence, independent of the republic’s government, just as the latter is independent of the federal government.

At present, as I see it, there is no real, effective system of local self-government either in Russia as a whole or in Tatarstan, there is not even a clear conception of local self-government that would define its powers and responsibility, its financial base and its relations with other organs of power and government. That conception will probably emerge after the above-mentioned delimitation of powers at the federal level between the federal government, the federation’s constituent territories and local self-government.

The authorities of Tatarstan insist that, given the population’s limited level of political culture and the problems involved in providing financial independence for self-government organs, there is a need for caution in developing local self-government. Only after ensuring that the basic level of local self-government has the necessary legislative, taxation and personnel backing can local self-government be spread to the larger territorial communities - administrative districts and cities. It is important to remember that local self-government is now at the initial stage of its development, and leaders are still searching for its optimal form.

The political leadership of Tatarstan also argues that questions of local self-government should be left to the competence of Russia’s constituent territories, because the territories can best sort out the right territorial level where local self-government can start solving the problems of the local population.

In the absence of a clear strategy at the federal level concerning local self-government, the federal center views Tatarstan’s experiments in that sphere rather favorably. The fact that the republic can retain laws on local self-government that are different from the federal ones only shows that the federation’s presidential team has not made a final decision on the basic principles of local self-government, even though the federal law on it was passed back in 1995. It is true that the political and legislative climate was different then - many laws were passed under the pressure of the changing political situation both in Russia and in the world. In the case of local self-government, the legal changes were prompted by a desire to join the Council of Europe. In Tatarstan, it seems possible that the changes in the organization of local self-government will be made simultaneously with the changes in the republic’s Constitution, which was expected before the end of 2001.

 

1  D.M. Iskhakov. “Modern Tatar Nationalism” (Sovremenniy nationalism tatar) // Panorama-Forum 1997, No. 13.

2  The Republic of Tatarstan, 1996: Collected Statistics (Statistichesky sbornik). Kazan. Karpol 1997, p.18.

3  Demography in Figures (Goscomstat RT) (Demographia Yazykom Tsifr) // Tatarskiye kraya 1995, No. 30.

4  D.M. Iskhakov. We are in the Majority (Bez inde kupchelek) // Idel 1995, No. 12, pp.2–3.

5  “Tatarstan is a Land of Cities” (Tatarstan - strana gorodov). Naberezhniye Chelny, 1993, p.8.

6  The Committee of Parliamentary Control // Parlamentskiye vesti, No. 1, January 2001.

7  The Republic of Tatarstan, Dec. 28, 2000.

8  Ibid.

9  The Committee of Parliamentary Control // Parlamentskiy vestnik No. 11, July 2001.


 
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