Regions have money for major repairs but are not hastening to spend it. Why?
A draft bill proposing the cancellation of the top overhaul payment for the residents of dilapidated housing has been introduced to the State Duma. The prospects of the draft bill and other acute problems of the utilities sphere reformation are discussed in this interview with Svetlana RAZVOROTNEVA, the Executive Director of NP “Utilities Control” ((ZhKH Kontrol).
— Svetlana, do you think the parliamentarians will adopt the bill draft?
— The problem of dilapidated housing, i.e. housing with high-level deterioration, is really complicated. Judge for yourself: for stone houses, the deterioration rate is more than 70%, and for wooden ones it is more than 65%. They really are easier to demolish than repair.
And many regions are doing this: within the program of built-up area development, resettlement is being carried out from both hazardous dwellings and dilapidated housing.
But not all regions can afford it. Of course, regions could take their dilapidated housing out of the overhaul program. But there are no statutory criteria for dilapidation yet. A lot of money will have to be paid for the resettlement from dilapidated housing, but nobody knows exactly how much. It is sure to burden the regional budget.
Regions will hardly welcome the additional load, so I think, that the prospect of the bill draft being adopted is nil.
— I see. And how is it going with the regional major repairs funds? They were accused of non-transparency, of being of a closed nature, of improprieties, etc. Have they improved now?
— As for me, I do not share my colleagues’ pessimism about regional funds. Their transparency has always been better than in other spheres of utility services, and it is enhancing due to the increased attention paid to their work, and due to regular legal amendments.
— All-Russia People’s Front representatives complain that they are not given access for control…
— The thing is, what in particular should be controlled? If it is the work of regional operators, we ourselves control them on the basis of open data.
In general, the quality of the repairs to a house should be controlled by the owner. And the work of our non-commercial partnership, “Utilities Control”, is aimed at helping the owner in checking the quality, analyzing the cost-sheet, etc.
I must say, that all major repair programs are thoroughly controlled, and it is difficult to misuse anything.
And if somebody tries to “put something in his own pocket”, it gets disclosed very quickly (e.g the head of a company in the Khanty-Mansy area paid himself a salary of 1m roubles; the head of a fund in the Sverdlovsk region was fired following a scandal, etc.).
After amendments concerning the rates calculated (they may be used only for major repairs and not for the regional operator’s allowance) were introduced into the Housing Code, it has become impossible to poach anything. However, a loophole for receiving pay-offs from contractors still exists, alas.
— Where is the money for regional funds’ allowances taken from?
— Only from the budget. And in general, the regional funds’ drawbacks are a result of the difficulties of the set-up period rather than the result of some evil actions. The problem is that regional operators themselves do not work efficiently and professionally enough.
First there were concerns that the collected payments would not be enough for quality major repairs, but the money turned out to be huge! But it is spent unwillingly: repairs seem to be in full swing but they are not!
— Common deficiencies. Half a year has passed, but contractors for the major repairs program have not been found as yet. The thing is that a number of regions have set rather low tariffs and repair companies do not agree with the levels of payment. There are other reasons also.
And as a result, a reasonable question arises: why did we collect money?
— What condition is the program of resettlement from hazardous dwelling in?
— It is different in every region. The program is coming to end in the Moscow and Tambov regions, in Ingushetia and a number of other places.
But there are regions that are seriously lagging behind: the Zabaikalye Territory, Saratov region, and the Republic of Karelia. The programs of resettlement are not being fulfilled there, and there is a lot of low quality housing.
— And can a public structure, say, like your NP, “Utilities Control”, influence the situation?
— Our representatives compulsorily take part in commissioning the houses built within the resettlement program. In 50 regions, by the way, we have revealed drawbacks and have achieved their elimination.
— Are there many problems with “new hazardous housing”?
— You know, I think there is too much attention paid to it. To be honest, there are more complaints about the quality of the housing people are buying with their own money.
— What areas of housing are complained about most?
— Most often it is some sort of carelessness: the floor covering is laid unevenly, the air-conditioning works badly, the windows were installed poorly, improvements are slow, etc. There was an incident: in the course of checking houses built in Tynda, our operatives found a massive problem – the toilet bowls in the lavatories were not fixed. Well, this might be important in a region where earthquakes are probable.
— As far as I know, your non-commercial organization studies corruption risks in the utilities sphere…
— Yes, we have received a grant for the development of this work. There exists a scheme when a house is being built within the resettlement program. 100% of the money is paid before the end of the work, and then, when the constructors leave, the local authorities shrug their shoulders: “What could we do? It is the contractor who is to blame…”
Corruption in the utilities sphere has not been stopped either: those who try to earn money dishonestly will always find a way to do it. There are also problems in managing companies: somebody tries to reorganise the market by removing their rivals, etc. But lately, quite a number of the “right” laws have been adopted, so there are fewer and fewer loopholes for corrupt officials to exploit.
— There has been a lot of discussion on whether direct agreements should be introduced. There was a fear that a customer would be face-to-face with “bloody-minded” resource suppliers. What was the result?
— Well, for today, direct agreements do work but only theoretically. Communal payments are collected via managing companies, but if owners have adopted a corresponding decision at a general meeting, the customer pays a resource provider directly.
But problems have arisen in the places where such decisions have been taken. A resource supplier wins in such a scheme, because the intermediary agent – a managing company – disappears. The managing company also wins because the payments collection is not very good at present, and managing companies are often blamed. But owners and residents lose, alas.
Recently in Voronezh, people received vast charges for communal property. Resource suppliers were not to blame: they had calculated payments according to data from scaler counters. The higher payments came about because of a theft of communal resources, and of course it was decided to return the money at the customers’ expense.
The Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the RF has prepared a bill draft proposing another idea: direct agreements as standard. That is, payments will be made only if the owners have taken the decision at a general meeting. The managing company itself is not removed from the process. It concludes agreements on behalf of owners, controls the quality of the resources supplied, and calculates payments. And it deals with all complaints and problems which arise. If it is proven that the charge was calculated wrongly, the company will be fined.
At present it seems to be the optimal solution. We’ll see how it will work.
— Will communal payments be raised? What is your prediction?
— Starting this year, payments have been raised for a three year period, and it was promised that the growth of rates would not surpass the inflation level. So, I’m asking: why should these payments always be growing, everywhere, in every region? The decision on this should be taken at a regional level, and the regional authorities should first analyze the condition of their enterprises.
In some regions they may be too low, but in others – e.g. Voronezh – the expenditures of the local enterprises were analyzed and the tariff turned out to be too high. Growing tariffs is not a law of nature, and the problem should be solved selectively and tariffs raised only after a careful audit check.