Compensation and rebuilding in Chechnya
By Dzhambulat Are
1. The house the Kremlin knocked down
After a break of almost a year, the payment of compensation has resumed in Chechnya. This news had long been expected in the republic. Today, the list contains the names of 39,118 people who according to official figures should receive reimbursement for the destruction of housing and the loss of property during the two wars. The resolution passed by the federal Russian government in 2003 provides for payments of 300,000 roubles per family for lost housing and 50,000 roubles for lost property.
Today Moscow has allocated 13.691 bn. roubles for this purpose. But not everyone will receive the money owed them straight away. The funds will be transferred to Chechnya in instalments. The first transfer is for 3.6 bn. The Chechen authorities promise that the claimants at the top of the list will receive their compensation before the end of the present year. That, at least, is how the situation looks as it is presented by President Ramzan Kadyrov. But to be blunt, the problem is not an easy one.
The payment of compensation to residents of Chechnya began in September 2003, during the presidency of Akhmad Kadyrov. Having destroyed Grozny and almost half of the republic, the federal centre decided to settle its bloody debts. It is not yet clear whether this was a sort of rent for turning the republic into a military training ground, or whether it was needed in order to bolster the credibility of the new Moscow-backed authorities. Russia’s president promised the long-suffering residents of Chechnya that all who were entitled to compensation would receive it within two years.
However, after several months this settlement of accounts was halted by the republic’s leader, Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov. The reason was theft and corruption. Countless numbers of false claimants appeared, wanting money. Fraudsters forged certificates, while officials would sign any false document for the appropriate bribe. Banking intermediaries used such documents to help people jump the queue and cash the certificates in return for a share of the proceeds.
It is hard to find anyone in Chechnya who has obtained compensation by legal means. The most persistent managed to obtain their payments on the third attempt, but most had to part with 30 to 50 percent as a bribe for the officials who drew up their claims.
After a while the payments were resumed, but no headway was made in coping with the arbitrariness and corruption. On the contrary, the situation grew markedly worse, and so the issue was addressed by the FSB, the Chechen prosecutor’s office and the republic’s interior ministry.
Soon the culprit was found. This was Abubakir Baybatyrov, the head of the government compensation payments commission. He was not only sacked, but was quickly brought from Moscow to Chechnya under armed guard, charged with all manner of abuses. The investigation established that Baybatyrov had embezzled 18,055,000 roubles. Moreover, he was charged with having illegally created a new subdivision within the commission. He had been responsible for "issuing a large number of fictitious materials to non-existent addresses and invented applicants for the purpose of obtaining money under false pretences in the form of funds allocated from the federal budget for the payment of compensation to the citizens of our republic." The charge sheet accurately summarize the essence of the compensation problem.
In late 2004 the problem was passed to the personal supervision of the then vice-premier, Ramzan Kadyrov. He proposed his own very special version of official control. Following a strict schedule, recipients of compensation were taken to the bank accompanied by police. This was done in order to exclude the possibility of abuses and to cut off the so-called "intermediaries". Kadyrov also changed the compensation system itself. Rosselkhozbank, the only financial credit institution operating in Chechnya, began to disburse the money solely according to fixed schedule and in specific districts.
Ramzan Kadyrov planned to "close the file" by the end of 2004. By then 32,000 people were waiting for compensation. In spring 2008 new applicants began to come forward. According Sultan Isakov, head of the compensation payments secretariat, the total number of claimants was 165,470. However, only a quarter of the applicants were found to be genuine. This sifting was done on the orders of Moscow, which suspected that the abuses in this matter exceeded all imaginable limits.
In February this year a special commission composed of federal officials worked in Grozny. For a period of almost two months checks were conducted on 51,000 applications, of which only 10,800 resulted in positive decisions. Sultan Isakov, who observed the Moscow officials’ work, believes that they were deliberately biased. For example, the auditors rejected documents in which even one signature was lacking, despite the presence of certified evidence of destruction and all the necessary supporting information.
In the course of the work, Kadyrov intervened, ordering his subordinates to re-examine completed applications and, if necessary, reduce the number of presented documents to a "rational minimum".
On September 4, after hearing Premier Odes Baisultanov’s report on readiness to resume compensation, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that the legality of the procedure would be ensured by members of the law enforcement agencies.
It should be noted that today the sums of money calculated five years ago cover only a small part of the cost of the housing that was destroyed. Even assuming that people will receive the money that is legally owed to them in full, it will fall far short of helping them to recoup the damage caused by war. Five years ago the average price of a residential house in Chechnya was lower, and the prices of construction materials have risen several fold during the period that has elapsed since then.
As a matter of fact, the authorities even acknowledge this. On a visit to Achkhoi-Martan in May this year, Vladimir Ustinov, the Russian president’s newly appointed representative in the Southern Federal District conceded that "350,000 roubles is not enough to build a house with."
2. The house Ramzan is going to build
Meanwhile, the Chechen authorities have had the idea of brightening up the centre of Gudermes with illuminations. Ramzan Kadyrov, who considers this town his own, intends to radically alter its appearance. But in order to do so it will be necessary to sacrifice the houses of those of his fellow townsmen who live in the centre – the authorities have simply decided to pull them down. Here Kadyrov, who has taken personal control of the Gudermes facelift operation, cites experience from the rest of the world.
The basis of the construction plan is to be the experiment conducted by the Chinese authorities during the preparation of the 2008 Olympics in evicting people from the zones where sports facilities were to be built. Ramzan Kadyrov also believes that the authorities in Sochi, who are similarly ignoring the rights of property owners, are being quite reasonable. Nevertheless, he has chosen a different course of action. A dictator, though he may be freed by his very nature from any obligations to his compatriots where matters of current legislation are concerned, cannot indefinitely ignore the norms of civil and Muslim law. And those norms prescribe a reasonable, if not equal, degree of compensation for property that has been seized.
For this reason, the land has not been simply confiscated. At a meeting with residents of "doomed" buildings, Kadyrov unexpectedly offered several alternative solutions to the problem: an apartment in the block that would be built on the site of the demolished property, monetary compensation, or a house on the outskirts of the city. Kadyrov explained that the investment company plans to build a whole district of high rise blocks in the centre of Gudermes, as well as a shopping mall and an office complex. Ramzan’s arguments may not have seemed too convincing to some of those present, but no one took the risk of objecting.
For Kadyrov, "going to the people" is not a frivolous pastime. He needs proof that Chechen society is ready to listen to his moral sermons and not simply obey his words but trust them, accept them wholeheartedly. Kadyrov has long felt constrained as a civil servant, and he continues actively to assume the role of the nation’s spiritual leader.
Young people, members of the "Ramzan" patriotic club, have taken to the streets to distribute headscarves and CDs of moral sermons to passers-by. The CDs were examined with interest. I think that people are simply curious to know what Ramzan has dreamed up now, as to a large extent their lives depend on it. But most of the women flatly refused the free headscarves. What would they do with them, as no one is going to wear them?
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· More than 20 held on charges of receiving unlawful payments (PW, 4.10.2007)
· Compensation payments to Chechen citizens: problems still not solved (PW, 24.11.2006)