Recent comments in the media that Vladimir Panov, Nizhny Novgorod mayor, has got into the anti-rating of Russian mayors ring a warning signal for Gleb Nikitin, the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region. The failure of national projects in the million-strong city nearest to the capital will scarcely become a reason for Nikitin's comeback to Moscow with a promotion.
Money On Hand But Not In Use Political expert Oleg Matveychev explains that the federal center allocates funds for national projects but they are poorly used or unused at all. “Federal money has been lavished on Nizhny Novgorod and the Nizhny Novgorod region,” says Valentina Buzmakova, Nizhny Novgorod political analyst. “Either Mayor Panov, or Governor Nikitin haven’t been using it as intended due to their incompetence and the lack of an efficiently working team. As a result, the national projects have been mainly focused on the improvement of public spaces -- with constant failures and scandals. The park in Svobody Square in the center of Nizhny Novgorod has been almost ruined, as well as the strange projects for development of Switzerland Park and the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod are raising questions not only among the residents, but also among experts. Meanwhile, Panov and Nikitin are showing the projects off to high-ranking officials in Moscow, up to President Vladimir Putin. Then they promote the projects as if approved “from above” and ask, “Are you against Putin's opinion?” The demographic indices are extremely low -- Nizhny Novgorod looks terrible compared to other cities with a population of over a million people. The death rate there is much higher than the birth rate. In order to cover up the problem, the neighboring settlements were united with the regional center. And again the scandal erupted -- the officials forgot to ask both the residents of the village of Novinka and those of Nizhny Novgorod. As a result, a hotbed of social tensions has formed out of the blue. Buzmakova claims that both Panov and Nikitin do not understand the region, the city and the residents they manage. “Panov started with a dialogue with the communities and the residents, but ended up with a yet another fatuous PR-project. It doesn’t change anything and only irritates people who have real problems nobody wants to solve. Nikitin is eager to go to Moscow: coming into spotlight at the regional level is significant for him while, in fact, very little has been done for the Nizhny Novgorod region. There were some issues with Valery Shantsev’s performance, but the former governor was an economy-minded person, who had been engaged in real economy, real issues and the development of the region – things that Nikitin is not into. Residents Are Not Happy Turning to Vladimir Panov, there are serious complaints not only about the national projects. For example, the entire Volga area was affected by a scandal over the schoolchildren’s poisoning with lunches prepared by the United Center for Municipal Orders. Parents and the Nizhny Novgorod residents were so indignant that they placed a petition on the website www.change.org for Mayor Vladimir Panov’s dismissal and for criminal prosecution of those responsible for mass poisoning of the children. “Today, our children’s lives are in serious danger,” says one of the posts on the main city forum NN.ru, posted by a Nizhny Novgorod resident, obviously related to the petition. “Many of them have already suffered and their health has been irreparably harmed. The city administration is turning a blind eye to the issue at a time when such barbarity is happening right around the corner! First of all, I would like to address the mayor of the city, who receives his salary from our taxes, and ask only one question: when will this be over?” In response, the city administration couldn’t come up with anything better than publishing the results of a survey, according to which 70 percent of urban schoolchildren are satisfied with meals in school canteens. Maxim Lubyanoy, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences and director of the Research Institute of Social Management Problems, believes that the mayor was only additionally disgraced by this action. “There is no talking about any methods here,” says Lubyanoy. “Getting customer feedback is world practice. There's nothing bad about it. The question is not who was surveyed but who was behind it. What kind of answers was expected if schoolchildren were asked by city officials or their teachers? Children still have to study in these schools. Do they need some extra problems? You have to understand that the survey was not anonymous. Sounds like nonsense. Well, they wanted the feedback – they got it. But why was it done publicly? That’s absurd and disgraceful. Obviously, it is just an attempt by the Nizhny Novgorod administration to overhaul their image after the recent mass poisoning in a school serviced by the United Center of Municipal Orders. Everyone was taking a shot at our administration including federal TV channels. The city authorities are trying to turn negative to positive, but it turns out even worse -- just nonsense against the background of the news of a new children poisoning in the kindergarten № 276, also served by this particular center. The actual expertise of the entire section of the Nizhny Novgorod administration, which supervises this sphere, caused a lot of questions. In a civilized society, such experts would have to be dismissed. But here, the situation turns out to be really sad.” Maxim Lubyany himself has two children. Both have rejected meals in secondary and high school. None of the 12 planned new kindergartens in Nizhny Novgorod scheduled for commissioning this year were put into operation. The implementation of the relocation program for the residents from dilapidated and substandard houses is up in the air. The Smart City pilot project, launched in early 2018, is on hold. By November, the plan on safe and quality roads was completed only by half. Valentina Buzmakova recalls that the expert community and the political class in Nizhny Novgorod are talking more and more openly about Vladimir Panov’s possible dismissal. However, Panov himself is not going to quit. On the contrary, he wants to get even more power. For this purpose the public hearings on amendments to the city charter are scheduled for November 22. If the changes are made, the mayor will be in charge of dismissing and appointing heads of district administrations on his own. In case of absence of a district head, his duties will be assigned to a deputy or another person -- at the discretion of the city mayor. City Duma deputies will be punished with a warning, dismissal with revoking of the right to hold positions there until the term of office expires, and dismissal from work in the city legislature on a permanent basis for providing unreliable information on incomes and expenses that are not essential. The mayor will be punished only with a warning for a similar violation.