Has Kaluga Region Failed National Project for Road Repairs?

Has Kaluga Region Failed National Project for Road Repairs?

Photo: https://nikatv.ru/

Shortly before his resignation, Anatoly Artamonov, the governor of the Kaluga region, located 100 km to the southwest of Moscow, said that in 2019, the region exceeded the target figures of the national project ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ by a factor of 1.6. Then why have the repair works of Kaluga roads been associated with endless scandals over the past seven years?

As Gov. Artamonov addressed the Kaluga region legislature shortly before his resignation, he paid special attention to the implementation of national projects. In particular, he said that in 2019, the Kaluga region exceeded the target figures of the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ national project by 1.6 times. "With the target of 142 km, a total of 66 roads with the length of 240 km were repaired in three cities and twelve districts of the region," said Artamonov. However, in November 2019, the very same Artamonov admitted that the project was about to flop. Moreover, he also threatened workers, saying they would get “kicked out of their job.” Although contractors were assuring officials and the residents throughout last summer that the works would be completed by September 1, they eventually had to extend the deadlines – first through December 1, and then even through to the end of the year. The situation was so tense that Artamonov had to apologize to the residents of the region:

"I wanted to apologize to the residents of the regional center for the outrages that occurred as a result of the inept organization of these works by city experts.”

According to ProkhodyaMiMo Telegram-channel, some serious regional conflicts were behind Artamonov’s forceful statement. After a trip to Kaluga visit of deputy prime minister Maxim Akimov to Kaluga, who leveled sharp criticism at the situation around the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ project, Artamonov demanded an immediate dismissal of Alexey Volkov, the official who was in charge of implementing this national project in the city. At first, Volkov agreed to quit but then changed his mind.

Immediately after the incident, social networks were flooded with the information that on October 4, Gov. Artamonov signed Decree No.455 to decorate the above-mentioned Alexey Volkov with an anniversary medal -- "75 years of the Kaluga region." But in November, Artamonov made an unambiguous hint at Volkov’s role in the road issue: "People who organized these works, should not receive awards, but get kicked out of their job!”

It should be noted that although the crisis was formally dispelled, and the project ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ key performance indicators were met and even exceeded, it was Artamonov who left his post. In the meantime, Volkov continues to work in the city administration just as if nothing has happened. We decided to gain insight of some background information on the story and find out how come that Kaluga recently got on the federal agenda because of an increasing frequency of road scandals.

For the first time the information about a possible failure of the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ national project in Kaluga occurred in early September of last year. Then the Kaluga-based activist Vyacheslav Gorbatin published an article which said that the Lipetsk Doroga (Lipetsk Road) company, the general contractor, had refused to fulfill two municipal contracts worth about 0.5 bln rubles ($7.46 mln.) According to the terms of these contracts, it was necessary to complete repair works on 27 roads in the city of Kaluga by September 1, 2019. In spring both the city authorities and the contractors themselves assured that the works were on track. However, already in July, the media and social networks started publishing articles about the poor quality, dismal organization and slow pace of those works. In particular, it was reported that most of the city roads embraced by the national project were dug up, with a lot of holes from negligent milling and hatches sticking out of the roads and remaining mostly uncovered. The Investigative Committee got interested in this information, and Gorbatin was summoned for an explanation regarding his publications.

Although as early as August 26, Aleksey Volkov, first deputy mayor and mentor of the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ project reported that the works were going on as scheduled, on September 1 -- exactly on the date of the end of road repairs according to the plan -- Lipetsk Doroga published a statement "on violation of law in the implementation of municipal contracts and exposure of the elements of corruption," which was sent to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee. In this statement, Lipetsk Doroga company explains why it quit the project.

In March 2019, it won a bidding contest for the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ and already in April it signed two municipal contracts. Lipetsk Doroga invited OOO TSS Torgovy Dom [Trade House] as one of the subcontractors. According to the statement, the latter was strongly recommended by Kaluga officials. Since April, all funds under the contracts have been transferred to the accounts of TSS Torgovy Dom, while Lipetsk Doroga has received nothing for services it has rendered. The company’s numerous attempts to get the payment for them were unsuccessful. Moreover, , some other companies started to carry out repair works, too, on the roads included in the municipal contracts despite the fact that Lipetsk Doroga had not signed any subcontracts with them. As a result, on August 14, 2019 Lipetsk Doroga suspended operations under the agreement. On August 19, the company's engineers left Kaluga, as noted in the statement, "because of ... real fear for their safety and the safety of their families.” In the same statement Lipetsk Doroga named the official, who, in its opinion, is to blame for the situation -- Tatiana Bobkova, head of the Single Order Services for Urban Economy municipal enterprise."

In response, Dmitry Razumovsky, mayor of Kaluga, rushed to blame Lipetsk Doroga for all the problems and declared his intention to sue the contractor for the failure of ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads.’ His deputy Volkov said that all funds allocated from the budget for road repairing were remitted strictly on instructions from Lipetsk Doroga representatives. Razumovsky assured that the initiative to break the contract off had come from the city authorities, which had serious claims against the contractor's work. Almost the same day, on the government procurement website, the authorities of Kaluga announced new contests to repair the roads that Lipetsk Doroga had not managed to finish. The contract was worth 228,397,000 rubles ($3,409,373.38), while the second one – 167,833,000 rubles ($2,505,310.32.) Commenting on them, Volkov explained to reporters that about 116 mln rubles ($1,731,578.4) had already been paid to the previous contractors, while the remaining unspent funds would be put up for a contest. Answering the question why the list of roads on the government procurements website also included the ones that had allegedly have been repaired, Volkov said that they required improvements and/or revamping. Volkov's statement that a new contractor will be able to complete the works within 20 days -- from September 10 to October 1 – raised the most questions among Kaluga residents.

As well-informed sources in the city administration explained to wek.ru, the figures reflecting the whole situation look roughly as follows: a total of 580 mln rubles ($8,657,892) was provided for the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ project and 10,000 rubles ($149,27) for the registered capital of Lipetsk Doroga. The latter repeatedly took part in city auctions together with firms which belonged to the Geghamyan brothers. For 4.5 months of work about 120 mln rubles ($1.8 mln) were received, which were paid directly to one of the companies run by the same Geghamyan brothers -- TSS Trading House. Even after Lipetsk Doroga had left the TSS Trading House project, the latter continued operating under the pretext of road maintenance. When the city authorities announced a new auction for 500 mln rubles ($7.46 mln), it was won by OOO BusinessCapital. Our sources have noticed that 840 mln rubles ($12.5 mln), which have been spent on road repairs, amount to one-tenth of the regional budget.

Vladislav Sakharchuk, a deputy of the Kaluga City Duma, writes that the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ project has successfully completed. "A public committee has accepted all the 27 roads under the project plus another two roads (the Svetlaya and Silikatny-Annenki highways) scheduled for repairs in 2020. Only two of them were accepted without any remarks. The most extensive list of claims concerns Lenin Street. All the shortcomings should be eliminated by June 2020. The initial contractor, Lipetsk Doroga, is trying to bring on a lawsuit, but it is unlikely to win it. The Moor, represented by Alexey Volkov, has done his duty and has been allowed to switch over to another -- and probably more responsible – scope of works.” Sakharchuk is convinced that this story will not have any impact on the electoral situation in 2020: “The city administration has survived. It weathered the unprecedented storm on the part of the social networks’ audience, completed the national project and did not surrender any of their people... In fact, the discontent of Facebook’s users has no effect on the elections, and VK (VKontakte) bots’ activity is not converted into votes. Therefore, in 2020, ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads’ will not be the dominant theme of the election campaign. So, the project ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads-2019’ is over, and here is to the ‘Safe and High-Quality Roads-2020’! And the person who will have to deal with the aftermaths is the new head of the urban management department who may be appointed next week ."

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