On a tour of the Altai Territory, Vladimir Shamanov, a State Duma deputy and Hero of Russia, was pleasantly surprised as he visited the village of Stepnoye Ozero. It impressed him not only by its high level of development but also by the fact that residents had no big complaints against the local authorities.
The village prospers thanks to a partnership between government bodies and Kuchuksulphate, a major sodium sulphate producer located in the industrial township of Stepnoye Ozero in Russia’s Altai Territory. However, this prosperity is threatened by corporate raiders who have been attacking the township-forming enterprise for the past four years.
Andrey Gints, head of the Blagoveshchensky district administration, showed Vladimir Shamanov around. The school for some 560 pupils was recently renovated under the programme for socio-economic development of the district with Kuchuksulphate’s being the largest contributor.
The Goldfish kindergarten became another waypoint in Stepnoye Ozero.
“Last year, we combined two kindergartens, made a warm crossing between them and overhauled the swimming pool and an inclusive outdoor playground. The plant’s projects for the residents were worth more than 15 million rubles ($204,750),” Altaipress citedAndrey Gints as saying.
All the social facilities were shown to Vladimir Shamanov. “He saw the church, the community centre, the sports complex, sport courts and children's playgrounds, the school, and the park area, where a large improvement programme is being implemented. It was nice to hear the assessment of a person who has seen so much. He was impressed,” said Gints.
In an interview with altapress.ru, Vladimir Shamanov praised Kuchuksulphate’s participation in the development of the settlement and the district as a whole and made negative comments about the problems associated with the hostile takeover bid.
“The head of the district made a positive impression on me. He consolidated his team and found common ground with the town-forming enterprise and other representatives of small and medium-sized businesses,” Shamanov said sharing impressions of his visit to Stepnoye Ozero. “As a former governor, I am impressed by his philosophy. He is looking for labor reserves and resources, and he actively engages young people. The ability to build a relationship with business is the most important issue for the executive authorities. All the more so if it is a city-forming business. As a former governor, I can say that approaches of this kind are used in the best municipalities. This is an example to follow.”
As Shamanov said, he was impressed most of all by the lack of complaints against the authorities.
“You know, that is what amazed me the most,” he said. “The mood among the residents is optimistic. They see the changes that are taking place here, and this makes them optimistic. I have met no people with some big complaints against the authorities. Though people came up to me and talked to me.”
However, an unpleasant aftertaste remains. Wek.ru already wrote about the fact that there had been illegal raiding attacks against Kuchuksulphate since 2017. This issue was also brought up during Vladimir Shamanov's visit.
“We have discussed this problem with the Head of the district,” Shamanov said. “He said that there was some information about hostile takeover attempts. These are unacceptable things from the 1990s. It turns out that there are still some people who want to line their purse at other people's expense. I have promised the head of the district that if I am elected to the State Duma I will keep this issue under my personal control and provide appropriate assistance.”
Gints calls Kuchuksulphate not only the town-forming enterprise but also the budget-forming one. According to him, the plant paid about 1.6 billion rubles ($21,840) to all levels of the budget along with social fees in 2020.
Investments amounted to 948 million rubles ($12.94 mln) in 2020 alone. A significant portion of the funds was used to renovate the boiler house, a major project worth 4 billion rubles ($54.6 mln). The investment plan for 2021 is 846 million rubles ($11.55 mln).
This allows the company to build up both its tax base and social obligations to the workers. They are reviewed annually in accordance with the collective employment agreement. In particular, wages are increased in line with the inflation rate, which is included in the socio-economic development plan.
Given the average wage of 29,600 rubles ($404.04) in the territory, the current average salary at the plant is 53,000 rubles ($723.45), including 41,000 ($559.65) for the workers.
However, as Dmitry Goryunov says, “even the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not comparable in their impact with the administrative pressure we have faced in recent years.”
“The plant's operations have never gone unnoticed by the watchdog agencies. Up until 2018, all inspections were carried out with minor observations, and we addressed them while they were still in progress. The activity of the regulatory bodies has increased dramatically since 2018, and their opinion has changed drastically despite the fact that the company has been operating with the same technology for 60 years.”
According to information from insiders, frequent visits of inspections coincided with an offer to sell the plant's assets to Alfa Group Consortium, a company known for hostile takeovers. If we refused, we were promised to get problems. Events have been developing exactly according to this scenario for the last four years. They checked everything they could.
Here is the most recent example. They looked into the transfer of land to the enterprise and its corporatisation. It was originally given to the plant by the decree of the USSR Council of Ministers in 1952-1955. The privatisation of 1991-1993, when the enterprise was transferred to the employees, is also being examined. That is, the events that happened 30 years ago are being checked.”
The enterprise is doing well. It pays taxes and helps the village, the distinct and the territory. It trains new employees and takes care of the environment. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, or it might go to pieces.