Clouds And Money Over Roshydromet

Clouds And Money Over Roshydromet
Another chief of Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) has lost his job. Maxim Yakovenko has been weather service director since 2017. Previously, he had worked as Roshydromet deputy chief for three years. He was taken to task at a meeting chaired by Putin in September, which addressed the floods in the Far East.

Yevgeny Zinichev, Russian Emergency Situations Minister blamed Roshydromet’s inefficiency for the grave situation, though this brand of weather forecasting is our tradition inherited from the Soviet era. Back then, people used to take an umbrella when going out if Roshydromet had promised a cloudless sunny day. Surprisingly, Zinichev seems to have forgotten it.

It looks like Roshydromet’s top post is cursed forever and ever. Yakovenko’s predecessor Alexander Frolov resigned after similar scandals with the Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM). At least for the sake of decency, the official reason was Frolov’s venerable age. Alexander Bedritsky holds the longest employment record as Rodhydromet chief in the company’s recent history, from 1993 to 2009. During this period, Bedritsky also headed the World Meteorological Organization. Political cooling and freezing, inevitable in bureaucratic games, were a child's play for the experienced polar explorer. He was involved in corruption scandals, too. For example, in late 2003, the Audit Chamber found that the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), controlled by Roshydromet, had ineffectively used 372,000 rubles and frozen some 50 million rubles in foreign currency on a foreign account of a contractor. However, Bedritsky kept his job that time. But in 2009, Frolov took his place, and things started rolling.

In 2014, Frolov was expected to step down as the company had lost 500 million rubles allocated for a Yak-42 plane and equipment for geophysical monitoring of the atmosphere. At that time, Roshydromet got away with it, fighting Flolov’s opponents with their own methods: rumors and gossip, as well as paid anonymous comments in the media. Frolov explained that one billion rubles had been allocated for two aircraft, but that all the money had been spent to fully equip one. Everybody had allegedly forgotten laboratory equipment, and only counted the cost of the plane. Federal ministries’ officials seem to be so forgetful.

In 2017, Roshydromet was caught in another scandal involving Frolov’s deputy Elena Gangalo. She began to work for Roshydromet in 2011 as supervisor of company finance and the Geophysics federal programme. Incidentally, it was Yakovenko who became programme coordinator after Gangalo resigned in 2015. Rumor has it police zeroed in on Gangalo after the crash of the Tu-154 in which Docror Lisa and the Aleksandrov ensemble were killed. A few days later, Andrey Dubovetsky, head of the Central Aerological Observatory (CAO) in Dolgoprudny, Moscow Region, and his deputy Andrey Nechta, were fired.

It turned out that Nechta had been a longtime repeat offender. CAO staffers believed that he was involved in the theft of billions of rubles allocated for the radar programme which eventually failed. Previously, Nechta had been convicted for rape, possession of drugs and weapons, thefts and forged documents. His university degree was a fake and he seemed to have connections to Gangalo and Frolov.

The biggest scandal that caused Mr. Frolov's “retirement” followed the thunderstorm in Moscow in May 2017. It killed 18 people and injured another 170. The damage was tremendous: torn down roofs, power outages and thousands of wrecked cars. Experts said it was the most devastating disaster in Moscow since 1904.

At first, they traditionally pointed the finger at the Emergency Situations Ministry. Not everybody had received its SMS warning about the hurricane. In turn, the Ministry shifted the blame onto Roshydromet that had predicted a wind speed increase to 22 meters per second, though a state of emergency is announced with a wind of 25 meters per second. Of course, Frolov and his subordinates made a mistake, for the umpteenth time.

From May to July, Frolov rolled with the punches and fought off the attacks as the authorities and law enforcers took a pause. Again, as tradition demands, Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky criticized the Roshydromet chief. He said he had got wet to the skin for the first time in his life all because of a weather forecast, and that Frolov might have kept his staff in a cellar where they could not see how much their forecasts differed from the reality. Frolov only sighed complaining about the old politician’s being too emotional. In August, the Prosecutor General’s Office accused Frolov of failing to have the emergency services prepared for the Moscow hurricane. On top of that, he was blamed for eight Russian regions having no air pollution monitoring systems..

After the 2017 scandal, Maxim Yakovenko was appointed Roshydromet director . He immediately cracked down on the CAO administration. Next, Yakovenko started to reorganize the weather service and even announced the launch of 27 satellites to monitor the weather and the Northern Sea Route. However, the global space programs lacked feasibility as did the network of meteorological stations. Instead of the 335 weather radars in the announced upgrade, only 34 are currently operating.

At present, the former Roshydromet head is blamed for the unimplemented space projects and reckless and unjustified layoffs of many professionals who had worked for the good of the federal service for many years.

The Audit Chamber reports on Roshydromet’s financial situation raise questions. The federal service did not commission any of the scheduled 44 facilities in 2015 and failed to complete the work assignment worth one billion rubles. The auditors found out that Roshydromet had submitted the Informatization Plans for 2016, 2017 and 2018 to the Communications Ministry 11 months after the deadline. Although Roshydromet had no approved plan, it financed informatization activities to the tune of 8.1 million rubles.

In this situation, a big scandal broke out as an OOO Industrial-Service with a staff of five won an online tender held by the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. A handsome sum of 453,919,549.78 rubles should have been spent on the modernization of the Roshydromet monitoring network in 2019.

The development of the monitoring network is one of the focus areas of the national project “Ecology.” It will launch an analytical system “to determine the presence and concentration of chemicals, gases and dust in the atmosphere.” This data makes groundwork for the Chisty Vozdukh (Clean Air) project.

The fraud did not go unnoticed: after large forest fires in Siberia and the Tulun flood in the Irkutsk region, as well as Yakovenko's excuses blaming inaccurate forecasts, the government lost its patience. The dismissal of Maksim Yakovenko might be the first step towards Roshydromet reorganization, which was repeatedly announced by Minister of Natural Resources Dmitry Kobylkin said. “The obvious climate changes are already becoming systemic. We have to increase the number of stationary meteorological stations and work harder on preventing and forecasting. Roshydromet is facing major reorganization; it is important,” Kobylkin said at the Eastern Economic Forum.

A week ago, he introduced new Roshydromet head Igor Shumakov, who earlier was deputy director of the organization to the federal service employees.

According to Kobylkin, Shumakov was tasked with making Roshydromet one of the modern, developed and best services in the world.” To accomplish this goal, it is necessary to improve the reliability of the monitoring, forecasting and warning systems and ensure the safety of territory and strategic sectors of the economy.

In addition, Kobylkin promised that the ministry and the government would propose a plan to develop Roshydromet and upgrade its facilities.

Taking into account the fact that Shumakov graduated from Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and Informatics, and worked at a government body, he is probably not well-versed in meteorology. He just has to fit into the system and count the money well.