The leaders of several North Caucasus republics have rejected as misplaced criticism by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov of how they spend the considerable sums of money allocated from the federal budget to balance their budgets.
They warn that complying with Medvedev's call to reallocate budget funds in order to fulfill the priority tasks outlined by President Vladimir Putin in May 2012 could prove counterproductive.
Speaking on August 19 at a session in Pyatigorsk of the government commission to develop the North Caucasus Federal District (SKFO), Medvedev noted that the region as a whole has failed to meet many of the goals Putin set, including increasing public-sector salaries, which are 40 percent lower
in the North Caucasus than the national average.
Siluanov for his part complained that the ratio of government officials to population and the cost of that bureaucracy are far higher in several North Caucasus republics than the national average. He pointed out
that while the national average is 1.8 government officials per 1,000 inhabitants, in Ingushetia it is 4.6, in Chechnya 3.5, and in the SKFO as a whole 2.1.
In addition, Siluanov continued, budget expenditure on maintaining that bureaucracy is 3,000 rubles ($90.53) per 1,000 head of population in Chechnya and 2,000 rubles in Kabardino-Balkaria, compared with the national average of 1,500 rubles. He advocated slimming down those apparently bloated bureaucracies in order to free up funds to finance Putin's strategic priorities.
Specifically, Siluanov advocated economizing on the number of cars available to local officials. He noted that Chechnya has the highest number of government cars: half of the total for the entire SKFO. Some of those vehicles can be seen in use here
escorting Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.
North Caucasus leaders lost no time challenging Siluanov's statistics. Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov argued that Siluanov's figures were both inaccurate and misleading. He said
Ingushetia's population is 200,000 more than the officially recorded 490,000, while the total number of government and local officials is 2,250, rather than the 3,149 cited by Siluanov.
Yevkurov further pointed out that Ingushetia may be the smallest of the 83 federation subjects, but it still needs the same number of government ministries and departments as larger entities. He said most of the republic’s government ministries and departments are under- rather than overstaffed.
Kadyrov's press spokesman Alvi Karimov similarly rejected the figures Siluanov cited. Karimov noted that Kadyrov is constantly "optimizing" the government and in May merged three ministries into one. (He failed to mention that one of those three ministries had been created only two months earlier.) Karimov claimed that the true ratio of bureaucrats to population in Chechnya is half that for other regions.
The statistics Siluanov adduced will doubtless serve as grist to the mills of those Russian nationalists who argue that Moscow should "stop feeding the Caucasus." But as a recent analysis
on the website kavpolit.com pointed out, the widely held perception that the North Caucasus is the most heavily subsidized region of Russia is erroneous, insofar as the SKFO as a whole, and its individual republics, receive less in federal subsidies than other federal districts and individual federation subjects.
Thus, in 2010, the Volga Federal District received 303 billion rubles, the Siberian Federal District 240 billion, and the Far Eastern Federal District 196 billion, compared with 156 billion for the SKFO. Similarly, Chechnya in 2010 received 13.1 billion rubles in subsidies, while Kamchatka Krai and Yakutia received almost double and three times that amount respectively (22.3 billion and 39.3 billion). In per capita terms, too, the North Caucasus receives less in subsidies than do larger, less densely populated regions in the Far East.
Moreover, individual North Caucasus republics have succeeded in recent years in drastically reducing
the percentage of budget spending financed by federal subsidies. Under President Arsen Kanokov, Kabardino-Balkaria has slashed
that percentage from 72 percent in 2005 to 48 percent in 2011. In Chechnya, by contrast, the level of subsidies in 2008 was 95 percent; it has since decreased to around 90 percent.
Those percentages are only one aspect of the overall picture, however. Given the incremental steep increases in the budgets of all the SKFO republics, the total amount Moscow contributes to their budgets in cash terms is rising faster than the national average. Siluanov said that total subsidies for the SKFO have risen by 20 percent, compared with 5 percent for Russia as a whole. He did not say over what time period. But even so, total subsidies to the North Caucasus amount to just 0.84 percent of the entire Russian budget, according to kavpolit.com.