Parliamentary investigations to be common practice soon


MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Vasily Kononenko) - The State Duma Committee for Law and State Development is drafting a law on parliamentary investigations.

The deputies are trying to work out a mechanism for establishing the facts of emergency situations that result in national tragedies, and also to introduce the norm of personal accountability of all high-ranking government officials for their actions.

The working group told RIA Novosti that the investigation commission would enjoy extensive powers. For instance, the deputies will have the right to investigate the actions of any minister, including the prime minister, and also the conduct of the speaker of the lower house, the head of the Audit Chamber and members of the Central Election Commission, while the senators (members of the Federation Council) will be authorized to investigate the actions of the prosecutor-general, the speaker of the upper house and governors. Following a parliamentary investigation, the Duma will be entitled to pass a resolution on the removal of an official from his post in view of "conduct incompatible with his status."

The draft law contains another provision that is groundbreaking for Russia: all testimony to the parliamentary commission must be given under oath. Refusal to swear an oath and the giving of false testimony will be treated as criminal offenses, or will have other very serious consequences. An official may withhold evidence only if he would incriminate himself, but in that case the official must tender his resignation.

This and other provisions of the draft law have clearly been taken from the practice of other countries. However, the experience that Russia has gained when investigating the Beslan tragedy will also be reflected in the law.

As you will recall, Beslan is the town in which Chechen terrorists took a whole school hostage. Many of the circumstances of this tragedy have been investigated, including how the terrorists were able to seize the school, and the effectiveness of the responses of the authorities and the special units.

Deputy Arkady Baskayev, member of the commission on the Beslan tragedy (formerly the commandant of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya), has told RIA Novosti that it is not yet known whether the investigation commission will be a standing commission, as it is in many other countries, or whether commissions will be set up as and when the need arises.

In all other respects, there will be no difference: the commission's broad powers and the mechanisms for exerting influence on government officials will be written into the law. "During the work of our commission, we invited Prime Minister Fradkov, Interior Minister Nurgaliyev, head of the Federal Security Service Patrushev, former president of North Ossetia Dzasokhov, and many other officials to attend our sessions," Arkady Baskayev said.

"All of them gave testimony to the deputies. No one dared to decline under the pretext of protecting investigation secrecy or on any other grounds. Regrettably, there were cases when officials lied. So that this does not happen in the future, the law should introduce strict accountability. I think that we will soon see instances of high-ranking officials resigning before the findings of an investigation have been issued and that this will set a political precedent."

Deputy Nikolai Gonchar, the co-author of a similar document that the last convocation of the State Duma adopted in its first reading, shares this opinion. He believes that the law will introduce strict accountability of government officials. "If an individual refuses to provide evidence that incriminates himself, he will be exercising his constitutional right. But then, in accordance with the law, the Prosecutor-General's Office will immediately recommend that the official be removed from his post on the grounds that he could impede the investigation," he said.

At the same time, the commission must remember that one of the tasks of a criminal investigation into a national tragedy is to answer these two questions: What are its negative consequences for the country? Did the existing laws help to minimize these consequences?

The new law should be adopted this fall. Quite possibly, the parliamentary commission will be made up of State Duma deputies and Federation Council members. Its work will be public and journalists will have access to information on proceedings, though this will not include access to state secrets, operational information or details about the private life of the people under investigation.

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