Duma committee approves bill on ousting MPs for missing sessions

Duma committee approves bill on ousting MPs for missing sessions
The Committee for Constitutional Law has recommended the State Duma pass a bill allowing for the expulsion of MPs who systematically fail to appear at sessions or perform their other duties.

The bill in question was submitted by the center-left opposition party Fair Russia in July last year and has already gained one round of approval from lawmakers. The committee now recommended that the motion be passed in the second and third, final, reading at the State Duma session scheduled for April 22. 

The sponsors of the bill say that the existing Russian laws do not provide for any responsibility for an elected parliamentarian who poorly does their job or stops doing it altogether. Their powers can be terminated only if they are convicted of a criminal offense, for running a business while simultaneously occupying a parliamentary seat, for receiving citizenship of a foreign country and in case of the dissolution of the State Duma.

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The MPs are therefore free from any responsibility to the public, the authors of the draft said and suggested changing the law so that MPs who fail to appear at sessions for 30 days or more can be ousted. The process must be started by the caucus of the deputy in question and is done through the simple voting of the lower house.

The committee also recommended the bill be amended with the provision that the ousting procedure can also be initiated by the parliamentary committee of which the MP in question is a member.

Fair Russia’s move was apparently part of their longstanding conflict with MP Ilya Ponomaryov, who was stripped of parliamentary immunity in 2015 over suspected graft and misuse of state funds, but continues to formally occupy his seat, even though he has lived in the United States since mid-2014.

The procedure was launched at the request of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, which charged Ponomaryov in absentia with complicity in the 2013 scandal at the Skolkovo Foundation, the state-sponsored center for innovation and technology.

Russian investigators discovered that Skolkovo Vice-President Aleksey Beltyukov had paid Ponomaryov about $750,000 for 10 lectures and one research paper. The MP received the fees, but either failed to deliver the promised work completely or executed it very poorly. He pleaded not guilty, saying that the fees were fair and proportionate to the amount of work done.

The probe and subsequent court hearings proved these allegations to be true. Beltyukov was suspended and a criminal investigation into his case is ongoing. Ponomaryov was not prosecuted because of his parliamentary immunity, but the court ordered him to return the money.

READ MORE: State Duma votes to strip opposition MP Ponomaryov of immunity over suspected graft

This prompted the MP to flee the country in mid-2014 as Russian bailiffs could ban his exit over this unpaid debt. Since then he has been residing in the United States and has repeatedly told reporters that he has no intention of returning to Russia as that would be tantamount to voluntarily going to prison.