October 1, 2007
[Putin] Opening Remarks at a United Russia Congress
Gostiny Dvor, Moscow
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN:
Distinguished members of United Russia!
We all know how and when the most important political force in the country was created. It was officially launched on December 1, 2001. And everyone knows that I not only supported the creation of the party but was one of those who spearheaded its creation.
Because as a result of the shock therapy of the mid-1990s, the financial crisis of 1998, and the tragic events in the Caucasus, our economy and society in general were in a depressed state. The same can be said of the morale of the country at that time. Our territorial integrity was under threat.
In these circumstances, it was absolutely essential to consolidate our political forces. And United Russia became a cohesive force throughout Russian society, a force that ensured political stability and the implementation of our socio-economic programmes.
The elections for the State Duma will take place on 2 December. And we all realise that on this date the voters will decide more than just the share of seats in parliament. These elections will determine which direction Russia takes. Will we be able to maintain our positive economic and social momentum, and conserve everything that the people of Russia have created in recent years?
You have linked your party's strategy to the name of the current President, your humble servant. Admittedly, as part of the logic of election campaigns, this makes good sense. But I am not sure that it was a good idea to personalise this plan so much.
Moreover, the force behind it is not an actual, physical person, but rather a great team. In fact it's the result of the work of the government, the regional and local authorities, the Central Bank, and both houses of parliament in the Russian Federation. That said, of course, without the crucial support of a leading political force, without your party, the United Russia party, we would not have been able to implement this plan. We would not have been able to translate it into concrete laws, decrees and governmental regulations.
Virtually all the phases that constitute the basis of the plan have been widely discussed and have elicited a response from millions of Russian citizens. Thus one can say without exaggeration that this is Russian society's plan. It is a long-term strategic plan, which in fact is already working. By using this plan we have brought basic order to the country, and restored the integrity and the efficiency of state institutions.
In the second phase we began by concentrating resources and resolving the most urgent economic and social issues.
Let me remind you that in the last seven years our economy has grown by 60%. Real incomes and I mean real have more than doubled. We have undertaken the first, most pressing reforms in health care and education. These are only first steps. There have been positive changes in demographic trends. And, last but not least, thanks to the national priority projects that we worked out and implemented together, we have seen these positive results come to fruition.
Thus agriculture, with all its well-known problems (and there are lots of problems in every area; I'm sure that we'll talk about this often today), is still developing much more efficiently than it did in Soviet years.
Just today, for example, the Minister of Agriculture reported that Stavropol has collected the greatest harvest in the history of the Stavropol Region. United Russia deputies have been more active than others in promoting the state programmes for agriculture. Now, in accordance with this programme, allocations to villages will almost double by 2010.
At one point commodities played a significant role in our economic success, as did the favourable foreign economic situation. Today, however, the non-commodity sector is responsible for two thirds of the economic recovery. And in recent years the construction, trade and processing industries have been in the forefront of this growth. In the first seven months of this year these industries grew by about 15%. While average growth is about 7%, and the industries I listed are growing at 15%, construction in the last seven months has been 25%, housing more than 30%.
Last year there was a record increase in investment, 13.5%. And for the first seven months of this year it has been more than 20%. All this bodes well for the future.
Nevertheless, we have to admit that in Russian society poverty and substandard living conditions persist. Most importantly and most disturbingly, the income gap between the richest and poorest is growing.
We must do everything possible, both now and in the future, to ensure that economic growth leads to conspicuous changes in the social sphere, in people's lives and in the moral climate of society. This is our strategic objective. To achieve it, we must first create the conditions for faster and more innovative development of the Russian economy. And the chief objective of this new phase is promoting the widespread implementation of inventions, advanced technology and modern management techniques. In the first instance, this should promote a significant increase in productivity. However, without the support of entrepreneurs and private sector initiatives, this would be impossible.
During privatisation, which our people wittily dubbed "grabitisation", businessmen acquired a very negative image. However, it is obvious that today Russia has a new type of modern businessman. Many of them have started from scratch and created their own businesses, and pay their workers a decent salary. Their own and their children's future are bound up with Russia's. They think of Russia, not as a cash cow, but as their homeland. They set the tone for modern and innovative sectors of the economy. Besides, these entrepreneurs already can rely on the institutions for development that we have created: the Development Bank as well as investment and venture capital funds. Today there is money available for any bold, serious, high-quality project.
I would note that it was the votes of the United Russia faction in the federal parliament that provided, literally in a matter of months, the legislation necessary for creating these development institutions. Without such support, without such a firm position on the part of the majority, these and many other initiatives we all remember when this used to happen -- would have simply sunk in the Duma under the weight of empty arguments and trivial lobbying.
At the federal level, we have also established a legal basis to support small and medium-sized businesses. I believe that assisting their development at the local level should be one of the main tasks of the party.
In the coming years we need to radically improve the situation in the areas of energy, road construction, and infrastructure development generally.
Today funding for road construction and capital improvement in towns and villages is increasing dramatically. Every penny of these funds must be spent usefully, and not squandered "along the way". And your party should take effective control of its expenditures.
Another important area is public housing. This year we have created a fund for the reform of housing and communal services to solve the problems of dilapidated and high-risk housing. We invested a lot of money in this, 250 billion rubles. This is many times more than in previous years. It is a huge amount and it should be spent sensibly. People expect us not to waste money, but to change their lives for the better. They are entitled to that.
Now it is important to launch genuinely effective economic mechanisms to prevent the unwarranted growth of tariffs and ensure the high quality of these services.
I want to dwell on another acute problem, that of corruption. It has become a major social and political problem.
The businessman, the investor, any normal person deserves a safeguard for his legal rights. They need an independent and competent justice system, and incorruptible civil servants and law-enforcement officers.
Despite taking steps in this direction, replacing staff and pursuing thousands of criminal cases, we have not been able to radically change the situation. People rightly say that you cannot resolve even an insignificant little problem without paying a bribe.
In recent years, we have increased the penalties for economic crimes and malfeasance. But I would like to say that further developing the legal framework in order to simplify the procedure of establishing criminal liability for corruption could lead to arbitrary decisions, and thus could end up increasing corruption itself.
Neither slogans nor fancy manoeuvers will solve this problem. We need a systematic programme of action, with not only legal measures but also ones relating to financial and organisational aspects, as well as personnel. United Russia can initiate such a programme. But for it to be effective we must keep a close eye on our own actions.
I have already said that power and money should exist separately. This also applies to party lists. That is, those members of the party that can be elected deputies to the State Duma.
Representatives of big business are obviously distinguished people. They have a major influence on what happens in the country and on the economy. And, of course, they can contribute to the party, not only in the financial sense but also in the ideological one. We need their advice as we set about providing the necessary impetus to the economy.
But do we need them personally on party lists? As parliamentarians and figures in charge of important businesses, would they enjoy parliamentary immunity? Would they be able to develop their own businesses, which requires energy and time, while remaining objective when taking decisions that affect the whole of the economy?
I would like to emphasise that I mean nothing personal here. We must simply create a workable system of effective government.
We have substantially increased spending in the social sector in order to better pay public sector employees. As I recall, it has grown in grown 150% in real terms over the last three years. Now we have the opportunity to bring it to the level of the average wage in every region.
But maintaining these agencies and this staff is not an end in itself. The social sphere must ensure the proper delivery of the most important services to millions of Russian citizens.
However, if there has been any change in the public sector, it has been very slow. We still have the same lineups of people seeking information and various documents, the same lack of attention being paid to customers.
It is important not only to increase the provision of social assistance. Here, a profound transformation and the introduction of contemporary models for subsidisation and remuneration is desperately needed. Those who work in the public sector must have the necessary motivation to provide quality service to people and receive a decent wage for doing so.
In education from pre-school to vocational training we need to introduce new educational standards that respond to modern needs. And our health care must be directed to resolving the principal challenge we face, to achieve an increase in life expectance and reduce mortality.
This goal must also involve the promotion of physical education and sport. You know that Sochi's Olympic victory represents a success for all of us.
Many future champions of these Olympic Games are now 14-16 years old. Now we must do everything in our power for the revival of sports and physical education, to convince a new generation to choose a healthy lifestyle.
We don't need to do this for Olympic gold: that is not the point at all. The more places for sport, stadiums, hockey rinks and football fields, the more children and adolescents who take up sport, the easier it is to protect them from drug abuse, drunkenness and criminal influences.
I hope that members of United Russia will act comprehensively to address the problem of sport for children and youth in our country. The Olympics, sport and health must become a single common idea that will unite and strengthen our nation.
United Russia has traditionally paid a lot of attention to the older generation and pensioners. Together we have taken an extremely important decision in choosing to use part of the money in the Stabilisation Fund to encourage voluntary pension savings in the form of a "retirement capital" for Russian citizens. And also to the make the Pension Fund sustainable, which will in turn lead to a progressive rise in pensions. But this is not enough.
I think that one of United Russia's goals should be targeted assistance and specific care for people from the older generation. At the local level, in every city, district and township the party must know how pensioners and veterans live, and what kind of specific help each of them needs. And not only know what is needed but also organise things so that the aid reaches the people who need it. For this, you must use all the capacities offered by party structures and all of its youth organisations. In general you must work more directly with the citizens. Do not wait in offices for applicants to come with curtseys and requests, but rather take a very active interest in their human needs.
And, of course, the party must continue to evolve and renew itself, making room for energetic, talented and creative people. You must work harder to attract the young, workers, farmers, businessmen, teachers and doctors to your ranks. I think that is worth thinking about a corresponding renewal of the highest federal and regional party offices.
In recent years we have done much to strengthen our army and navy. We have launched a large-scale programme of rearmament and provided a steadily rising cash allowance. In the coming years the problem of housing for military personnel will be completely solved.
But to be frank, these are only the first steps towards a genuine renewal of the armed forces. We must go further to enhance the prestige of dedicated service, and to recover the military tradition of honour.
United Russia should make greater use of its political resources to help our armed forces acquire a new, modern face, to raise the spirit of the Russian army and its combat readiness.
I note that the present world order requires an independent Russia, which stands for a just solution to international problems and a democratic world order. We are open to partnership and cooperation, and to honest and equal dialogue. But we are also well aware that today's world is one of fierce competition. And we need to be strong and united, to take part in such a competition and win.
In the last century, our homeland went through a series of upheavals. We cannot afford to repeat old mistakes, and we cannot lose the historic chance for peace and stable development.
And therefore United Russia, a party that accepts its political responsibility for the course it has adopted, can have only one objective: victory in the forthcoming elections, a victory won in a fair fight.
But we don't need victory for its own sake. We need it to guarantee the stable development of the country, in order to make all the plans a reality and justify the expectations of millions of Russian citizens. Their hopes for a better lot cannot be disappointed.
The time has come to prove that Russia is indeed a great country. A country that is is proud of its citizens and respected by its neighbours, a country where human dignity and rights are respected above all else. This is precisely why we have worked together, enjoyed success together and sometimes faced adversity.
I am sure that United Russia is ready and, supported by society, will fight for its programme of transformation, a programme designed for the prosperity of Russia and its people.