MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti)
Kazan Transport Officials Ban Stalin Bus
Transport officials from the City Hall in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, have vetoed a plan to adorn a municipal bus with the portrait of Joseph Stalin and the text of his famous toast to the health of the Russian people.
According to Yelena Baltina, an activist with the Kazan branch of Sut’ Vremeni, a nationwide public movement, local volunteers raised the funds and designed a picture layout, intending to have it placed on the sides of a single bus that would ply the streets of Kazan during May. However, they were turned down by two agencies specializing in transport advertising.
The advertisers explained that they have been tacitly discouraged from going ahead with the Victory Bus project by the City Hall. “We were told at one agency that Stalin’s toast ‘I would like to propose that we drink to the health of the Soviet people, and primarily to the health of the Russian people’ may incite interethnic hatred, while Stalin’s portraits represented elements of political advertising,” Baltina said.
Presumably the unofficial ban came from Aidar Abdulkhakov, chairman of the Municipal Committee for Transport and Communications. A spokesman for the City Hall Press Service could neither confirm nor deny the allegation. Mr. Abdulkhakov himself was not available for comment.
The activists are planning to complain to the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare and to contact municipal transport companies directly, bypassing advertising agencies.
Putin Proposes Investing Pension Money in Pipelines, Roads
Russians’ pension savings, totaling 4 trillion rubles ($136bn), are not yielding enough profit. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed investing them in pipelines, railways and motorways.
Pension reform was a major focus of the annual meeting of the Economic Development Ministry Board. Russia will not be able to balance its budget – which the president-elect plans to achieve in 2015 – unless its pension system is improved, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina said.
As things stand, the pension system will run a deficit at 3 percent-4 percent of GDP soon, while raising taxes is not an option because this stimulates “gray” salary schemes, she added. Last year, the share of undeclared wages reached 56.1 percent of the payroll fund (2006 level) after social insurance contributions were raised to 34 percent.
The only viable option is to optimize the pension system through changing early retirement rules, increasing the minimum service record requirement, stimulating later retirement and voluntary pension insurance, Nabiullina said. Unlike the proposal of the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, Nabiullina’s list does not include raising the retirement age.
Putin did not argue with that. However, the investment options for pension savings sparked some debate.
“This year, pension savings will reach 4 trillion rubles,” Putin said. “However, the existing rules make it difficult to manage the money efficiently, for example by investing in reliable long-term infrastructure projects such as pipelines, railways and motorways. This way the money is certain to yield an excellent profit.”
He insisted that the Economics Ministry as well and the Finance Ministry and Bank VEB, which manages pension funds, should “think together” of ways to invest the money.
At this point, pension savings are certainly not yielding big returns. According to the Pension Fund’s report, only 31 asset management companies closed 2011 in the black, and only two of them showed profits 1.5 percent above inflation.
The government has also failed to safeguard people’s savings, with last year’s returns standing at 5.47 percent (down from 7.52 percent in the previous three years). Future pensioners’ incomes depreciate not only because of high inflation, but also due to the ineffective securities market, low profitability of government papers and corporate bonds, a VEB source explained.
Incidentally, the money transferred to one of the non-government pension funds has yielded slightly better returns, although the difference is not drastic. According to the Accounts Chamber, with accumulated inflation at 80 percent from 2005-2010, real effective growth in pension savings was between 51 percent and 76 percent.
Among other issues discussed at the meting, Putin proposed introducing an individualized system of sanctions for ineffective state officials, who will be assessed by their Key Performance Indicators, a standard used by Western countries. He also proposed introducing tax holidays for startup businesses.
Putin May Cede Leadership of United Russia to Medvedev
Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin may announce at his meeting with United Russia members today that he is stepping down from the post of party leader. Neither Putin nor Medvedev held that post when they were Russian presidents. Dmitry Medvedev, who is to be approved as prime minister of May 8, may be offered the post at a meeting with United Russia members on April 27.
Putin will meet with 40 secretaries of United Russia’s regional branches and Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachev, Saratov Governor Valery Radayev and head of Mordovia Nikolai Merkushkin, who are leaders of United Russia regional branches. The meeting, which will discuss the party’s future, will also be attended by members of its General Council Presidium.
Sergei Neverov, Secretary of United Russia’s General Council Presidium, said that Putin had proposed to hold the meeting to discuss the upcoming convention. Neverov’s deputy Sergei Zheleznyak said they would also talk about amendments to the charter, including those related to party leadership.
Sources told Kommersant that Putin is expected to announce his resignation from the post of United Russia leader at the meeting.
On April 14, 2008, the United Russia convention amended the charter to introduce the post of party chairman. The following day the post was offered to Putin, giving him unlimited power in the party, including the right to propose candidates to leading posts and to suspend the authority of any party leaders and members and the decisions of its leading agencies (excluding the party convention). Only the convention can replace the chairman by two-thirds of the vote, but the chairman can also resign voluntarily.
Neverov and Zheleznyak said the Russian president is traditionally a non-partisan leader so that he can deal with all parties, and that Putin agreed to become Untied Russia leader only when he became prime minister.
Judging by the United Russia statements, the country’s leadership has taken into account people’s negative reaction to the swap of seats between Putin and Medvedev announced at the party’s convention last year. Putin said that he and Medvedev had agreed on the issue long ago. This time the change in the party leadership, if any, will be announced a month before the convention, so as to give people in the regions a chance to discuss the swap. However, the final decision will be made at the convention, Neverov and Zheleznyak said. A Kommersant source in the President’s Executive Office said it is very important that Medvedev and Putin meet with United Russia members before Putin’s inauguration.
Putin’s meeting with United Russia will also focus on the party’s structure and its operation. According to Zheleznyak, the party’s development should be adjusted to new political trends. In particular, the party must decide on the way to “incorporate party platforms [former clubs] in the decision-making algorithm” and on participating in gubernatorial elections, he said, notably the nomination of regional branches’ leaders for governors.
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