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#16 - JRL 7257
Official web site for the President of the Russian Federation
July 17, 2003

Introductory words at the meeting on problems of developing small towns in Russia

President Vladimir Putin:

Good day esteemed colleagues,

First of all, I would like to congratulate the residents of Staraya Ladoga with their town's anniversary and I wish you all the very best.

We had a very interesting tour of the museum here today, and then visited the fortress. One of the people involved in supporting Staraya Ladoga and studying its past said that these monuments are part of our historical memory. Unfortunately, our historical memory is very short, we don't give it enough attention, and I think that this is also part of the root of our problems. If we don't know our history well, then it will be hard for us to map out the road for our development. This is the way it has always been, and the way it always will be.

But judging by what is happening here in Staraya Ladoga, there are positive trends at work. There are people who understand how important this historical memory is and are dedicating their lives to its service, and I think it would be right here for me to say a few words of gratitude for the work they are doing. I hope that the governor, the regional authorities and those of Staraya Ladoga itself will give them their direct assistance. And as authorised presidential representative, Valentina Ivanovna [Matviyenko] will also give this issue her attention.

Now we have a chance to talk about the problems that you are dealing with in your daily work. Above all, I would like to hear your opinions about the life and work of Russian small towns today based on your own experience. This is keeping in mind that the law on municipalities is currently being examined, and that the federal government is working actively on creating the financial foundations for the development of municipalities.

First of all, I would like to say that the changes to the law aim at decentralising management in areas where this is justified and where it should lead to more effective management. Management will only become effective, however, if municipalities gain not just new responsibilities, but also new rights. This also means ensuring that municipalities have the necessary financing for the tasks they must deal with today and for their added responsibilities they will take on in accordance with the new law.

The municipalities have a great deal of responsibility, and you know this as well as I do. They have been loaded up with many problems over previous decades, in particular, housing and utilities management, and also healthcare to a large extent, but they have not received sufficient financing to be able to meet all these commitments.

The government is now working on changes to the Tax and Budget Codes that would improve municipal finances, and looking at Staraya Ladoga, I can say that it is precisely these municipalities that are the guardians and bearers of our history and our bygone days.

These small towns are home to a large part of our country's population. Almost half our population lives in small and medium-sized towns, and the well-being of our country depends to a great extent on how life is organised in these municipalities.

I would like to return to the new law and draw your attention to one very important point that we have already discussed more than once before. I would not want this point to go unnoticed. One of the main reasons for changing the legislation is not just to divide powers and responsibilities between the local, regional and federal authorities, but also to ensure that each level of power has the financing needed for its tasks, and to create conditions that will prevent the authorities at a higher-standing level from passing on responsibilities and problems to lower-standing authorities without providing for the necessary financing. Once the new laws are approved and come into force, the way of doing things that has existed up until now should come to an end.

That is what I wanted to say first of all, but I would be very happy to hear your views and listen to the problems that concern you above all. Then we can have an informal exchange of views afterwards and discuss everything.

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