President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
We will hold several types of working meetings here in the Far East today. We will begin in this group with a discussion of the progress made on the relief efforts following last year’s floods in the Far East. I would like to remind you of our agreement that this specific issue, along with the implementation of corresponding instructions and the Presidential Executive Order will be under constant control.
I would like to note that overall, over 40 billion rubles [$1.2 billion] have been allocated from the federal budget to support the flood victims and perform restoration work. On the whole, all the targets have been met on schedule. However, I said ‘on the whole’, which means that not everything is proceeding according to plan.
You have restored 350 facilities in the utilities system, 332 fuel and energy facilities, 638 kilometres of power lines, 929 kilometres of roads and 162 bridges. This year you will have to reconstruct another 577 kilometres of roads, build 95 bridges and 304 dams.
Today I would like to touch upon the most acute issues and problems that have to do with the reconstruction work. First I would like to hear a report on how housing is being provided to the people whose homes were destroyed in the flood. I am referring to the allocation of existing flats and the construction of new homes, the payment of compensation so people can buy their own housing on the secondary market and the allocation of funds for capital repairs.
Regardless of the form of state support, all the flood victims must be provided with comfortable, up-to-date housing as soon as possible. This should also include the necessary transportation, engineering and social infrastructure. The deadline is the beginning of the 4th quarter of this year.
I have just visited one of the villages together with Mr Kozhemyako [Amur Region Governor], and we saw that everything is proceeding on schedule. The quality of the work is good and the infrastructure is being developed. (Addressing Deputy Prime Minister – Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev) Mr Trutnev, I would like you to very carefully monitor the schedule and quality of the work done in Amur Region and all the other regions of the Far East that were hit by the flood. If you notice anyone falling behind, you should draw the attention of both those who are doing the job and the regional and municipal authorities, making sure everything is done with high quality and on time.
All construction schedules should be complied with. There should be close interaction with the contractors. Fortunately, companies are starting up here in the Far East that produce elements of the necessary infrastructure, as well as construction facilities. Mr Kozhemyako told me a large part of the equipment is produced in Khabarovsk, and there are local construction companies there. It is much easier and cheaper to deliver goods from there; besides, this creates new jobs, and the region’s tax base is growing. Therefore, we should definitely use local contractors. However, we should at the same time carefully control the quality of their work.
Where necessary we should provide consultations to the population on housing construction and purchasing. It is also very important to try to understand people’s problems, consider each case individually, without taking a formalistic approach.
A woman spoke of her situation today: she did not document her damaged housing on time. You have to look into this. We agreed that if people have been recognised as victims, if they lived in such homes and lost them, they should receive housing and get registered there in compliance with the acting legislation. After registration, they will receive certain rights, but basically they cannot be evicted. However, we should make sure that all the citizens’ lawful rights are respected so that within the legal framework they can, given proper grounding, secure their ownership of the housing at a later time.
Regarding the re-appraisal of housing – as you may remember, this is something we agreed on when I visited the Far East on New Year. Many people said then that after the winter the situation may deteriorate for many of them, because winters here are long, and the houses are damp, so things could change for the worse for many homes. This is actually happening in many cases, with hundreds of homes. I asked you to pay attention to this and conduct a re-appraisal in spring, with special commissions making the final decision.
Clearly, not all the homes that withstood the flood have survived the winter. Now many of them are unfit for living. Therefore, decisions should be made as soon as possible regarding the number of people who need new housing and how much more housing needs to be built. At the same time, it would be good to make sure we have extra housing available for the families that will receive the approval for relocation after the repeated inspection of their homes.
The next issue is assistance to agricultural producers. Large agricultural areas were flooded in the Far East and a significant part of the crops was lost. It is important to help agricultural producers in these hard times. I would like to remind you that we agreed to pay subsidies to the regions hit by the floods to cover the agricultural producers’ losses so they can pay interest on loans and leases, and to assist them in restoring the flooded agricultural lands. Appropriate funds have been transferred to the regions.
The Governor and I have been talking, and he has indicated that the assistance provided by Rosagroleasing was reduced this year. He asked the Government on behalf of other authorities in the Far East to consider this issue again.
Mr Trutnev, I would like you to prepare proposals together with the governors, which, as I understand, will boil down to providing additional funding to Rosagroleasing. Possibly this should be done on a regional scale, taking into account not only the special position of the Far East and its development priorities, but also the fact that the region was badly damaged in the flood and is recovering with difficulty. The restoration of agriculture requires new equipment.
If Rosagroleasing used to provide hundreds of units of equipment in Amur Region, now the numbers have gone down to dozens. This is definitely not enough and I would like you to study this carefully. The work should involve the Ministry of Agriculture, the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy, Deputy Prime Minister and the Finance Ministry. We should not waste money, of course, but we should provide proper support wherever it is required.
I would also like you to report how the funds that have already been allocated are reaching the specific recipients – this is very important. We have seen many occasions when in similar situations funds from the federal budget are allocated but they do not reach the actual recipients. I would like to hear a report on the situation here – how well the agricultural producers are supplied with seeds, fertiliser, fuel and lubricants and if they need any additional federal support.
And one more thing. Given the scale of the disaster, we decided to pay compensation to those citizens who have lost the crops on their personal plots of land. This is a unique form of support, we have never done this before – this is the first time. We never did this because it is very difficult to properly appraise and calculate the losses. However, in this case we agreed that we should at least try meeting people’s needs, and I would like to hear your assessment of these efforts.
Clearly, apart from support to agricultural producers and the construction of new housing there is a whole range of other tasks. This includes the final restoration of the infrastructure and finishing repair work on the power and utilities facilities that were damaged by the flood.
I remember when we were meeting with the heads of municipalities they raised this issue and said it was possible to deliver seeds, fuel and lubricants. A lot more could be done, but if a local bridge is not built on time, all the efforts are wasted. Therefore, the restoration of the infrastructure is of vital importance.
No less important is the implementation of measures to prevent such situations in the future. I am referring to the construction of new hydropower facilities, dredging riverbeds and increasing the precision of meteorological forecasting. This is a very complicated job, but we are speaking of restoring a proper forecasting system. I would like to know what is being done here, how this is being resolved. Let us consider this in detail.
In conclusion, I would like to stress yet again that the development of the Far Eastern regions, of their economies, infrastructure, social sphere and improving the living standards is a strategic national priority. I mentioned this in my Address to the Federal Assembly. Nothing has changed; moreover, we need to enhance our efforts here.
I can see that generally, the Government is already working on this – specific decisions are made, despite the fact that there was a certain time lag and funding issues. Nevertheless, I can see that the Government has taken a business-like approach here. We need to increase the pace of our work and to keep it up. We must be done in all areas, by all branches, all the ministries and agencies together with the regional authorities.
Let us begin our consideration of the issues that we have met to discuss.
Vladimir Putin: We are entering the most critical period. Much has already been done, but the most favourable time – June, July and August – is just ahead of us (as we are at the end of May). We could say we have gathered today to conduct an interim assessment of what has been done. And sometime in early September or late August, I will certainly come here again to see what is happening in the final phase.
Furthermore, next time, I would like to meet with heads of municipalities, as I did immediately after the floods, to hear them out on how they assess the situation at the time when we convene.
And finally, this is a major tragedy, and naturally, we must help people, and we certainly will. But we should also use this to create additional conditions for developing the region overall.
We have major programmes for developing the Far East. And if we are to adjust anything here, it will only be to increase the support. All relief efforts following the flood must be used as a factor for developing the region overall. Please take this into account.