President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Alexander Dmitryevich, some time ago I signed an order approving the new composition of the Council on Priority National Projects and of its presidium. We have worked on these projects for several years: there have been some successes but there are still a large number of problems that need to be resolved.
First, I would like to make sure that we don’t lose all the momentum that we have built up, and that we continue to operate actively in all the areas that we chose to target with priority national projects.
Secondly, you have been one of the key participants in this process, both within the Council and in the allocation of responsibilities within the government cabinet, and I would like to hear from you about just what you think our priorities should be now, where the government should focus its attention, and what remains to be done.
Please go ahead.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov: Dear Dmitry Anatolyevich! First, I want to say that we have already had some substantial successes in the implementation of national projects in the first half of the year. In the first instance, I would single out the project Health, where our demographic policies continue to show positive results. Fertility continues to increase. During the first half of the year the birth rate went up nine percent.
Dmitry Medvedev: Compared to the first half of last year?
Alexander Zhukov: Yes, compared to the first six months of last year. 680 thousand children were born in the first half of 2008, as I said, nine percent more than last year, while the drop in population decreased by 17 percent compared to last year. And infant mortality has declined. True, not perhaps by as much as we would like, but the trend is positive.
This is undoubtedly the result of policies that we have implemented.
[Then Alexander Zhukov provided data about the provision of medical assistance to infants in the first year of life, in terms of the number of government certificates for maternity capital that have been issued and cash payments for health care workers.]
In general, in 2008 average wages for doctors in medical institutions in the health care system came to 11.2 thousand rubles. By comparison, in 2007 they were 8.9 thousand and in 2006 6.7 thousand.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is for all categories of doctors?
Alexander Zhukov: The average for all categories.
We continue to work to provide high-tech medical care. I am referring to the construction and commissioning of fourteen high technology federal centres. <…> In May we adopted changes in the targeted investment programmes created by the government with a view to expediting the process.
In the first half of the year 86.5 thousand patients were treated with federally-funded high-tech medical procedures in state medical institutions, plus nearly nine thousand in regional institutions. Our plan for this year is to treat 195 thousand people, that is 25 thousand more than last year, so here too the trend is very positive. And this year we have added new areas to the national project in Health, such as improving treatment for victims of road accidents. This is currently being implemented. I think it is a high priority issue, along with blood services.
This year the national project in Education saw the introduction of innovative educational programmes at 40 state-supported universities and 3000 regional and municipal educational institutions, as well as 72 primary vocational education institutions.
In the area of measures taken to support talented youth, the outcome of the various competitions identified about 900 first-prize winners, and there will be more than five thousand by the end of the year.
We continue to make 10 thousand cash rewards to teachers who are winners of various competitions.
By the end of June 2008 every educational institution had been provided with a basic package of licensed computer software. I know that you have always taken a great interest in this programme: it is now almost complete and 55.5 thousand kits have been delivered to every region of the Russian Federation. There are now 52 thousand institutions with Internet access. This is almost 100 per cent of educational institutions.
We are continuing with monthly cash payments for 800 thousand teachers. The state has signed contracts to supply the regions with seven thousand sets of training and visual aids for teaching. We have also bought 1650 new buses.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have just been talking about this and I would like you also to take special note: in the past, the quality of teaching has suffered because these visual aids and this equipment were not all that they should have been. And the buses have been criticised as sub-standard.
Of course we must use public funds to finance good quality things, including the buses used by our school children.
Alexander Zhukov: By the way, during the first half of the year 48 regions have replaced 360 sub-standard buses with modern 11-seat minivans.
Dmitry Medvedev: We have to be tougher with the people making our buses. We must make it clear to them that if they cannot make proper buses, ones that are comparable in quality to foreign ones, then we cannot support them. They should value the government support that is currently provided them.
Alexander Zhukov: That is exactly what we’re going to do. And by the end of the year, incidentally, we shall have completed the replacement of these sub-standard buses.
And now the cabinet has passed a federal law to amend the legislation on the activities of state universities, so that the entire legal framework for state universities is now ready. The bill will soon be introduced in the State Duma. I hope that it will be adopted in autumn.
There is a proposal to offer competitive support for innovative networking projects and programmes between universities, like those carried out jointly by industrial universities and scientific organisations. In my opinion, this is a promising direction for national and state programmes.
In 2010, we are anticipating significant increases in funding for job placement and training specialists for high-tech industries. The relevant funds will be set aside.
Now for housing. The goal of this national programme this year was 72.5 million square meters, about a 120 per cent increase over 2007. <…> I think we can reach this goal. At least, the number of mortgages that have been granted indicates this.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s not going to be easy. But these aren’t simply figures we’ve plucked from the air: they have to be implemented. Therefore, we must try to do it.
Alexander Zhukov: Here, in my view, the bottleneck has been the parcels of land themselves, the ones that …
Dmitry Medvedev: We have addressed this topic specifically, and I issued a special decree concerning funding. I understand that this has already taken effect.
Alexander Zhukov: There is such a law and a fund has been established, with its own organisation and government commission, that will deal with allocating the sites.
Dmitry Medvedev: We have to push harder on this, because otherwise the departments themselves will never fork over the money. That’s what we created this organisation for. The land that isn’t currently occupied must be made available for new housing.
There are other problems related to the housing sector, because rates keep going up – we have clear proof of that. Unfortunately, this reflects the current difficulties in world financial markets. Nevertheless – and by the way I talked about this today to representatives of the Volga Federal District — the rate at which mortgage loans are being granted has not slowed, at least according to the information I have.
Alexander Zhukov: No, and by the way this is true for the country as a whole. According to preliminary forecasts of the Housing Mortgage Loans Agency, loans issued between January and June may reach about 350 billion rubles, 172 percent of the corresponding period last year. This is almost 60 percent better than the targets we set ourselves. Here we see no slowing down, although we are lagging behind in housing starts, but this may be seasonal.
Dmitry Medvedev: Traditionally housing starts have been most impressive in the 3rd and 4th quarters: that is how the construction cycle has gone. Of course, the government should also be paying careful attention to the situation regarding inflation. This is such a difficult, painful subject, but it is affecting not only purchasing power but also the ability to get credit.
Alexander Zhukov: Yes, unfortunately, the dynamics of the weighted average interest rate are not very good due to the fact that the inflation rate is higher than we expected.
What we need to do is actively implement the subprogramme Modernisation of Communal Infrastructure Facilities. Here all the agreements with the regions have already been concluded. By government order 61 regions of the Russian Federation will receive subsidies from the federal budget.
In brief, those are the main outcomes. By the end of the month or early in August I plan to hold three large videoconferences with the regions for each national project so that we can obtain some final results and encourage them to work more actively in the main areas of the various projects. In September – October we plan to hold a meeting of the presidium and the Presidential Council [for the Implementation of Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy].
Dmitry Medvedev: We’ll talk about it. Work on national priorities for agricultural development is part of a special state programme now, but it is still one of the areas of our joint work, our joint activities. We also need to keep the situation there under control, especially given current difficulties in the world food market.