Speech at the First Plenary Session of the Public Council of the Russian Federation 2006-01-22 16:50:00 The Kremlin, Moscow President Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, Dear friends, First of all I would like to congratulate you on the start of the Public Council’s work. Today marks in effect the completion of the important organisational stage of work on creating this principally new structure aimed at facilitating the development of civil society in our country. This is a structure that, I hope, will become a platform for discussing and coordinating views on major state policy issues and that will serve as a base for forming genuinely democratic instruments of cooperation between the public and the state and its organisations. The council’s members include the leaders of public movements, well-known publicists, human rights campaigners, scientists and religious figures, many of whom have broad support and personal authority among the public and have already done much to promote public initiatives and affirm democratic rights and civil liberties. As members of the Public Council you will now have new tasks to resolve, including that of creating effective channels of communication between public organisations and the state authorities. I am referring here to the council’s work on carrying out public expert evaluation, exercising public control and drawing up recommendations for the state authorities. What is important here is to increase in practice the influence of the public and of public institutions on the state authorities. For me as head of state of Russia, it is important that respect for public opinion, respect for the needs and interests of each individual, become a key factor in making the state’s work more effective at all levels of power. Dear colleagues, the council’s function of exercising control over observance of freedom of speech in the mass media is of great importance. I think that in this respect the council has the dual task of ensuring objective coverage of the country’s public life in the media and also helping to ensure that media outlets and television channels have real independence. Of course, the Public Council’s approach to the way it actually carries out its functions will form gradually through the process of its work. But a lot will nonetheless depend on the first steps taken, the first decisions made. In this respect I would like to draw your attention to a number of points I consider important. First of all, I hope that your work will help to affirm in our society the values of mutual respect, religious tolerance and tolerance in general, and will contribute to making our society more highly cultured and giving it immunity from all manifestations of hostility and ethnic or religious strife. Any calls for hatred and intolerance, any manifestations of this kind, should mean the end of public life, and hence of a political career in Russia, for their authors. I very much count on your help and support in this work. Second, I hope that in the exercise of your functions, you, the members of the Public Council, will show your inherent ability to cooperate, reach agreements and consolidate the efforts of other groups within Russian society. It would be unquestionably useful if you could get expert groups around the country involved in your work and thus activate their own work and activate public and professional life in general. I hope that you will get all groups of the general public involved in public work so as to give our citizens the opportunity to understand in practice how the power system in Russia is organised, and so that they do not feel cut off from the decisions the state makes. Third, in accordance with the provisions of the law on the Public Council, the council’s work is conducted on a non-political basis, a non-party basis. The main slogans guiding this work should be professionalism and competence. I think that these principles form a foundation that will enable you to resolve the most important tasks we face. They include, of course, the implementation of our country’s priority national projects. Some of you here today were very actively involved in drawing up these national projects, including as members of the presidential consultative bodies. It is very important that we organise effective public control over the spending of the huge budget funds being allocated for these projects. I hope that at this stage too, at the start of the implementation stage, the council will take an active part in the work to realize the immediate tasks in the education, healthcare, housing and agriculture sectors. Another important area of your work ahead is connected to the regulation of non-profit organisations’ activities. Your colleagues have already carried out some very positive work in this area and have made concrete proposals for amendments to the laws regulating the work of non-profit organisations. Many of these proposed amendments were taken into account by the State Duma when the law was passed. The task now is to establish public control over the way the law is enforced. I think that the Public Council can also act in an expert capacity to resolve disputes that arise in this area. The Public Council could also become an authoritative voice for identifying public projects and initiatives that should get financial support from the state. Public organisations will be receiving budget grants for the first time. A sizeable amount of money – 500 million roubles – has already been allocated for this purpose this year. Another important area of your work is to promote philanthropy in our country. We see a very paradoxical situation in this area today. Russia is deservedly proud of a long history rich in outstanding examples of selfless acts and initiatives by its citizens, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifices. And yet today, philanthropy has insufficient social prestige in our country. But we should not forget that mercy, compassion for those close to us and selfless help for those who have fallen on hard times and need our support are qualities inherent to all the peoples of Russia, qualities that have helped us endure and overcome hardship and misfortune. These qualities have always given us strength and cemented our national unity. Philanthropy is a genuine social programme and it has great and as yet underestimated potential for bringing about positive social change. I hope that the Public Council will be able to make a significant contribution to helping create conditions in Russia that will facilitate the work of philanthropists, patrons of the arts and charity organisations. In conclusion I would like to say that great hopes are being placed on the Public Council. People are looking to you for genuinely needed and significant initiatives. I congratulate you once more on the start of your work and wish you success. Thank you for your attention. * * * Allow me to say a few words in conclusion in response to what has been said here today. First, I wanted to say that the Law ‘On the Public Council’ sets out the tasks your organisation has been created to resolve. But I think it is clear to all of us that in reality the Public Council can decide to examine any problem it considers important for the country. There are no limits in this respect. I wanted to draw your attention to this point right from the start. The previous speakers were right in saying that for the council’s work to be effective there must be effective interaction between the Public Council, the State Duma, the Cabinet and the Presidential Executive Office. Regarding our work together on the legislative process, it is possible, no doubt, for the President to receive the Public Council’s opinion on a law following its adoption by the State Duma, but there are certain technical limits that arise here with regard to the deadlines set by law for signing laws into effect. That is the first point I wanted to make. Second, if a law has already been passed but the Public Council is unanimous that the President should not sign it, the only course of action in this case would be to veto the law. But this then leads to other rather complicated problems in the legislative process. The best solution by far then is to ensure that the State Duma takes the Public Council’s opinion into account while the law is still under discussion. I think therefore that the Public Council should take part in examining draft laws right from the earliest stages of their discussion. Of course it is possible, as was proposed, to have the council give its opinion after the law is passed and then have the President make a decision. This is possible, but as I said, it would be a better solution from a technical point of view to work in parallel, work together with the State Duma deputies in order to ensure that your views are taken into account while the law is being passed. Finally, I was interested and very happy to hear that not all civil servants welcome the Public Council’s creation. I was very happy to hear this because it means that some civil servants do welcome the council’s creation. I would like to see these civil servants; they should be rewarded immediately. This situation is not specific to the Russian civil service. Civil servants in any country form a rather closed corporation and the flexibility with which they react to public needs and people’s demands depends on the level of general culture in this or that society. We still have a lot of problems in this area, of course, but overall, civil servants have a lot in common no matter where they are in the world. It is not surprising then that you are encountering certain difficulties. Moreover, in this respect you should not expect to be welcomed with open arms, but when I put forward this initiative I did so because I think that the creation of an instrument like the Public Council would help make our society and our state more stable, more effective and generally more competitive. I wish you success. Thank you very much.