MOSCOW, March 10, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent) - The new government will be oriented to individuals, to the country's competitiveness and position in the world, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said at his first press conference in his new capacity.

Mr. Fradkov said that the modified government structure entailed drastic changes in the executive bodies as a whole. "I confirm that this is really a decisive step, which is related to fundamental changes in the government structure and will require serious organisational measures in the next few weeks," he said.

The prime minister noted that the planned reform has to be carried out within a short period of time. In parallel, we have to continue to work and raise the efficiency.

As part of the reform, "a single strategic plan", an aggregate system of actions will be formed to guide the government in its new capacity.

Mr. Fradkov recalled that, previously, ministries were established government bodies combining political, supervisory and executive functions. "Consistent progress was not always to be seen. We understood this and wanted to introduce order here," said the premier.

He emphasised that this was not only related to upgrading the government system but also to working out a well-considered policy relevant to the existing opportunities and to the use of liberal market instruments. "We will continue treading this path," said Mr. Fradkov.

Within the next two months, we will sign a regulation on ministries, and within a month - a regulation defining the number and personnel issues in ministries and departments, Mr. Fradkov said.

According to him, after these documents are signed, deputy ministers and heads of federal services and agencies will be officially appointed.

The majority of ministers of the former government will remain in the new Cabinet structures, Mr. Fradkov also said at his first press conference.

"It is important to preserve the government's succession and give assessment to those who have worked well and used their experience in the national interests," he said.

"I am grateful to ministers [of Mr. Kasyanov's former government] who agreed to have their status lowered to the level of deputy ministers, heads of services and agencies," stressed Mr. Fradkov. "Our main task is to attract people into the team so that to make an active economic breakthrough." The new government will preserve succession of the commitment to liberal reforms, Mr. Fradkov assured those present.

He recalled that the reforms were aimed at increasing Russia's competitiveness in the world.

"The world live according to such rules, so should we seek to raise the competitiveness of the economy and individuals," said Mr. Fradkov.

Alexander Zhukov, the only first deputy prime minister, will play an integrating role in the Cabinet, Mr. Fradkov added.

"There should be no excessive functions at the top of the government pyramid in the face of deputy prime ministers," he stated.

The prime minister described Mr. Zhukov as a sensible man, who has worked in the provinces and in the State Duma (lower house), who is a recognised and sensitive person.

Dmitry Kozak's appointment as chief of the government staff is "landmark", said Mr. Fradkov. "He is an experienced apparatchik, an energetic person, who will have more say in this government than before," he pointed out.

"The top of the government is extremely optimised," Mr. Fradkov stressed.

The prime minister said that the Cabinet structure might have to be adjusted.

"There may be imperfections but we will correct them - the very idea justifies the need for some amendments," Mr. Fradkov said at his first press conference as prime minister.

Mr. Fradkov explained that according to the reform, ministries are to be stripped of excessive functions to have their hands free for tackling new tasks.

"There must be just enough ministries to emphasize the work in major areas and exactly enough to organize joint work at the level of the Russian government to have a program that is clearly formulated, politically substantiated and implemented by all structures. This will be the essence of the administrative reform," said the prime minister.

The key issue in this reform is to urge ministers and ministries to give up excessive functions and address their specific tasks, said Mr. Fradkov.

The functions of the second and third levels of administration should be passed over to federal agencies and services. Mr. Fradkov noted that the number of agencies and services overlapped the previous number of departments. "This is enough to ensure practical law-enforcement, state property management and provision of state services," said Mr. Fradkov.

According to the prime minister, the outlined approach to the reform is expected to ensure transparency of officials' efforts, rule out the combination and repetition of functions, and society will be able to track down whether the government understands its tasks correctly and how efficiently it is implementing them.

The reform must make administrative work open and transparent, and rule out combined and doubled duties. It must give the public its chance to see whether the government sees its tasks the right way, and the extent of its efficiency, said the Prime Minister.

To reduce the administrative personnel is not an end in itself to the new Cabinet, he added. "That's a complicated matter. To regroup the personnel is our primary goal. The lower levels-services and agencies-must reckon with the budget as they work on." "We are ready to reduce the bureaucratic staff, but the new government will face new tasks, and we do not want the personnel to be any worse-off with the change," stressed Mr. Fradkov. "We shall fight public prejudice against the officialdom, and we want officials to earn more than now." The Premier highlighted prospects for privatisation issues to shift under his control. "All privatisation-related developments are going on according to previous blueprints. That's clear to me. We shall work with perseverance to carry them on. All such efforts must make privatised companies more competitive, and we have many tools to do so." As he was addressing his news conference, Mr. Fradkov called journalists to see to the core of the emergent administrative reform, and not to misrepresent it. "We are not to lose dynamism. The idea must get home to the people, who are implementing the reform, and the people, who are monitoring it - a goal that demands major explanatory efforts. If they are success, I hope the press, the radio and the television will improve reform coverage." The public is to see what the starting reform is about. That is essential to the government. "We are in for a formidable job, and we don't want any obstacles to it due to misunderstanding or information shortages. The idea will certainly take firm root - we have no alternative to that idea for today." The reform was deliberately launched shortly before a presidential election. It was no mere PR move but practical reflection of a desire to work and of an awareness that something had to be done. A presidential poll, an ensuing inauguration and a change of Cabinet might impede compliance with the budget. All these are no more than routine matters - but the idea that underlies them is so profound and far-reaching that the nation will be direly disappointed if that idea is misunderstood or if some people turn out to be ignorant of its basic premises, Mikhail Fradkov emphatically remarked.

As he was addressing a news briefing, the Prime Minister said he would spare no efforts to make Russia independent of the petroleum market situation. "We are making use of that situation. That is natural, but we must not depend on it for our life as an addict on a drug." Despite its self-sufficiency, oil industry must make progress. "It is our goose that lays golden eggs, and we ought to take due care of it." The boards of the Ministry of Finance and of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade will gather for a joint session quite soon to discuss streamlining fiscal arrangements. The conferees will decide how to improve taxation, reform the unified social tax, and reorganise fiscal administration. "All these are extremely involved and contradiction-laden matters," said the Prime Minister. Related federal offices are getting ready to debate them, he added.

Mr. Fradkov mentioned certain foreign political issues. In particular, he does not rule out Russia annulling a number of bilateral agreements with countries joining the European Union within the year. "New members will appear in the EU this year, so the treaty basis of bilateral contacts has to be adapted to the developments. That was one of the topical issues Russia posed to the EU. Naturally, the ten countries to join the Union will shift to its standards, and will work to adapt their bilateral relations with Russia to those standards. We shall have to annul a number of bilateral treaties with certain countries, and leave them intact with certain others. We shall determine what intergovernmental understandings and commissions are to survive, in which countries Russia ought to retain its trade representations, and in which to disband them. The job will finish before May 1." Once concerns over EU expansion are settled, Russia and the European Union will be able to blueprint joint action for four united environments - economic, domestic and international security, and research, cultural and educational.

"St. Petersburg summit brought an agreement to work together for those four environments," stressed Mr. Fradkov.

Russia is badly alarmed with EU expansion, he acknowledged. The worst apprehensions concern a tentative bad impact on Russia's trade and other economic contacts with the new EU countries. The matter revolves round certain sensitive commodities, trade in nuclear materials, visa-related issues, transits via the Kaliningrad Region (Russia's Baltic exclave), and ethnic Russians' problems in Latvia and Estonia. "The job is going on, and a negotiation schedule has been made. We have made certain practical headway, too." Moscow will host another Russia-EU summit, May next, and a government-level conference has been appointed.

With expanding membership, the European Union will account for 53 per cent of Russia's foreign trade turnover, as against present-day 36 per cent, the Prime Minister said with emphasis.

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