RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES HOUSING AND UTILITY SECTOR'S TRANSITION TO FREE MARKET

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MOSCOW, October 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian government has approved initial measures to switch the housing and utility sector over to free market principles. The government adopted a relevant decision at its meeting on Thursday.

A whole package of relevant bills will be submitted to the government shortly, in particular, bills on investment agreements in this sphere, on the common tariff regulation principles for housing and utility facilities, on the facilities' financial rehabilitation and on the specificity of property sales in this sector.

In case of a favourable development, Russia's housing and utility enterprises will have switched over to free market as early as in 2008, according to Viktor Khristenko, Industry and Energy Minister.

"According to an optimistic scenario, in the event the package of bills on the sector's transition to the free market environment in 2004 and an additional package are approved in the first half of 2005, the sector will have changed over to free market principles by 2008 completely," said Mr Khristenko.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, who presided over the meeting, said housing and utility services would change dramatically if the government's plan for the sector enterprises' switchover to market principles was adopted.

Persons will not have to spend a lot of time trying to call a mechanic or meet their housing department chief, according to Mr Zhukov. He said the market reform would allow people to choose among numerous organisations the one that provided better and less expensive services.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin believes the housing and utility infrastructure, the worn-out equipment will be modernised in 8-10 years' time.

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