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    WEALTH GAP IS RUSSIAN ECONOMY'S NO.1 PROBLEM-PM FRADKOV

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    MOSCOW, April 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov believes that the yawning gap between the have's and the havenot's is a major problem hindering this country's economic development. He made his view clear as he spoke Friday at a session of the Russian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

    According to Fradkov, the average income of Russia's upper class is fifteen times as much as that of its downscale population groups. We must and bring this ratio down to ten at least, he said, adding that one way of going about it would be to raise public-sector wages and promote the development of private businesses.

    The government hopes to reduce the gap by lowering the rate of the social security tax, Fradkov said. The ensuing budget losses will be compensated for by revenues from oil export. But the world oil prices will likely be up only for a couple of years, so what really needs to be done is to reorient the Russian economy [toward manufacturing industries] while also stepping up output and encouraging socially responsible business.

    Poverty can be reduced by raising labor productivity, producing new technologies, encouraging private businesses to go legit, and raising public-sector wages, the Russian Premier argues. One of the targets the Russian government has set itself is to halve the number of poor people within the next three years.

    In his speech at the Industry & Commerce Chamber's session, Fradkov also proposed putting together a welfare package that would include specific services for the population in such areas as housing, education and healthcare. "It's time that a tangible welfare services package in the areas of housing, education, and healthcare was offered to society instead of the promises [to effect] some unpopular social reforms," the Russian Premier pointed out. This should be a result-oriented package, one acceptable to the general public, the business community, and the state alike, he added.

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