The Minister of Economic Development and Trade received eleven members of the public today before a Russia-EU summit. The petitioners were a motley lot-a private farmer, a former parliamentarian, several company bosses, religious activists, and a retired soldier. Some refused to talk to the minister in newsmen's presence. The others, who were not after secrecy, came with ideas of how to whip up economic progress and promote Russian-based manufacturers.
The applicant who opened the day was an exotic figure, farmer from the subarctic Evenki autonomy in East Siberia. He called the minister to revive government fur breeding, hunting and trade monopoly. "Hunting's all in a mess, pelts are going abroad dirt-cheap. Sheer robbery, that's what it is! This country is letting billion profits slip," the man complained. Blueprints of his own were offering several thousand job opportunities in the Evenki area. As he sees the matter, local people are to hunt sable in winter and gather medicinal herbs, summer.
"We'll certainly not reinstate the monopoly-but we can help to get small private enterprise going," Mr. Gref said to that. He promised to make relevant orders to the Russian Development Bank, which is offering financial support to small biz, and write a message to the Agriculture Minister.
Another amateur economic expert called the minister to promote municipal enterprise with all revenues channelled into welfare. "Utopian," the minister snapped at that. He, however, promised ministerial expert attention to the applicant's business plan, if it came up some day.
Yet another came with an idea of how to make the gross domestic product increase by a fabulous annual 10 to 15 per cent.
A private filtering paper manufacturer of St. Petersburg asked to level out cellulose import duties and export duties for his commodity. Meanwhile, Russian-based manufacturers are in far worse conditions than their US rivals even in the Russian market, he sighed. The harassed factory owner had his request granted immediately. German Gref phoned his ministry in the applicant's presence, and ordered a related board to attend to the matter.
A retired soldier of Moscow, aged 85, said a huge capital outflow from Russia was badly alarming him, same as rampant non-ferrous metal pilferies. He called to ban scrap metal purchase from the public, and close down all purchasing centres. The minister heard the man out with attention his venerable age deserved.
Mr. Gref had promised to share his impressions of the day with newsmen-three television companies were represented in his reception office, and a dozen press contributors were in. A bitter disappointment awaited the media people. The minister's schedule was so tight that he could not spare them an instance. He apologised, and beat a hasty retreat for the opening summit.