Governor Warns of Mass Firing

Penza's governor on Monday proposed firing bureaucrats to help the region get its economy back on track, telling his Cabinet that as many as 40 percent of them could be without work in the coming months.

The region is facing "difficult times" because businesses' incomes are falling, which is taking a toll on the amount of taxes the region is collecting, Penza Governor Vasily Bochkaryov told the regional government, Interfax reported.

To survive the crisis, he said, the region must seek to develop small businesses, and government officials are well-equipped to help with the task.

"The more officials we fire, the more candidates there will be to start small businesses," said Bochkaryov, who has headed the region since 1998.

He was backed by then-President Vladimir Putin for a new term in 2005.

The Penza region, about 650 kilometers southwest of Moscow, is toward the eastern end of the country's fertile Black Earth farming zone.

A statement on the region's web site dated Monday expressed the governor's desire to see small businesses flourish in Penza but did not mention a plan to lay off officials.

"When the Komsomol fell apart, a lot of talented people went into business, which is what we'd expect now from fired bureaucrats," the governor said, referring to the Communist Youth League.

Former Yukos co-owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a high-ranking member of the Komsomol and got his start in business before the breakup of the Soviet Union, in part through connections at the organization. He is currently serving an eight-year jail term for tax evasion and fraud.

"Within a couple of months, 30 to 40 percent of the people sitting in this hall might be fired. So there it is, go start a business," he told his audience of regional ministers and the heads of various government agencies.