So What About the Reforms, Then?
- By Olga Romanova
- Sep. 12 2005 00:00
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On that winter day long ago, when Yeltsin promised to pay everyone, famine or no, the price of a barrel of oil had reached $16.70. The state owed 14 trillion rubles in unpaid wages (approximately $3 billion at the exchange rate of 4,570 rubles to the dollar that was in place then).
Over the next two months, $4.4 billion was spent on Yeltsin's election campaign and other pre-election expenses, such as paying salaries, paying pensions and doling out aid to the regions. All of this was covered by allowing internal debt to grow by issuing approximately $20 billion in state treasury bonds.
There is now more money in the stabilization fund -- approximately $21 billion as of July 1 -- and by the end of the year that figure is expected to rise to at least $52 billion. The price of oil is growing higher and higher, and jokes such as "Did you hear that Putin has awarded orders and medals to the crew of the Katrina?" are proliferating. Can the extra money be handed out?
Trying to find an answer to this question put a lot of people close to the president at odds with one another. Last Monday, he decided that the answer was yes. This was his main pre-election decision -- more important than joy rides on various forms of transportation, more necessary than meeting tourists in Sochi, more pressing than support for the Nashi youth movement.
That day, his largesse touched virtually everyone -- pediatricians and nurses, school teachers and military personnel, construction workers and students, scientists and peasants. He was worried by the country's standard of living and the spread of infectious diseases; he was concerned about customs duties on imported equipment and about market conditions; he spoke about making credit available to agricultural establishments and about projects of national importance. He and he alone is raising the salaries of local doctors to 10,000 rubles ($354) by next year and to no less than 5,000 rubles ($177) for nurses.
He is magnificent, and no one can criticize voters who, having received this windfall, worship the ground he walks on. So there is only one question to be asked -- fella, where have the reforms gone?
I don't mean the reforms that we have already seen, but ones that have been urgently needed for a long time: reforms of the legal system; of education and healthcare; reforms of the Army, and not the one that Putin's Sancho Panza, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, is proposing, but ones that would free us from the toll on young boys that conscription takes. And incidentally, also a reform that would free us from the fear that a meeting with a policeman inspires.
And it's also worth asking how the cornucopia that Putin poured out will affect the economy. Nothing of the sort is mentioned anywhere in the government's short- and medium-term programs until 2010. One might wonder if a halo descended from heaven and alighted on Putin's head -- or if, alternatively, he saw an apparition of Yeltsin -- but all this really does is remind one of an early start to an election campaign, what with Putin's flight in a fighter jet, female tourists swooning in front of him and verbose speeches delivered in Tatar.
But it's possible that it's not at all an early start but the right time for it. We simply don't know anything about it at the moment. Provided, of course, you don't think that Putin was planning to run in the December elections to the Moscow City Duma -- for the Union of Right Forces party, for example.
Olga Romanova, an anchorwoman for Ren-TV, is a columnist for Vedomosti, where this comment first appeared.