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Putin Spells Out Purpose of Social Plan

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Tuesday that increases in federal spending designed to improve living standards were part of an attempt to win people's trust and keep the current leadership in power.

"In recent years -- the last five, six years -- we have consistently implemented a certain economic policy. It is producing tangible results," Putin said as he opened the first full session of a council set up on his orders to implement the social projects.

"And only by working in this way day after day, year after year, can we hope to receive a mandate of trust from the citizens of Russia to pursue this policy further," said Putin, who assumed the presidency nearly six years ago, at the start of 2000.

Under Putin's plan, dubbed "national projects," the government is to pump an additional 138 billion rubles ($4.6 billion) in budget funds into health care, education, agriculture and residential housing next year. The government is also supposed to attract an additional 42 billion rubles through funding outside the budget and state-backed loans for those areas next year.

The additional money will go toward salary raises for some medical professionals and teachers, residential housing construction and state-sponsored mortgages for young professionals, as well as the construction of new medical centers and purchase of new equipment for hospitals, clinics and ambulance services.

While the sectors Putin has designated are seriously lagging behind, opposition politicians have criticized the initiative as an attempt to curry favor with the public and create a feel-good factor ahead of the presidential election in 2008.

Putin said the extra funds would increase federal spending on education and agriculture by one-third. Health care would receive 60 percent more funding, while spending on residential housing would quadruple.

"It is clear that even as recently as a couple of years ago, funding on such a scale was the stuff of dreams," Putin told the council, which met in the Kremlin and included senior government officials, senior members of both chambers of the parliament, representatives of the presidential administration and regional leaders.

Putin warned, however, that the multibillion-dollar project could fail due to a lack of government efficiency and an abundance of red tape.

Source: The Moscow Times

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