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Russian Duma defies government to pass amended law on electricity tariffs

CEP20021219000031 Moscow RIA-Novosti in Russian 0730 GMT 19 Dec 02

[FBIS Translated Text]

  Moscow 19 December. Despite objections from the government, at an additional plenary meeting today the State Duma approved the law "On introducing amendments to Article 2 of the federal law 'On state regulation of electricity and heat tariffs in the Russian Federation'" in the wording suggested by the conciliatory commission.
  The law envisages that the government sets electricity and heat tariffs once a year, before the draft federal budget for the next year is adopted in the first reading.
  Explaining the government's stance on the matter, the cabinet's representative with the State Duma, Andrey Loginov, stressed that the government believed the adoption of the law inappropriate from the financial and economic points of view.
  The law was passed by a unanimous vote of 321 Duma members.

[Description of Source: Moscow RIA-Novosti in Russian -- government information agency, part of the state media holding company]



Russia: Duma sets maximum electricity, heat tariffs

CEP20021219000019 Moscow ITAR-TASS in English 0828 GMT 19 Dec 02

[FBIS Transcribed Text]

  MOSCOW, December 19 (Itar-Tass) -- The State Duma adopted on Thursday a federal law, which provides for the establishment of maximum electricity and heat tariffs every year, until the lower chamber of parliament adopts after first reading a draft budget for the next year.
  The voting on the draft law was held for the second time, because the Federation Council rejected the first version on October 16. A conciliatory commission was created, which made some changes in the text of the law and submitted it for the consideration of the Duma. On Thursday 321 MPs voted for the new version, with no one voting against or abstaining from voting.
  So, the Duma did not take into consideration the objections of the government against the law. Andrei Loginov, representative of the government, said at the plenary meeting on Thursday, that the law would do damage to the natural monopolies, because the setting of maximum electricity and heat tariffs is the prerogative of the government. The new law says, however, that the changing of the tariffs during a financial year without the government submitting a corresponding proposal to the Duma will not be permitted.

[Description of Source: Moscow ITAR-TASS in English -- main government information agency]



Russian power grid chief hints at political uncertainty over reform

CEP20021218000441 Moscow NTV Mir in Russian 1900 GMT 18 Dec 02

[FBIS Translated Excerpt]

  [Report from Russian NTV International television 1900 gmt 18 Dec 02]
  [Presenter Kirill Pozdnyakov] The head of [national grid company] Unified Energy System of Russia [UES] today called on the state to declare its position on the fate of power sector reforms. According to Anatoliy Chubays, the reforms are no longer as conceived by him. There are other authors: the government, the State Duma and the Federation Council. Journalists were above all interested in confirmation of rumours that certain financial groups had started speculating with UES shares and his answer to the question of what the purpose of this speculation was. Here is an exclusive interview with Anatoliy Chubays that we recorded two hours ago.
  [Pozdnyakov] Anatoliy Borisovich, you said today that there is some kind of large financial group, or even several financial groups and powerful businessmen, who have been buying up UES shares for some time now. In your view, are the share purchases a method for attaining a political aim of some kind, or for pursuing purely economic goals?
  [Chubays] It is difficult for me to comment on the aims of these groups, who can set their own goals without my assistance and without asking me! I can't rule out that both components are at work here. But at any event it is clear that there is a large-scale operation under way whose value can be put at several hundreds of millions of dollars.
  [Pozdnyakov] You said that in all probability they are influential people, these groups. The question that arises in this connection is whether there is a connection between the delay of bills to reform the power sector in the Duma and this parallel process of share buying?
  [Chubays] Judge for yourself. Before reaching conclusions, let's recall the facts about what's actually happening.
  Fact one. A considerable package of UES shares is being bought up on a large scale at a cost of several hundreds of millions of dollars. All analysts recognize it. There is no doubt on this score.
  Secondly, the same analysts affirm with one voice that the operation is not over yet, that the purchases are continuing and that the aims of those responsible clearly go beyond the present volume of buying. In other words, this means that a similar amount of money, perhaps more, has to be spent to complete the operation. If that is so, it means that those who will continue to buy up the shares undoubtedly and by definition have an interest in getting as cheap a price as possible. And it clearly follows that any method to reduce the price of the shares brings a direct and unambiguous profit worth tens of millions of dollars.
  [Pozdnyakov] Several different figures have been quoted on what the final percentage stake is to be. As far as I recall, the figure of 25 per cent was mentioned. Do you think they will stop at that or not? Will the figure grow much beyond that?
  [Chubays] I think the figure of 25 per cent would signify a complete change of the ownership structure in the company. And even if you take this modest figure as a benchmark, at the present share value you have to spend approximately, well no less than, 700m-800m dollars to bring the existing stake to this level.
  [Omitted: Chubays says each percentage drop in the share value makes a big difference for anyone buying shares]
  The facts are that we have a situation in which in the past three days, as a result of the decision to postpone the reform, the value of the company's shares has slumped by 4 per cent. At first we cited the figure of 220m [dollars] for the first two days, and today, as a result of today's trading, I can name a new figure of 260m dollars. These are the company's, the company shareholders' losses as a result of the decision to postpone, to put off, the reform.
  Some people lose out, and others win - just as in the song! It's obvious who. Those who intend to spend big money on continuing to buy up shares will have to spend less money. And if someone is gaining political dividends from the postponement - and these people are fairly well known - others simultaneously gain direct cash dividends and make money out of it. I don't know if there is a connection between these two groups or not, but these two facts cannot be disputed.
  [Pozdnyakov] As far as political dividends are concerned, what political dividends do you have in mind and who are these people?
  [Chubays] I won't be giving away any secrets if I name the consistent opponents of the reform of UES. They are [leader of the Russian Federation Communist Party] Gennadiy Andreyevich Zyuganov, [presidential adviser] Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov and [Yabloko leader] Grigoriy Alekseyevich Yavlinskiy. They are fairly well-known politicians who are consistently doing everything to slow down, repeal and halt the reform of the country's power sector. And if they don't manage to roll it back, they want at least to freeze it at the point we are at now.
  By the way, it is an open stance of theirs. They come out with it directly; they express a certain logic. There is some logic here. It cannot be denied. But neither can you deny that these people have an interest in stopping the reforms; that is what these people are trying to achieve.
  [Pozdnyakov] Let's continue this topic. You have already said that the process must be out in the open. It has come out into the open today with the active discussion of the process of share purchases. In your view, is the phenomenon itself at odds with the law?
  [Chubays] No, without question it is not at odds with the law. Moreover, the people buying up the shares are acting according to normal common sense and logic, and you cannot blame them for doing so. You just have to understand that they simply have an interest in getting a bargain. It's a natural commercial interest. What complaints can there be?
  But you also have to realize that their actions coincide absolutely with the political scaffolding that is being erected around this. A gigantic company, one of the biggest in the country, is going all out to implement the decisions of the state authorities. In implementing these decisions, it has adopted a whole series of very important steps to transform itself. And in the middle of this process, some kind of financial and industrial groups and politicians appear who say: no, perhaps we should halt all this for a moment.
  Look, lads, what are you up to? Take a decision, then, not to postpone things for a moment, but to go back to the very beginning.
  [Pozdnyakov] How irreversible is this process?
  [Chubays] I think the most dangerous thing in this process would be to remain in this - pardon me for saying so - ill-defined situation. This would not just discredit the authorities who took this decision, but it would simply be dangerous from the point of view of the production process.
  So then one would have to go in the opposite direction. One would have to consolidate UES as a unified company, and probably increase the state's stake, and - I don't know - nationalize private property, and take other decisions. And then it can be managed as a single economic complex, as we had under socialism. That is a consistent logic.
  There is another logic - to come to the market. But to expect to have one foot in the market and the other in nationalization is totally unrealistic - and the consequences of such a position would in practice be very grave for the production process: in other words, for our 146m consumers.
  [Pozdnyakov] I want to return to the share purchases. You were saying that, basically, if the figure reaches 25 per cent, very significant structural changes could befall the company. What sort of changes could there be?
  [Omitted: Chubays reiterates that the buying-up of shares is quite legal.]
  [Pozdnyakov] Would the shareholder structure change?
  [Chubays] The shareholder structure would change so radically that while today the state is in effect the dominant shareholder, with 52 per cent - and the state today gives the minority shareholders a chance to have their say and have their views heard, and we strive for this too - today the minority shareholders account for 0.5 per cent, 1 per cent or 1.5 per cent.
  If a single company or group of companies appeared with 25 per cent, it would be a different situation. It would be a situation in which they could put their conditions to the state, and, if the state does not agree to their terms, take significant steps to coerce the state to act as they see fit. It would be another ownership set-up, another supercompany, another situation in the country's power industry.
  [Pozdnyakov] Do you believe that among the people in the financial group that is buying up UES shares there are people capable of decisions of this sort, this sort of determined action?
  [Chubays] They are very serious people. These serious people are deciding to spend half a billion dollars - a sum comparable to the annual budgets of two, three or five constituent parts of the Russia Federation. These people are capable of very significant actions. There's absolutely no doubt about it. Moreover, I have come across situations in my own political experience when two or three businessmen believed that they ran the country, and thought they would be making the decisions. Who's minister there? - No, change him. Whom do we have in the government team? - No, he doesn't suit us. I know this kind of logic very well. I have fought against this logic in rather tough situations. Frankly, what is emerging now replicates events of the recent past.
  [Omitted: Chubays says UES has done all it can, and now it is up to the authorities to take a decision]
  [Pozdnyakov] How far could Anatoliy Chubays agree to a postponement of these bills until, say, next year - in other words, to having them frozen for another few months?
  [Chubays] You know, I can agree to any decision as long as the logic is explained in a comprehensible manner. If there is a solid argument, let it be presented and let us hear it. But during the work on the reform, it was amended a great deal, on a great deal there was agreement, many points were rejected and many accepted. I can't see any solid arguments today for a postponement.
  [Pozdnyakov] Thank you for your replies.

[Description of Source: Moscow NTV Mir in Russian -- broadcasts programs from Gazprom's NTV network, as well as original shows, via satellite to the US, Israel, and elsewhere]



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