Andrei Chibis: Nobody expected such high development rates from a northern region

Every Russian governor focuses on investment – which is, of course, driven by national projects these days. Invest Foresight interviewed Murmansk Region Governor Andrei Chibis during the Gaidar Forum organized by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

— Mr Chibis, what national projects are now the most important and most relevant for the Murmansk Region?

— There are no unimportant  national projects, this is what makes them national projects. But the issue of demography is very important because demography entails a large group of interconnected matters. These include roads, environment, education and healthcare and, of course, housing construction and comfortable urban environment.

— Do you manage to use these funds in sufficient amounts?

— Yes, despite a horribly short construction season, we are one of the leaders in road construction. We received the Project of the Year award when we completed all road paving works by September 3. Nobody expected this from a northern region as we started late. All the facilities we planned to launch this year have been launched, without delays.

— What projects are the most expensive and ambitious?

— Kindergartens, facilities necessary for a comfortable city environment, and roads.

— There has been a lot of talking about developing the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route. Have all these talks resulted in anything important for the Murmansk Region such as investment, new infrastructure facilities and new activities?

— We are working on a project called Murmansk Transport Hub. It is a new railway with bridges that is under construction right now. The hub also includes a new port that is, too, being built. We managed to have the hub’s initially planned capacity increased more than twice. We estimate that this new port infrastructure will handle 165 mio tons of freight by 2035. All this will create more taxes and more jobs. So this is a growth point for the economy.

— Besides the port, what major investment projects are being carried out in the region?

— One of them is a new project by Novatek that is building a plant to manufacture LNG platforms. There is also a project to upgrade Nornickel production. PhosAgro is working to modernize its production facilities as well. Another project is to build a ship maintenance cluster that would combine three ship repair plants that will become an independent facility.

— As we can see, you successfully put these investment projects into action. But what was the main thing the regional government had to do to push these projects forward?

— To have genuine willingness to make breakthrough.

— In his Address to the Federal Assembly, the President spoke much about new programs for social support of citizens – children, families, and so on. Do you fear this could mean new expenses for regional budgets? What do you think about financing of these projects?

— First, I can say that those certain decisions specified by the President are totally on point. The one-off maternity capital payment for the first child means not only social expenditures; this is in fact investments in development of people, families, values, and the economy. Historically, throughout many years since the 1990s, we have not actually conducted residential construction in the Murmansk Region, with only minor work done. This is a major factor that forces people in their prime to leave the region and relocate as housing prices in the secondary market are very high, with largely increasing economic activity only adding to this. For us, this particular decision means not only providing an opportunity for families to have a child but also additional demand for housing, which will allow us to launch new housing construction projects.

We cannot provide extra expenses for supporting school class supervisors from our own budget. We are making efforts and are willing to do so, but we cannot do many things solely due to financial reasons.

The President was absolutely correct saying clearly that today school is not only about knowledge. In this digital era, when teens are exposed to different online dangers on the web, school works as a sort of ‘vaccination’ for protecting values. And supporting people who are able to implant values and serve as class educators and leaders requires finances. At the moment, we cannot even estimate all eventual feedback. This is proper investment in raising young people with proper values – people who will develop our country. This is why I totally agree with these decisions – and not only because these are decisions of our leader. During nine months of my work as head of the region, I have traveled across the entire territory and met a vast number of people in different formats, and I am aware now that these decisions are on spot. We have started implementing some of them using our financial opportunities; but we are always on the edge of not knowing whether or not we will have these finances. Of course, we could not make certain decisions ourselves, and this is very good that the President heard regions’ message and announced these on-target decisions in his Address.

By Konstantin Frumkin

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