Victor Yushchenko has met with Ukraine’s business leaders to address their problems, according to the President`s press-office.

      In his speech, he urged the business people to “sensibly and rationally fulfill their mission of regulating the fundamentals of the country’s politics.”

      “Without your involvement in every link of this chain, our politics will be worse but with your participation better,” he said.

      The President said he would not let the government manage budget funds arbitrarily.

      “The budget must distribute funds fairly,” he said.

      Mr. Yushchenko said he was worried about next year’s budget deficit, which may slow down economic growth.

      He criticized the government for reducing social standards, which have been growing in the past two years.

      “It will be really sad if we lose this social dynamics,” he said, adding that it positively affected the economy.

      The President is especially worried about the government’s plan to cut the dividend tax from 15% to 5%. Mr. Yushchenko cited statistical data and said 151 Ukrainian citizens had received 64% of all the dividends in the country in 2005 (UAH 1.1 bln).

      “The whole civilized world sticks to the rule that incomes of citizens have to be taxed equally,” he said.

      He, however, welcomed the idea to impose a social fee.

      Mr. Yushchenko also said the government must not vouch for private companies.

      “We have not yet returned the debts we took before 2004. The government is not a credit union,” he said.

      The President said it was important to develop programs encouraging small and medium business. (The 2007 budget provides only UAH 1.8 mln for that.)

      “This shows that our politicians and government ignore the problems of small and medium business,” he said.

“The path of monopolies will lead to the appearance of a nation of oligarchs but we will never build a middle class,” he opined.

      He said the government was going to renew free economic zones and territories of priority development.

      “It was wrong to close those zones at once. It is also wrong to reopen them at once,” he said.

      Mr. Yushchenko suggested that the government should analyze the issue and then propose bills to renew each zone, territory or industry individually.

      The President said the State Property Fund was going to stage 596 privatizations next year but there still would be hundreds of companies in which the state owns a few shares.

      “This is a channel of criminal relations between government and business, and we must decide what role the state will play in companies where it owns, for example, 15% of shares,” he said.

      Summing up the meeting, the President said it was important to legalize the economy to ensure that the it continues to develop. He urged the businessmen to propose bills helping the national economy adapt to international standards.

      Mr. Yushchenko promised to hold such meeting quarterly.

      Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, Head of the Verkhovna Rada National Security and Defense Committee Anatoly Kinakh, Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko and Security Chief Ihor Drizhchany attended the meeting.