State Sees Jump in Tax Receipts as IMF Arrives

The government announced a sharp jump in this month's tax receipts Monday as an International Monetary Fund delegation arrived to begin what is expected to be a final round of talks on Russia's 1997 economic program.

The State Taxation Service said tax collection reached 84 percent of projections in the first two weeks of April -- double the level of the same period in March and the highest for the year. The figure will likely give a boost to the IMF talks and to the government's efforts to redraft its budget to impose stiff mid-year spending cuts.

The economic agreement with the IMF was to have been completed in February, but was postponed in light of persistent concerns over poor tax collection and last month's government reshuffle. Negotiators now say most of the questions are settled.

"We expect and hope all so far unresolved and not vital aspects of the program will be clarified during the current stage of the mission's work," Martin Gilman, chief of the fund's Moscow office, told Interfax.

The mundane nature of the current round of talks is underscored by lack of high Russian officials who will be in town to participate. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and other top reformers are expected to be in Washington for the annual spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF, which begin Wednesday.

IMF managing director Michel Camdessus held high-level meetings with Russian officials earlier this month and said most of the issues had been resolved satisfactorily. The government has announced its intention to start reforms of the country's electricity, rail and gas monopolies, and the reported submission of a streamlined tax code to parliament last Friday met one of Camdessus' public conditions.

"I expect that this week, during this visit, they will reach agreement on what the program is for the next 11 months," one London-based economist said.

The IMF Board of Directors in Washington is likely to consider the agreement late this month or in May, with a positive result expected to free several delayed loan installments from a three-year, $10-billion loan awarded to Russia by the IMF last year.

Russia is slated to receive $3 billion in 1997, although last week a Finance Ministry negotiator said it is possible this year's allotment will be increased.

The document now being negotiated may represent the IMF's swan song in terms of direct influence on the Russian economy. Chubais has said he does not expect further borrowing after the current loan, and there are signs that the government is chafing at the strict conditions the fund demands.

"I think Mr. Chubais feels that the IMF should start playing a little more according to its constitution, supporting the current account of a country in distress and stop trying to make up new rules all the time," Reuters quoted an unidentified Russian official as saying.

Chubais' announcement last week that a "monstrous" budget crisis made necessary across-the-board cuts in federal spending will have come as no surprise to the IMF.