Control over economy could be relaxed but arbitrary rule would retain in Belarus
By weakening control over the economic activity, expanding self-employment opportunities and attempting to focus on prevention rather than punishment for economic violations, the state is likely to create opportunities for arbitrary behaviour of officials vis-à-vis economic entities.
To boost employment, the Belarusian authorities have expanded the list of activities which could be carried out without the formal registration and subjected only to a single tax paid once a year. Amid the state’s reduced capacity to provide employment, weaker control over economic activity is a rational choice. The presidential decree simplifying business rules in rural areas and small settlements has a similar goal. However, the single tax size varies greatly depending on the activity type, there are no unambiguous criteria regarding applicability of the new rules, or the clarity about the liability of the state bodies for arbitrary decisions, which could nip in the bud the growth in the economic activity in rural areas.
The state is even more inconsistent in reducing the pressure on business. For instance, the newly established institute of tax consultancy has raised concerns in the business community that it would become an obligatory service, same as e-declarations and subscription to the Tax Ministry publications, and is unlikely to protect business from arbitrariness of the tax authorities. The president’s instructions given to State Control Committee Head Anfimov during the recent discussion on restricting powers of controllers, have been contradictory, too. The president has requested to focus on prevention of economic violations, rather than the punishment, to introduce responsibility for arbitrary inspections and violations during their conduct, and in the meanwhile expressed fears of losing control over the economy and encouraged to boost already high influence of the power block on business.
Yet, so far, the state has been unsuccessful in relaxing the administrative pressure on the economy. Moreover, state bodies are not in a position to curb each other on this issue. A reduction in administrative procedures often leads to the invention of new ones.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.