State property privatization could lead to anti-corruption fight in state apparatus
The Belarusian authorities avoid a wide public anti-corruption campaign and keep this topic low profile in order to reduce people’s discontent with the authorities. Meanwhile, the Belarusian leadership used anti-corruption prosecution to balance out different nomenclature and business groups in the regions and at the national level. Nevertheless, amid the decline in traditional economic sectors, attempts to redistribute state assets are likely to strengthen tension and spur anti-corruption inquests related to business interests.
According to the Global Corruption Barometer - 2016 by the Transparency International, 45% of Belarusians believe that the state is not doing enough to fight corruption.
The president seems to have abandoned the fight against corruption for quite a while now. He has clearly outlined the acceptable corruption level, which is determined by people’s attitudes and public discontent with public demonstration of personal well-being by representatives of the ruling elite. The lingering economic crisis and falling household incomes have distracted citizens from the corruption theme, which is not among the priority issues for the society, according to a study by Transparency International.
Nevertheless, corruption prosecution is among the mechanisms of redistributing the influence between regional nomenclature groups. The most recent high-profile case was in Bobruisk, where the city mayor Andrei Kovalenko was detained on suspicion of bribery. Kovalenko differed from the ‘conventional’ Belarusian mayors by being a more open, creative and somewhat democratic ruler.
In addition, apparently, the fight for state property in the centre of Minsk has prompted the president to look into the issue of transferring to the High-Tech Park a public building of Minsk Production Association of Computer Engineering. It is worth noting that so far, due to the economic success of the IT industry as compared with the traditional economic sectors, IT managers have been successful in defending their positions vis-a-vis the state and gradually promoting their interests.
The Belarusian leadership monitors corruption perceptions among the population in order to adjust the state anti-corruption measures and maintain government ratings.
Yet the Belarusian authorities have not taken any action to prevent massive protests against the decree on ‘social parasites’. On February 26th, 2017, multiple protests against the decree were held in three Belarusian regions in Vitebsk, Baranovichi, Brest and Bobruisk (more than 4 000 people participated in total). Very likely, the authorities, on the one hand, anticipate that the decree will be abolished, and other hand, do not want to take responsibility for decisions either on the decree or on the protests.
It should be noted, that the mass street protests on February 17th, 19th, and 26th, were held in the absence of the president in the country. There are reasons to believe that the authorities did not expect such a massive action. The state propaganda responded tangentially, insisting that protests were unjustified, because ‘the state did not require a lot’, despite the fact, that the protesters primarily complained about the lack of jobs in the country. In addition, the protesters pointed to the unfairness of the requirement to pay the tax for being unemployed as the state could not provide job and money making opportunities, while people were humiliated by the need to prove to the state they were unable to pay the tax.
In the past ten days, there were several protests against the decree, which were characterised by the following: the protesters easily picked up anti-Lukashenka slogans; they eagerly shared their outrage with journalists; many protesters said it was their first time when they took to the streets; protesters were ‘common people’, i.e. not political activists; there were fewer white-red-white flags during these protests than during conventional oppositional actions; politicians, who organised protests (eg on February 26th, by the centre-right coalition and the independent trade union) did not attempt to take the lead, especially in the regions. All this gives a picture of truly popular protests.
While refraining from interfering with the meetings and protest marches, the militia on February 26th attempted to put pressure on the protest organisers in the regions by handing out reports on administrative violations after the events. Other than that, it appears that the local and central authorities are unable to respond to the massive protests against the Decree No 3, including crowded street speeches, numerous signatories of petitions (over 80 000), multiple collective and personal appeals to the authorities, and mass meetings.
That said, the authorities are unable to enforce the Decree No 3 as they do not have sufficient resources to trial some 400 000 people for non-compliance. In addition, the authorities do not have sufficient institutional capacity to exempt all those not liable for the tax from the mailing lists of the Tax authorities. The Belarusian Bar Association will provide free legal consultations on March 1st, 2017 for those wishing be exempt from the tax imposed by the Decree No 3, however, this would only slightly east the tension in society.
In addition, despite concerns expressed by some experts and the leader of the protest in Minsk on February 17th Mikola Statkevich, there were only scarce reports in the Russian media about the protests in Belarus.