Cross-subsidizes in the housing and utilities: the rich pay for the poor.
Due to the economic reasons, people currently are not prepared to pay 100% of their housing and utilities bills. The new proposal envisages shuffling off the responsibility to cover the growing spending to subsidize low utility tariffs on to people with high incomes. However, the record-keeping of the rich citizens is problematic and the proposal will reaffirm people with higher incomes in the need to hide income.
On September 21st, 2012 during his visit to Mogilev, Alexander Lukashenko proposed that people with high incomes subsidized housing and utilities tariffs for the rest of the population.
After the June increase in the housing tariffs, the population started covering 23% of the utilities’ costs, provides Belarus’ report to the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund. The rest is paid by the state.
The entire housing and utilities system, instead of reducing the services’ costs, seeks ways to justify the growing costs. Either there are no attempts to contain costs using internal resources or such attempts are not successful.
In the meanwhile, the population actually pays small amounts for the utilities. One bedroom 50 sq. m. apartment utilities costs are not more than USD 25. However, even such a small cost entails regular debts from some citizens groups. A significant increase in the utilities cost could result in people’s dissatisfaction and lead to a significant housing services payment debt.
In these circumstances, the state budget needs additional financial resources to cover the housing utilities costs. The idea to differentiate housing services tariffs was rejected due to fears of social unrest. And therefore the authorities came up with an idea to focus on people with high incomes and to make them liable for covering the needed amount. De facto, the government is talking about a kind of tax on wealth.
Traditionally, Belarusians demonstrate modest incomes to receive social benefits. The authorities cannot count on the voluntary consent by SMEs and entrepreneurs to become such donors. It should be anticipated, that they would start sheltering income to avoid unnecessary attention from the fiscal authorities. If implemented, this idea could transform into a mandatory fee for businesses and individuals if their incomes exceed a certain standard.
This measure is yet another way the government is set to demonstrate its social orientation. Instead of looking for internal funds for the housing system, the government tries to find those who could pay the utility bills for the majority of the population. Businesses, burdened with such obligations will use any opportunity to shadow their real incomes in order not to get into the list of “voluntary donors”.
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.