Government to decide: devaluation or financial paralysis

April 22, 2016 18:41

On November 22nd, Prime Minister Myasnikovich said that the state housing construction programme was short of BYR 1.8 billion.

A slowdown in lending has affected Belarus’ economy. If restrictions on lending are not lifted in the medium term, economic settlements will be paralyzed. Today the only cheap money source available is printing, but that might result in rapid devaluation.

In October, the economy felt the effects of the credit crunch policy. A positive effect from this decision was the decline in net demand for foreign currency by legal entities in October 2013 - to USD 29.4 million – the lowest in the last three months. However, there were significantly more negative effects. Some companies have used loans to finance current operations and after the credit crunch will be unable to pay wages, which may lead to greater social tensions. Cement plants have reduced production due to the unavailability of bank loans. The construction industry may derail 2013 housing construction plans due to restrictions on concessional lending.

If credit crunch policy is prolonged, payments in the economy will be crippled. Loans were used by counterparties to make payments throughout the cycle. Using loans, customers were paying construction contractors, wages were paid, building materials were bought, electricity, etc. Lack of financial resources leads to arrears and economic slowdown. Ultimately the resources will stop returning to the banking system and entire economy will become paralyzed. Even the slightest panic by depositors may result in some banks having problems with meeting their customer obligations.

Partially, the credit crunch problem is recognized in the government. The latter has elaborated some regulations, envisaging resuming concessional lending in some spheres, such as housing construction. When there is lack of budgetary proceeds, the National Bank has an option to switch on the printing press or the Government might take a decision to privatize state property. Besides sale of MTS shares (Belarus requested USD 800 million), no other major transactions have been projected. Therefore, the only source for concessional lending is money-print. However, it will rapidly increase pressure on the currency, which coupled with the lack of external lending, will accelerate devaluation.

Thus, the government has to choose between attempts to maintain the stability of ruble by slowing down the economy or to lift the credit ban, which will accelerate the onset of devaluation. Since the government has failed to fulfil most 2013 economic development indicators, it has nothing to lose and could be held responsible for the future devaluation.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.