IMF wants to see real economic changes, not illusionary reforms
IMF mission was working in Belarus on March 14th – 25th.
Belarus has once again showed interest in the IMF credit resources. A draft concept for Belarusian economic reforms programme is being developed, if adopted it could attract a new IMF loan. The main stumbling block for a new IMF loan programme is a special attitude to economic reforms by Belarus’ authorities.
In January-February 2013 Belarus paid USD 530 million off its USD 3 billion international public debt repayable in 2013, the IMF share is USD 1.6 billion. Prospects for Belarusian Eurobonds on international markets are uncertain due to the situation in Cyprus. The only guaranteed international inflow in 2013 is the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund’s loan tranche. Complicated negotiations with ACF representatives, spasmodic allocation of the promised funds and the lack of alternative borrowing sources push Belarus towards seeking for alternative loans. The IMF is one of the potential donors, but the fund’s loan programmes are subject to certain economic reforms requirements.
On March 28th, 2013 the government announced the elaboration of the economic reforms programme concept for Belarus. The ultimate goal of this program is to attract the IMF loan. Statements by Economy and Finance Ministries representatives implied that potential reforms will be cosmetic, not changing the country’s economic model. The concept will be presented at the spring session of the Boards of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank in April 2013.
The IMF believes, the inflated target for GDP growth in 2013 (8.5%) is incompatible with the aims to contain inflation at 12% in 2013, which is a major obstacle to the new credit program. There are political obstacles to obtaining the IMF loan, but they are not crucial for the new loan programme with the IMF. Cosmetic economic changes are insufficient amid the lack of progress in privatization and curbing the state’s interventions in the economic processes in the country. As a rule, state control over the economy is loosened only during the crisis and is resumed when the situation stabilizes.
Thus, any economic reform programmes in Belarus are limited by the leadership’s views on the economic processes in the country. Full control over economic processes, preserving the state sector, active interferences at the privatized enterprises, the revision of privatization transactions, - all this is contrary to the IMF lending standards and pre-doom any such reform programs to fail.
The Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.