Tax on ‘social parasitism’: inefficient, but necessary

December 19, 2016 11:54
Image: SB

After President Lukashenka said that the Decree No 3 envisaging the tax on social dependents would be amended, not abolished, the tax authorities released the decree implementation report. According to the report, the tax authorities failed to administer the tax, moreover, its economic impact was negligible. The decree was meant to be used as an additional tool to regulate labour market and official unemployment.

The tax authorities sent 73 000 notices to potential payers of the tax on ‘social parasitism’, of which 15 000 were able to prove their right not to pay the tax. Only about 10800 people paid the tax, from whom the state budget raised circa USD 1.2 million. Initially, the authorities assumed that in 2016 there would be circa 160000 taxpayers, who would raise circa USD 40 million for the state budget. In addition, they calculated that in the future the taxpayers number would rise up to 400 000, contributing circa USD 300-400 million to the state budget annually.

Independent analysts doubted the efficiency of such a system and pointed at its high costs. In addition, as the tax authorities mailed their notices to tax payers, major shortcomings in the taxpayers’ database were revealed - it listed citizens exempt from tax and the deceased. The authorities failed to respond to requests by ‘Tell the Truth’ campaign and independent media about administrative costs of such a tax. However, indirect evidence shows they were rather high: 27 government agencies and 82 000 organisations were involved in compiling the taxpayers’ database.

Amid growing unemployment and falling wages, despite sharp criticism by independent analysts, some government members and discontent among the population, the Belarusian authorities will not repeal the decree. Instead, they plan to improve the system by exempting some categories of unemployed from the taxpayers’ list.

In addition, as Belarusians get used to the idea, the state may introduce additional systemic measures to raise additional proceeds from the population and expand the list of those liable to pay the tax. So far, people showed their discontent with the authorities’ action by refusing to pay the tax, with some local initiatives collecting signatures to abolish the decree and with some appeals by the opposition.

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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.