How to reduce costs of local elections?

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April 22, 2016 18:42

The authorities abolished rural councils in some regions, a move that suggests preparations for the local elections are underway. Regional authorities have been instructed to reduce expenses on the local elections and rural council maintenance costs.

The main reason behind the abolishment of rural Deputy Councils is neither to carry out an administrative reform nor to improve management quality or efficiency – it pursues only one goal – to cut budgetary expenditure on the local elections. The abolition of rural councils will not result in systemic reform of the local governance. In addition, while abolishing rural councils, the government would have to question the need for rural executive committees. A whole range of services, as a rule, provided by rural authorities, may become unavailable for rural residents.

The main problem with the rural councils is that they lack autonomy: financial and operational. Every four years, Deputies are elected to rural Councils in Belarus, but they have no real power. Rural Councils (as well as regional and oblast Councils) exist for ‘decoration’ - all decisions are made by the executive committees.

The model of how local governance is organized is a copycat of the Soviet model. Moreover, in Soviet times, local councils saw to executive committees, which where accountable to the Councils – unlike today, when all decisions are made exclusively by the executive and later ‘approved’ by the Councils. For example, Deputy Councils approve socio-economic development plans which they do not prepare; they approve local budgets, but do not form them; they set rules for communal property management but do not manage this property.

Many experts suggest that an administrative reform is belated in Belarus. Experts in local and self-governance proposed an ‘alternative’ administrative reform which envisages a fundamentally different territorial and administrative division in the country. They also propose to replace Belarus’ 1,250 local councils with 160-180 economically independent local governance structures.

It is worth mentioning that the abolishment of rural councils is also a ‘symbolic’ decision, since it implies that this region has ‘no future’. Currently, about 25% of Belarus’ population live in rural areas – mostly past working age and economically inactive. Abolishing rural councils will strengthen depressive moods in some rural areas, and will widen the gap between the population and authorities.

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