Administrative reform will increase official’s dependence
On April 12th, the President signed a decree No 168 „Measures to optimize government system and other public organizations, as well as staffing”.
Administrative reform is carried out in compliance with the previously announced radical plan to reduce public servants by one-fourth. At the same time, the President is forced to make new appointments to reduce the opposition risks by the nomenclature, whose interests would be negatively affected by the reform.
As anticipated, the government is reforming the state apparatus in a radical way. On average it is planned to lay-off about 25% of civil servants (about 13,000 people). In practical implications, about 15% will be laid off from state-owned concerns, forest managements, and light industry, and over 27% from foodstuffs and petroleum industries. At the local level – regions, districts and towns – it is anticipated that the overall public servants will be downsized to 20.5 thousand employees – in executive and administrative bodies, including government officials.
The Decree provides the Republican Labour Arbitration (a mediatory body to resolve collective labour disputes) will be dissolved. RLA employs 27 persons and considers about 50 labor disputes per year. Civil servants and state employees, laid-off as a result of the reform, retain the right to appeal against their dismissal to a higher government agency or court, however, collective complaints procedure has not yet been determined.
Predictably, top management at ministries and local executive agencies are the least affected by the reform. In addition, several ministries’ powers even were extended, for example, with capacity to organize exhibitions and trade fairs in Belarus and abroad (Trade Ministry and Foreign Ministry respectively). The Economy Ministry has been appointed a national focal point for relations between Belarus and the Eurasian Economic Commission.
The bulk of personnel reform should be completed before July 1st, 2013, but the decree suggests a further review of the structure and the number of state-budget funded organizations. In particular, paragraph 16.3 of the decree envisages optimizing the number of public institutions providing educational, medical and social services by 25% by January 1st, 2014. These institutions are the pillars of the Belarus’ social state.
To compensate for the dismissal, the government offers the laid-off to defer payments for housing construction and education loans up to a year, until they find a new job, as well as to maintain access to health care in special public clinics. Those who will keep their places will be offered pay-rises from the released funds. In total, the reform aims at saving circa USD 130 million in equivalent.
Painful and rather drastic reduction in the state apparatus forces President Lukashenko to tighten discipline and minimize nomenclature opposition risks. On April 12th, the President made a number of appointments in the law enforcement agencies’ top management, in particular, he appointed two new KGB Deputies, tasking them to strengthen the fight against corruption.
It is anticipated that due to personnel reform and associated risks, the governance style in 2013 will be rigid. Both, the President and his inner circle are interested in – for their own safety – tightened discipline within the state apparatus. This policy further limits the opportunities for the low-level officials to participate in privatization, to lobby Russian businesses’ interests, as well as to participate in Belarus – EU cross-border cooperation programmes, experts’ exchange, etc if launched.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.