Belarusian authorities aim to tighten control over IT and boost its role in economy

March 20, 2017 10:10
Image: kp.by

The president has demonstrated a loyal attitude to the IT sector, and simultaneously stepped up control over the industry. By appointing a compromise candidate, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, to lead the High Tech Park, the Belarusian authorities aspire to relax tension between the IT sector and the state, which occurred following Tsepkalo’s dismissal. Apparently, the Belarusian leadership envisages applying private business practices in traditional industries to the IT sector, i.e. allowing large businesses to develop in exchange for the loyalty to the current authorities and their financial needs.

The president has appointed his aide, Chair of the Supervisory Board of the HTP and long time supervisor of the IT industry, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, as he Head of the HTP Administration.

Amid distress in traditional industries, the state has stepped up its interest in the IT development in an attempt to boost economic growth. The president counts on prompt economic effects thanks to large investment in the economy. For instance, last week he visited Belarusian IT companies together with Russian billionaire and IT investor Mikhail Gutseriev. Meanwhile, apparently not all senior officials from the president’s inner circle share his views, so they speak about the long-term IT development in order to prevent criticism in his regard in the future.

IT sector leaders have reacted positively to the appointment of former chief ideologist from the presidential administration Yanchevsky to lead the HTP. Yanchevsky is probably the only official in the top echelon of the state administration, who is closely familiar with the IT and communication technologies, and suits both, the authorities and IT entrepreneurs.

It is worth noting that, along with his appointment as the HTP Head, Yanchevsky is attempting to strengthen his lobbying potential by creating an additional bureaucratic structure - the Public Council for IT Development, which would include officials and business representatives.

The Belarusian leadership seems ready for gradual structural transformations in the economy in Belarus and takes measures to ensure it retains control over new promising sectors.

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Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.

The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.

The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.

Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.

President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.

Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.