Belarusian government talks about reforms to secure investment
‘The government of bankers’, headed by Prime Minister Kobyakov succeeded in stabilising monetary and financial markets. In Q1 2015, Belarus’ real economy was in recession, however, the situation has been normalised by introducing higher tax burden on profitable economic sectors and reducing lending and expenditure on government programmes. The government plans to keep the economic situation under control by delaying loan payments to Russia, hoping to obtain a new loan from the IMF and by introducing ad hoc administrative measures without reforming the existing socio-economic model.
Prime Minister Kobyakov said that the new composition of the Belarusian government had already done a lot to normalise the domestic consumer market situation and would do even more.
In power since late 2014, Kobyakov’s Government consists mainly of bankers unlike preceding Myasnikovich-led government of ‘strong economic managers’. In 2013, the Myasnikovich’s government was responsible for implementing a large-scale economic modernisation, which was a failure leading to financial crisis of 2014-2015. The president has tasked the new government with normalising and ‘not deteriorating’ the economic situation.
Some experts anticipated that the new government would embark on economic reforms. However, so far, the Belarusian authorities have implemented contradicting measures in order to ensure economic stability. For instance, the National Bank and the government alike have made statements about the need to liberalise the economy and business environment, as well as restrict lending and spending on state programmes in order to normalise monetary and financial markets. Despite the fact that in Q1 2015 GDP went down by 2%, the prime minister underscored, that “implemented systemic measures create overall favourable grounds for better performance by enterprises”.
Simultaneously, the government is attempting to preserve control over prices with some ad hoc price regulations, and has introduced additional fees and taxes on profitable economic sectors and fines on those officially unemployed (the new law on ‘social parasites’). In addition, the authorities have attempted to gain additional revenues from IT business, which might have long-term negative effects on the IT industry as a whole and generally contradict the declared intentions to reform the economy. Until now, the IT industry was one of the most growth-promising sectors in the Belarusian economy, should a decision to reform the socio-economic model was made.
Nevertheless, while negotiating with international lenders, the prime minister said Belarus was ready to implement structural economic reforms. At a meeting with World Bank Director for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova Qimiao Phanom, Prime Minister Kobyakov said that Belarus hoped for a proactive stance and support from the World Bank in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a roadmap for economic reforms on April 17th – 18th in Washington. “We welcome a balanced and tailored approach to the analysis of the economic situation in our country and we are grateful to the World Bank for assistance in developing the roadmap for structural reforms”, he said. Indeed, economy specialists say that the roadmap developed by the government envisages structural reforms and revision of Belarusian economic model. The authorities hope to receive the first tranche from the IMF already in 2015; however, the implementation of the core measures of the economic transformation plan would begin only after the presidential campaign in 2016 – 2020.
In addition, the Kremlin has indirectly agreed to support the incumbent Belarusian president in the upcoming presidential elections. The prime minister said that Russia had agreed to refinance Belarus’ debt payments in 2015: “We have reached the agreement with the Russian partners to refinance payments due to the Russian Federation this year in full, including debts on intergovernmental loans and to the ACF”.
However, Kobyakov’s government is unlikely to implement structural economic reforms envisaged by the ‘roadmap’ in full. Despite its ‘reformist’ rhetoric vis-à-vis international creditors, the government’s initiatives as regards economic reforms are highly controversial and do not fall outside existing socio-economic model.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.