Government wants to keep control over housing industry without stretching budget
The state continues to search for additional resources to replenish the budget at the population’s expense. The budget deficit was partly patched up with revenues from the privatization of state-owned apartments. The deadline for state-owned apartments privatization was prolonged until 2016, so as not to aggravate citizens until after the presidential election. The government plans budgetary cuts on the state housing policy, but it is not willing to reduce its presence in this sphere.
Alexander Lukashenko endorsed a draft decree related to regulation of housing relations.
As of early 2013, 392,000 apartments (14% of the total housing stock) remain non-privatized in Belarus. The share of non-privatized housing (since Soviet era) is higher in the regions. About 182,000 people still possess ‘Housing’ cheques, which can be used to privatize the state-owned apartments they live in.
After the currency crisis in 2011, the government launched a housing policy revision slowly reducing its social orientation. The Government has gradually limited state soft loans and subsidies for housing construction. The Rental Housing Construction Programme was given priority, as well as transferring public housing stock into rental housing. The authorities plan to use proceeds from housing privatization to fill in the gap in budget revenues (circa BYR 17 trillion).
The Government initiative jeopardizes the disadvantaged – mostly retirees who predominate among state’s tenants. Many of them cannot afford to privatize (privatization costs vary between USD 4,000 and USD 35,000). Moreover, if housing and utility tariffs go up, they will be unable to pay for their premises. Most of these apartments will be transformed into social housing or rental housing without the right for privatization.
In addition, the conversion of public apartments into rental housing will increase tenants’ dependence on the state, which may bring political dividends.
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.