Government wants to keep control over housing industry without stretching budget

April 22, 2016 18:41

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.