Law enforcement agencies reform: MIA shrinking competencies

April 22, 2016 18:36

On August 18th, Presidential Decree No 360 took effect, which envisages increased powers for the Financial Investigations Department of Belarus’ State Control Committee.

Growing economic and political risks force the ruling group to concentrate the state’s power management in the most loyal and controlled agencies. Newly created security agencies which are close to the President have been empowered with greater authority, while the country’s oldest law enforcement agency, the Interior Ministry, is gradually losing its powers.

The Decree No 360 has empowered the SCC FID (Belarus’ Financial Police) with the right to stop or suspend the operations of enterprises if their activities (products, services) pose a threat to national security, or the  life and health of the population and the environment (‘national security’ criteria added).

Thus, the FID has received a powerful tool to control Belarusian and foreign businesses operating in Belarus. “National security” provision allows maximizing the use of sanctions.

Empowering the FDI (established in 2001) is a logical development in the law enforcement agencies reform, the most visible outcome of which is consistently stripping the Interior Ministry of its powers. During the past two years the MIA functions have consistently narrowed, while the authority of new agencies under President Lukashenko’s control has increased, in particular, in the area of economic crimes.

In 2011, the Investigative Committee was founded (monopolized anti-corruption investigation), and in 2013, the State Committee for Forensic Examinations was set up (monopolized forensic expertise). In addition, President Lukashenko has repeatedly spoken about the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Interior Ministry reform. As a result, the MIA is gradually being converted into an agency that mainly protects public order and is losing jurisdiction over the fight against corruption and economic crimes. 

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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.