Lukashenko tightens liability link between public officials and economic development

April 22, 2016 18:51

Ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, Lukashenko attempts to expand collective responsibility for the economic affairs by delegating more authority to regional leaders. He envisages improving efficiency in agriculture by mobilizing public officials, as he has limited opportunities to do so with subsidies. Meanwhile, stricter labour discipline may have only a short-term effect on the command economy’s efficiency.

At a meeting on agricultural policy, President Lukashenko announced he was ready to sign a decree to strengthen powers of Belarus’ regional heads.

Yet in April, in his annual address to the Belarusian people and the Parliament, Lukashenko underscored the need to expand the regional heads’ powers in personnel matters. Despite frequent visits to Belarus’ regions since early 2014, President Lukashenko alone could not improve the economy’s efficiency. Traditional threats to public officials of criminal prosecution, constant staff reshuffles and the anti-corruption campaign have little or no effect amid languishing resources to support Belarus’ economy. 

For example, recently significant resources have been spent on upgrading  Belarus’ dairy industry, including building new dairy facilities and renovating old farms. . However, over the past three years, none of the regions was able to fulfil the indicators set in the national program for the diary industry development. In 2013, milk shortage was 2 million tons, and agricultural enterprises’ lost profits were over BYR 6 trillion. In Q1 2014, the number of unprofitable agricultural enterprises tripled.

Interestingly, after his controversial visit to ‘Ivatsevichdrev’ in November 2012, President Lukashenko issued a decree banning woodworking employees from resigning until the modernisation was completed. Tighter labour discipline has not improved the process of modernising the woodworking industry. Despite managers’ and senior officials’ dismissals, investment project deadlines have been repeatedly postponed and new production lines have not been commissioned to date. Meanwhile, managers believe that tighter discipline at the enterprises has a positive effect on the staffing situation, primarily on employee retention. Moreover, harsher working conditions have had no visible effect on the protest activity in the regions. 

This approach to labour discipline will be extended to agricultural workers. In particular, President Lukashenko said, “I ask a tough question because the decree, which I have mentioned earlier, is on the table. Frankly, the decree is about ‘serfdom’. We lock everything on governors. You can’t leave, you can’t switch [jobs]...”

In addition, the president reinforces government control of the economy, in an attempt to reduce risks ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign. According to Lukashenko, regional heads will be empowered to relocate, appoint or dismiss managers and/or specialists at all Belarusian enterprises, including private. In addition, they will also receive the authority over regional power structures.

The authorities are not pondering reforms to the current economic model in the near future. The government will only tighten labour discipline in troubled industries.

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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.