New Presidential Administration Head Appointment: crisis in administration
Mr. Kobyakov was recalled from ambassadorial position in Russia to occupy the second highest-ranking position in Belarus, implying that loyalty crisis is deteriorating in the President Lukashenko’s surroundings. This appointment also suggests that decision-making in Belarus is becoming less formal, taking place outside formalized institutions, including the Presidential Administration.
On August 27th, President Lukashenko appointed Andrey Kobyakov as Head of the Presidential Administration.
This personnel decision marks, above all, the growing loyalty shortage in the Alexander Lukashenko’s surroundings. And the chaotic career of Andrey Kobiakov illustrates this deficiency and the subsequent personnel policy: Andrei Kobyakov was transferred from the Deputy Prime Minister post to the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration immediately after the presidential elections in 2010, and in November 2011 he was appointed as Ambassador of Belarus to Russia, and in addition to that in April 2012 he was appointed as Special Representative of Belarus in a number of integration organizations (CES, CIS, CSTO, etc.)
On the one hand, the return of Mr. Kobyakov to head the PA suggests that Alexander Lukashenko considers relations with Russia a priority number one and is not ready to repeat the political game of “rapprochement with the West” carried out in 2008-2010 under the leadership of the former PA head Mr. Makey. On the other hand, the “Russian” background of the new appointee, who was born in Russia, demonstrates a decline in the PA importance in the decision-making. As we have already noted, after 2011, President Lukashenko has been actively forming a new managerial institution, the so-called “Special forces’ Club”, made of loyal heads of security agencies.
Thus, Mr. Kobyakov’s appointment demonstrates that in the near future Belarus will refrain from resuming a political dialogue with the EU and the U.S. and from reforming political and economic systems in compliance with ‘Western’ requirements. However, it is likely that the authorities will try to step up cooperation with international financial funds. Mr. Kobyakov could play a positive role in this, given his professional experience: he was in charge of economic issues in the Government when the IMF Stand-by programme for Belarus started in 2009.
Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.
The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.
The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.
Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.
President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.
Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.