President Lukashenko strengthens ‘anti-corruption’ pressure on officials

April 22, 2016 18:55

Amid declining manageability of the state apparatus in Belarus and the power crisis in Ukraine, Belarus’ president is stepping up pressure on state officials in order to mobilise them ahead of the presidential campaign. In anticipation of the 2015 election campaign, President Lukashenko is honing his anti-corruption rhetoric and is preparing the population for anti-corruption propaganda to deflect attention from the lack of progress in socio-economic development. In the near future, the Belarusian government has no plans either to introduce major changes in the power system, or to reform the existing socio-economic model.

While visiting the Bereza Power Plant, President Lukashenko instructed more effort to be put into the criminal investigation at the power plant. 

Throughout his rule, President Lukashenko has successfully used anti-corruption rhetoric to boost his ratings, especially ahead of the election campaigns. The president aspires to increase the public sector’s efficiency by putting pressure on state managers: “We shall enact full responsibility. This is to ensure accountability for the public funds. All public expenditures put an enormous burden on the population and largely on the real economy”.

President Lukashenko is deeply concerned about corruption, bearing in mind the impact that corruption has on how state apparatus can be managed. Ukraine acts as a poignant reminder. For example, in 2013, 2,301 corruption crimes were registered in Belarus, which is 29.3% more than in 2012. In H1 2014, more than 550 corruption-related crimes were registered. While Transparency International puts Belarus above Russia and Ukraine in its Corruption Perception Index, Belarus has slipped down the ranks in recent years: from 74th in 2004 to 123rd in 2013. Recently, almost all ‘flagman’ governmental programmes have derailed, been hindered or have not achieved their economic goals.

The Belarusian population also appears to have noticed a lack of progress in the state’s fight against corruption. According to recent polls by IISEPS, only 39.1% agreed with Lukashenko that “the Belarusian authorities constantly and firmly fight against corruption”, while 48.4% disagreed. This perception seems to be why the president has reinforced anti-corruption show-trials and enhanced his anti-corruption rhetoric. For instance, members of the upper house of the Belarusian Parliament have stripped their colleague - Director General at Vitebsk Broiler Farm Shareyko – of parliamentary immunity. In addition, a month ago, another senator (Vitali Kostogorov) had his parliamentary immunity removed and was arrested. Interestingly, both are successful businessmen. 

Recently, the state-run media reported that “following a request by the Head of State”, the draft Law “On Fighting against Corruption” was put out for public discussion. Public debates about draft laws are extremely scarce in Belarus – the government effectively prevents citizens from debating draft legislation. In this particular case, Lukashenko said, “people should know where officials obtain money and property from”.

In addition, Lukashenko announced the next stage in reforming the state apparatus as well as further staff-cuts. It is noteworthy that he also hinted about reducing the state’s functions: “we can still halve the state apparatus by stepping up discipline and by removing certain functions from the state apparatus – ones that are not attributable or simply harmful”. Over the years, many independent experts have talked about the need to strip the government of some functions in order to improve management and efficiency of the state, and to reduce corruption.

Lukashenko will continue strengthening his anti-corruption rhetoric and there will be more show-trials against corrupt state managers. However, the Belarusian government will not carry out significant changes in the public administration structure before the presidential campaign.

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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.