Public sector and civil servants are budget cut targets
According to draft legislation, as of January 1st, 2014 the Supreme Economic Court will merge with the Supreme Court, and Economic courts will become part of general jurisdiction courts system.
The so-called ‘improvements’ made by the authorities to the judiciary follow the overall trend of cutting budgetary expenditures. The authorities do not intend to review the current socio-economic policy in the short and medium term. They hope to preserve the existing model in a truncated form, by reducing the number of civil servants and cutting related costs.
The authorities’ plans to improve the work of the judiciary do not envisage drastic changes in the legal system. The changes will not affect the quality of justice in Belarus which would require increasing the judiciary’s independence and credibility.
The ‘judicial reform’ primarily aims to reduce budgetary expenditure on the judiciary – firstly on the administrative apparatus. President Alexander Lukashenko said “we have to achieve a significant reduction in the number of administrative staff. We have few judges as it is.”
Earlier in 2013, within the ‘administrative reform’ some budgetary cuts were made for certain categories of civil servants and public sector employees. In H1 2013 about 30 % of public officials were laid off, which allowed salaries to be increased for the remaining employees. According to the National Statistics Committee, in July due to lay-offs, public officials’ wages were increased by 43%.
The ‘administrative reform’ also affected teachers and other education professionals. They are forced to work more (from 18 to 20 hours per week), but their salaries have increased only by 3%.
Salaries of those employed by the Belarusian Rail Road were cut by 10%, and their working hours reduced to 35 hours per week. Employees are also advised to take unpaid leave.
Deputy Finance Minister Maxim Ermolovich said, that “over 1 million people are paid from the state budget, we won’t hold it out, therefore optimization is objectively necessary. It is already underway. The army and the police are included in this optimization.”
In addition, the authorities continue to cut costs on “social” budget items. Transport, housing and communal services tariffs are gradually going up. Small price increases on various goods and services subsidized from the state budget occur every month.
In the absence of external funding, authorities will continue to cut some expenditure items. They will do it gradually so as not to cause tension in society and open expressions of discontent. Meanwhile, the likelihood that President Alexander Lukashenko will agree on structural economic or social or institutional reforms is extremely low.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.