The ruling group is strengthening control over assets which it considers important
Financial instability increases political risks and forces Lukashenko’s entourage to strengthen control over the property in the country. In practice this means the abandonment of the project ‘liberalization’, which was carried out in Belarus in 2008 – 2010.
On October 25th, President Lukashenko demanded to improve management efficiency at enterprises with sate shares.
A meeting at Presidential Administration concerning measures to improve the public shares management aimed to strengthen and foster the “success” from the partial re-privatization of Kommunarka and Spartak confectioneries. In particular, Lukashenko criticized the supervisory boards’ actions at enterprises with mixed ownership, which give “away all of the major decisions at Director’s mercy”, rather than securing public interests.
During the meeting it was proposed that the chairman of the supervisory board in a company with state shares (where the number of employees is 15 000 and higher) should be appointed by the President, i.e. he/she should not be subordinated to the investor. Earlier Lukashenko issued Decree № 8, allowing the Presidential Administration to issue additional shares at so-called strategic enterprises.
If these measures are implemented, the government will retain control over the most important public companies, even without the controlling shares. In a way it means that a so called ‘golden share’ rule, abolished in March 2008, is being resurrected. Instead, a ‘Golden Chairman of the Board’ rule could be introduced.
Simultaneously with the adoption of these unpopular among Belarusian nomenclature and business measures, the President reinforces populist patriotic rhetoric. On October 26th, took place a scathing meeting to discuss the Belarusian Olympic team performance in London, where the head of state suggested the Minister of Sport and Tourism, the Presidential Aide for Sport and the two Vice-Chairman of the National Olympic Committee to resign.
In populist terms, these measures look advantageously: both, the seizure of confectioneries from ‘oligarch bloodsuckers’ and returning them back to children, as well as restoring order among the gray mass of corrupt officials. However, for the successful mobilization of the state apparatus President Lukashenko needs to have the mass support of the population. Recent opinion polls show that today the President’s popularity is very low (30%), and that pure populist rhetoric fails to improve it.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.