Lukashenka to Cut A Quater of Belarusian Bureaucrats

On 12 April Alexander Lukashenka made his final decision on the public administration reform that he declared last year. He signed Decree No. 168 that aims to optimise the state apparatus and reduce the number of civil servants.

The reform did not any further than sacking 25% of government officials. The reductions should allow the government to raise the salaries for the remaining bureaucrats.

Lukashenka is particularly worried about the potential public reaction to this. He reiterated many times that he does not want to see an income gap between the average Belarusian and a civil servant grow as a result of the reform.

General wisdom suggests that the president has reason to worry. Belarusians perceive bureaucrats quite negatively and the growing income disparity between civil servants and the rest of society can be a trigger that will anger them even more. It stands to be noted that salaries in the governmental sector remain rather modest and opinion polls reveal that the people are aware of bureaucrats nominal salaries.

Reform that Does Not Reform

Lukashenka has finally finished the long and drawn out thinking process on public administration reform that he proclaimed in mid-2012. As a result, Belarusians have not seen a full-fledged reform. The grand initiative has been reduced to simply sacking 25% of civil servants. At least, at the moment Decree No. 168 foresees only this and some other minor changes.

Thus, it looks like the popular hypothesis about the intentions behind the proclaimed reform have indeed materialised. The decree simply aims to raise the salaries of bureaucrats in order to slow, or even stop, the draining pool of public officials moving over to the commercial sector in Belarus or abroad. The efficiency of public administration system itself, however, remains at the bottom of the agenda.

The logic is simple. The salaries of the fired civil servants should be redistributed among those who remain. According to a study by the Liberal Club, a Minsk-based think tank, the savings will amount to about BYR 900 billion or roughly $100 million. The Ministry of Finance estimates the savings to be slightly higher than this.

How Much Do Civil Servants Earn Today?

If all this money goes to the pockets of the civil servants who are keeping their jobs, the average pay raise will amount to about $200-220 per person. This looks quite substantial, all things considered.

In February 2013 the average salary in the governmental sector remained as low as $560.

Presumably, the extra money to be drawn out of the “reform” will not be spread out evenly amongst all civil servants and the results of these pay raises will, for a majority, bring them to essentially the existing salary rates. High-ranking officials will most likely enjoy larger increases than their middle- and low-ranking colleagues.

Today junior civil servants earn not more than $250-350, while the average official salary of a minister exceeds $1,600; and a deputy minister – $1,450. Additionally, high-ranking civil servants can regularly enjoy considerable monthly bonuses.

Belarusians Think that Public Servants Have Low Wages

The Liberal Club did a thorough content-analysis of Lukashenka’s speeches in the context of the public administration reform. The analysis reveals that he was primarily concerned with the potential public reaction to the planned increase of bureaucrats' salaries.

In his 2012 address to the nation Lukashenka underlined his intention to make sure that the reform would not bring about social stratification. He warned the government against a situation developing in which people would feel that bureaucrats have become better-off, while the rest of society has the same income.

Interestingly, various opinion polls demonstrate that Belarusians generally admit that civil servants’ salaries remain low. Sometimes even too low.

In a 2010 survey of the Information and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration 39% of the respondents named low salaries in the governmental sector as the main driver of corruption in society. This was only slightly less than the most popular answer: bureaucrats’ desire to secure extra income causes corruption (42%).

Even though the data of state pollsters usually lacks credibility, this survey does not appear to be politicised. Moreover, it dates back to the year of 2010, when the issue of public administration reform did not come up in Lukashenka's speeches. Therefore, the data looks close to reality.

Public Attitudes towards Bureaucrats

Even though Belarusian citizens realise the problem of low salaries in the governmental sector, they might still negatively perceive the prospects of raising bureaucrats' salaries.

Sociologist Vasily Korf of the Liberal Club argues that generally Belarusians do not like government officials. In his opinion, a number of factors play a role here.

First of all, ordinary people often have to go through tiring bureaucratic procedures in their daily lives (in healthcare, education, housing, etc.). Obviously, this does not make them the biggest fan of bureaucrats.

Secondly, people regularly hear about corrupt civil servants and managers of state enterprises in the news. This is part of President Lukashenka’s PR strategy. He basically came to power as a desperate warrior against corruption at the highest levels of the state machinery. For his part, he is trying to do his best to sustain this image. As a result, the public is constantly bombarded with the image of corrupt officials at all levels of state power except, naturally, the highest one.

Finally, personal encounters with officials often leaves people unsatisfied. Vasily Korf points to the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (IISEPS) polling data that demonstrates, for example, a growing number of those who say they were offended by a policeman, prosecutor or judge. People naturally become hostile to any idea of making the life of civil servants better after repeated negative encounters with bureaucrats. 

In the end, public feelings about Decree No 168 appear to be rather mixed. Even taking into account their critical attitudes towards the bureaucracy, Belarusians realise the standing issue of low salaries in the governmental sector. They also realise that this problem leads to more corruption in society. Therefore, the population will not necessarily take too critical a stance on the issue of higher salaries for bureaucrats. Especially since this is accompanied by a 25 % layoff in the ranks of civil servants.

The public reaction will also depend on the overall economic situation in the country. In a stable financial situation the population will not worry about salary increases. But if another economic crisis develops, it can easily become a target of the public's anger.

 

Yauheni Preiherman is Policy Director of the Discussion and Analytical Society Liberal Club in Minsk.

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