Dead Organisations in the Belarusian Third Sector – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Over the last few weeks a number of analytical publications came out. BISS prepared two regular reports on the trends within the Belarusian society and priorities in Belarus's foreign policy. For the first time the UN issued a report on the trends in the field of human rights in Belarus.
Mediakritika.by monitored how the state and independent media find out the sources of their news. The Liberal Club discussed the possible consequences of the new health system reform implementation.
Belarusian Third Sector is Overloaded with Dead Organisations – Uladzimir Matskevich, the leader of the National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum considers problems and threats to the civil society. He pays attention to poor legislation and poor conditions for Belarusian NGOs which waste time on formation, existence and survival: “Only those who can get away from all those formal obligations and allocate time for thinking, criticism, reflection, evaluation, and mere human discussion are capable of something. But there are very few of them in Belarus."
Where do the news come from? Mediakritika.by portal has monitored the two state-owned TV-channels in Belarus and non-governmental Belsat to find out sources of their news. Liaison offices of government bodies, public relations departments, ideology deputies – are the ones shaping the key information occasions featured by the Belarusian TV-channels on a daily basis. News occasions created by government’s spokespeople are the basis of the news broadcasts aired by all three TV-channels during the monitoring week. Meanwhile, there were almost no exclusive news materials created by the channels’ journalists.
BISS-Timeline #4 (April 2013) – Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) presents its brief monthly review of the major social, economical, political and cultural events in Belarus. According to publication, environmental issues were high on the agenda for Belarusians recently. Majority of public initiatives in April related to the Chernobyl disaster and the construction of a new power plant in Astraviec. The experts describe also the landmark foreign policy events in April, note that overstocks remain a significant problem, predict no important innovations in the social sector in the coming months, and reveal further confrontation between official and unofficial culture.
Another publication of BISS, Belarus' Foreign Policy Index #13 (March-April 2013), presents the 13th issue of its regular report, which focuses on five foreign policy priorities of Belarus. In particular, the experts note that official Minsk has once again underlined its limited negotiability with Russia and the willingness to take the necessary decisions in exchange for significant economic concessions. Belarus' relations with the EU continued to develop rapidly and demonstrated an unprecedented number of diplomatic and political contacts on the high state level for the last years. Some results of the current Index were also discussed at the “Amplituda” TUT.BY program.
What kind of Health Reform does Belarus need? After a panel discussion on the possible upcoming health reform in Belarus, Liberal club has shared the key findings and experts’ advice on the issue. According to surveys and experts’ opinions, the key problems of medical industry are lack of effective financial models for hospitals and poor human resources management. The experts also discussed the opportunities and consequences of insurance-financed medicine.
The European Dialogue on Modernization: the Current Status and Development Problems – Centre for European Transformation prepared policy paper providing a rationale for the reorganisation of the EU initiative European Dialogue on Modernization. The author substantiates the necessity of the convention and coordination of the position of various subjects, which is to actually set the stage for modernization reforms in Belarus – so called conventional modernization is contra posed to authoritarian modernization as a possible way of reforming Belarus’ economy while the current political regime is preserved.
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2013 – Human Rights Centre Viasna presents its regular monitoring on the human rights situation in Belarus. In April, the experts notice consistently poor situation with a clear tendency to deteriorate. Namely, 11 political prisoners were still kept in jail. A dangerous trend in April was that KGB and the prosecutors' offices issued warnings to activists about the possible criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered organizations.
The Way Belarusians Understand Civil Society is Puzzling – Ulad Vialichka, the chairman of the International Consortium "EuroBelarus", considers whether the notion of civil society is used correctly in Belarus and which countries’ experience can be most useful for Belarusian civil society. Vialichka assumes that Belarusian society still has an underdeveloped understanding of civil society that is connected with the fact that the processes of civil society formation that were going on in the early 90s were exposed to serious attacks afterwards.
International Reports on Belarus
First report of UN special rapporteur on Belarus. Miklos Haraszti, the UN Human Rights Council`s special rapporteur on Belarus, published his first report on the situation in Belarus. The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights describes the main trends in the field of human rights in Belarus in the period 5 July 2012 – 31 March 2013 and emphasises the systematic violations of human rights in Belarus.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s second thematic report. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, published his second thematic report which draws particular attention to the ability of civil society to seek, protect and use financial resources from international and internal sources. The report also provides practical guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the freedom of peaceful assembly.
European Parliament adopted draft recommendation on EU policy towards Belarus. Justas Paleckis acted as the rapporteur of the document. The European Parliament addresses its recommendations to a number of the EU institutions which should “reiterate the need for the unconditional and immediate release and rehabilitation of the political and civic rights of all remaining political prisoners to be a prerequisite for a gradual lifting of EU restrictive measures and for a substantial upgrade in EU-Belarus relations”.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
How Decisions are Made in Belarus
In less than two weeks, the Secretary of the Security Council Leanid Maltsau has to submit his proposal on the optimisation of the law enforcement agencies ("siloviki"). This follows the Presidential Decree No. 168 aimed at reforming the public administration in Belarus.
This will again raise questions about the role of the “siloviki” and, ultimately, about how the country is governed and who makes the decisions. The obvious easy answer goes that, of course, Alexander Luakshenka does. In the personalistic authoritarianism he indeed makes all important decisions himself. However, it would be an extreme oversimplification to see only Lukashenka behind any single decision or piece of legislation.
The bureaucratic machine undoubtedly plays a decisive role in shaping policy alternatives that Lukashenka considers. It governs Belarus as much as its highest official does. Therefore, understanding the mechanics of this machine is crucial. A recent study of Minsk-based Liberal Club helps shade some light on it.
It shows that the state decision-making process looks like a cycle with four different stages. It is strictly top-down and, therefore, highly reactive. The study also reveals poor communication between different ministries and other governmental bodies.
The public administration system in Belarus, in a way, resembles a Papal conclave: the outcomes of its work immediately become public and there are always rumours about, but generally the decision-making process remains non-transparent to outsiders.
Off-record interviews with state officials present the only opportunity to get an overall picture of the world inside the Belarusian state apparatus. The Centre for Analytical Initiatives of the Liberal Club has conducted a series of such interviews as part of its study on the reform of Belarus' public administration system. This article is based on their findings.
20 semi-structured interviews were conducted in April-May 2013. The interviewees represent the Presidential Administration, Council of Ministers, 5 ministries, 2 state concerns, 2 Voblast Executive Committees and 3 City Executive Committees.
Four Stages of State Decision-Making
The recent interviews reveal that the established decision-making process has four major stages and no single legal enactment which regulates it. Of course, the four stages do not apply to extraordinary cases where Lukashenka decides on the spot – like, for example, the cases of the confectionery factories Kommunarka and Spartak or the recent case of the private medical centre Ecomedservice.
At the first stage officials identify problems that need addressing. This normally results from various forms of monitoring the socioeconomic and political situation in the country: opinion polls, household surveys, analysis of citizens’ complaints, inspections, etc.
Initiatives to address a problem are the responsibility of either the relevant government bodies (ministries or state concerns) or supreme governmental bodies (the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Administration). These bodies produce all sorts of annual legislative plans and state programmes that prioritise issues for the state.
At the second stage, once the priorities are set, thematic government bodies are assigned the task of drafting decrees or other legislative acts. According to the majority of the interviewees, ministries and those whom are assigned the tasks have enough competence to develop decent quality drafts.
However, the quality often suffers at the third stage, when drafts are circulated for discussion among all interested bodies. Among other things, each institution involved pursues its own corporate goals. The resulting balance of interests may significantly undermine the ideas of the original drafters.
Finally, at the fourth stage it will end up in the Presidential Administration. There they go through another round of balance-of-interests discussions. Influential officials have every chance to amend drafts the way they want (if high-ranking officials themselves do not clash over certain issues). Importantly, the Presidential Administration’s governing principle is political expediency. As a result, here the contents of some drafts become further modified and streamlined in comparison with their technocratic original drafts.
Only after these four stages Alexandr Lukashenka reviews the drafts (if they need his signature) and makes his own decision. No doubt, his opinion is heavily affected by the previous stages of decision-making and also by the people who present the drafts to him.
Socioeconomic plans serve as typical examples of this four-stage process. At a government meeting last year Lukashenka famously exclaimed: “Why do you submit these plans to me to sign and then fail to fulfil them?”
The answer is easy: because in the existing decision-making short-term political goals and populism often prevail over any reasonable analysis and long-term planning.
Another important implication of the findings is that state decision-making remains highly reactive. The majority of problems fall in the government’s focus only after they become very serious. This results from the top-down hierarchical approach to identifying problems and making decisions.
This partially explains why Lukashenka has to interfere personally in all sorts of problems: the system of governance often remains inactive without an impulse from him. Of course, it was precisely Lukashenka’s own political style that resulted in the consolidation of this very system. It is still important to remark that Lukashenka's personal involvement in every matter is often the only way to get things done by the bureaucratic machine.
Poor Inter–Institutional Communication
Finally, the interviews reveal another problem: the lack of proper communication among separate governmental bodies. If one ministry needs some data from another one, there is every chance that it will not get it. Or will not get it on time.
This strange situation primarily results from competition of powerful officials and state agencies. Sometimes they would rather be happy to learn of the bad performance of their colleagues than the country’s progress. The crisis-hit year of 2011, when certain cracks inside the government became obvious, serves as a good example of their disjointed relations.
In addition, Belarusian bureaucrats like to classify everything. Even harmless decrees can bear the “for internal use only” label. More sensitive documents get higher protection, which complicates the transfer of information even within the state machine.
Simply put, the state decision-making process in Belarus looks like a closed cycle broken into four main stages. The initial impulse comes from the supreme governmental bodies or even Lukashenka himself. Then it transforms into a draft that returns to the supreme level in a form suitable for the balance of interests and political expediency.
The natural drawbacks of this super-centralized system are poor inter-institutional communication and reactive actions instead of proactive strategic thinking.