The New Mayor of Minsk: a New Trend in Top Level Appointments?
On 6 November, President Lukashenka appointed a new mayor to the nation's capital. The appointee Andrei Shorats (41) represents a new generation of state officials. Most of his life passed in independent Belarus. He and Andrei Shved (41), chairman of the Investigative Committee, are the youngest members to climb to top ranks of the state bureaucracy.
The Mayor of Minsk is always a major figure in Belarusian politics. After all, every fifth Belarusian lives in the capital and 25% of the country's jobs are concentrated in Minsk. One of the recent mayors, Uladzimir Yarmoshyn, jumped directly from the mayor's office to the office of the prime minister.
The newly appointed Shorats, who has so far advanced relatively quickly in his career, may continue his rise. This rise deserves additional attention because of the liberal economic views held by Minsk's youngest mayor in recent history.
Decorated and Dismissed
The previous mayor of Minsk Mikalai Ladutska ran the city for almost five years. Although Lukashenka more than once publicly criticised the work of the Minsk City Executive Committee (the city's governing body)– last time being in April– hardly anybody expected Ladutska be removed.
After all, he was able to cope with holding the Hockey World Cup in May and Lukashenka decorated him with a state honour in September. Ladutska missed no opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to the president and declared himself to be "a man who is serving the “vertical” [of presidential power]. I was appointed to that office by the Head of the State and my task is to ensure to the fullest extent the implementation of his policies”.
There are many reasons that could have led to the decision to remove Ladutska. Minsk still had problems with attracting investment and was struggling with economic stagnation in recent years. Ladutska would be a useful scapegoat for them, especially when considered against the backdrop of a corruption scandal which involved his team in the city administration.
More importantly, he angered numerous Minsk citizens by relentlessly pursuing policies that lead to more and more construction in already settled parts of the capital. It frequently led to more crowding in already densely populated areas and people were increasingly being deprived of the green spaces and playgrounds they had enjoyed around their homes. Such ruthless development added to societal tensions in the build up to next year's presidential election.
A State Manager
The new chairman of Minsk City Executive Committee was born in 1973 in Northern Belarusian city of Vitsebsk. In 1995, he graduated from the Vitsebsk Technological Institute of Light Industry. He rapidly created a career for himself in managerial positions in public sector, specifically dealing with energy, transportation and other public utility matters in the Vitsebsk Province Executive Committee.
In 2010, he arrived in Minsk as the Deputy Minister of Housing and Communal Services and in June 2011 became the head of this Ministry. His responsibilities included a wide array of services that are consumed daily by the public: electricity, natural gas, water, sewage, etc. In Belarus, all of them are provided by state organisations and firms.
In other words, this means while serving in this arduous office he ran a huge organisation forever dependent on state subsidies – after all consumers pay only a small fraction of the costs for public utility services (e.g., 23.7% in January-March 2014).
He Who Cannot Pay Shall – Move Out?
Shorats had all the appearances of an effective and liberal manager. Among the many innovations he proposed was to allow private providers to enter the market of public utility services – a revolutionary move in Belarus.
Shorts demonstrated his liberal economic views in 2013 when he proposed to change the legal status of apartments which were given to citizens by the state and that have not yet been privatised. This radical initiative threatened to turn 392,000 non-privatised flats into so called “commercial housing”.
There is one comparison that aptly indicates that Shorats has been the recipient of help from the very top. Just before he put forth his plan, senior officials at the Energy Ministry lost their offices in an act of demonstrative punishment after they tried to increase energy tariffs for consumers.
As minister, Shorats also made other attempts to reform the housing sector. In 2011, he publicly discussed the idea of moving people who cannot pay for public utility services into smaller flats and stated, absent any hubris, that “nowhere in the world are there are as many homeowners as there are in Belarus – 85.5%! Everybody is an homeowner here”. His comments were directed towards the fact that in Western countries many people live in rented housing.
First Liberalise Minsk?
The new mayor is going to continue his liberalisation campaign in Minsk. His former ministry has developed a plan for reforms of the public utility system. At this point, Lukashenka has himself has ordered him to reform public utility services in the capital. The reform will lead to rising prices for local population, aas well as property transfers with the prospect of gradual privatisation and reductions in the state's social welfare support.
Shorats himself has outlined his priorities in Minsk as improving the city's attractiveness for investors, fixing the public healthcare system and dealing with the “economics of enterprises belonging both to the state and city”. Not long after this statement, he elaborated on the last point by declaring his plans to bring together shops which belong to the city under one umbrella.
The new mayor also plans to drop some of the city's social welfare commitments. He is openly urging the development of a new added fee for communal services. The government would then use residents' money to upgrade living environments of their buildings.
Lukashenka Finds New Faces
The Belarusian leadership – however slowly – is trying to carry out renovations to the government. Last year some members of the opposition media* described the government as a team of pensioners and compared the relative age of officials in the Belarusian and Georgian governments. Yet there is no point in such a comparison given that Georgia represents an extreme and should be viewed only as an outlier.
By regional standards the Belarusian government is quite ordinary when it comes to its age and personnel structure. Moreover, the current leadership is finding new people to promote up through the ranks – people who are demonstrating an ability to work in a different way. The cases of Pavel Latushka and Andrei Shorats prove precisely this point.
If the new mayor of Minsk succeeds in the implementation of his quasi-liberal plans in Minsk, this can push the country in a new direction. The government is increasingly moving to get rid of as many social support welfare schemes as possible and is continuously introducing a market economy in so far as it suits the ruling elites.
Young Officials Get Positions, Old Crowd Waits for New Appointments – Belarus Profile Digest
Belarus Digest with its sister project Belarus Profile is launching a new series of publications primarily devoted to changes in the Belarusian nomenclature. Every two months, Belarus Profile Digest will cover the most important recent appointments and dismissals and examine emerging trends in Belarus.
In November, Lukashenka made a number of appointments which show a new trend is developing. Many of the new appointees are young and all of them were born in Belarus. Another noticeable trend can be seen in the appointment of the first vice-ministers as ministers, as happened with the ministers of finance and housing and communal services as well as the previous appointment of the Minister of Information.
The former Minsk mayor, the Chairman of the Customs Committee and the Minister of Defence belong to an older generation of officials and are likely to get new appointments soon. The Belarusian bureaucratic system usually keeps even failed officials. This is due to the isolation of the nomenclature and the reluctance of young people to join it.
Andrej Raŭkoŭ became the new Minister of Defence after the dismissal of Juryj Žadobin earlier this month. He lacks work experience in the ministry – according to Lukashenka “that can be an advantage”. Previously he commanded the troops of the North-Western Operational Command. Raŭkoŭ comes from Belarus. This is a break from the typical pattern in the country where people born outside of Belarus and educated in Russia have traditionally dominated the leadership of the military, police and the KGB.
Andrej Šorac replaced the previous head of the Minsk City Executive Committee Mikalaj Ladućka. Šorac is 41 so he is younger than a majority of senior officials. Over the past three years he served as minister of housing and communal services and prepared reforms in this arena. The civil society group 'Group on Housing Reforms', which included Šorac, exposed a lot of weaknesses in the housing and communal services of Minsk and his recent appointment may be tied to their work.
Aliaksandr Cierachaŭ became the Minister of housing and communal services and the youngest minister in Belarus. Cierachaŭ is 36, he worked in the Homel Region Executive Committee and served as the first deputy of Šorac in the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services for the last three years.
Uladzimir Amaryn became the new Finance Minister. He is an insider in the ministry: Amaryn has been working in the financial system in Belarus since 1983, and from 2008 till 2014 he played the role of the First Deputy Minister of Finance. During the appointment Lukashenka advised Amaryn to follow the law and be careful: "Under no circumstance should you do what you must not do, under the order of a prime minister or deputy prime ministers as that destabilises the relationships in the ruling hierarchy."
Jury Siańko replaces Aliaksandr Špilieŭski now leads the State Customs Committee. Starting as an inspector in the Hrodna Region Customs, he rose to become the boss there, and over the last three years, led the Minsk Region Customs. According to Lukashenka, "Belarus has become the only transit corridor from east to west, so be ready to work in a new environment." Lukashenka also spoke about the need to increase customs revenues.
Natallia Ejsmant became press secretary of Alexander Lukashenka. Ejsmant worked as a journalist for the state broadcasting company and recently turned 30. For several years the post of press secretary has remained vacant. It should be noted that Natallia Piatkievič, an influential assistant to the president, launched her own career through this very post.
Although officially Alexander Lukashenka cannot elect the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, of course, he makes final decision.
Michail Orda became the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus in October. Orda led the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, a pro-Lukashenka youth organisation – under his leadership the BRYU conducted protests at the Western embassies. He served as a member of the House of Representatives and got under the EU visa restrictions. Following the appointment of the head of the Federation of Trade Unions, the EU removed Orda from the "black list".
As a result of new appointments a number of former top officials remain in the "reserves".
Juryj Žadobin headed the Ministry of Defence since 2009 and has long had a reputation of being an old-timer in the Belarusian political system. Previously he led the Presidential Security Service, the Committee for State Security and the State Secretary of the Security Council. In 2009 Lukashenka said to Žadobin that was worse than all of the previous State Secretaries and appointed him instead to become the Minister of Defence.
Mikalaj Ladućka officially supervised Minsk City Executive Committee for four years, although he actually performed this duty even more due to the illness of the previous mayor. People will remember him for increasing housing density and demolition of historic buildings. Lukashenka also repeatedly criticised Ladutska for excessive bureaucracy in relations with investors.
Aliaksandr Špilieŭski headed the State Customs Committee for 13 years. However, in recent years, the income from the collection of duties saw basically no growth, a phenomenon that can be linked with Špilieŭski’s resignation. Špilieŭski is known for his conflicts with the Belarusian media and his Russian counterpart, with whom he had a running dispute concerning the Customs Union. When the head of the Russian customs service asked Shpileuski why Russia should 'feed' (subsidise) Belarus, the Belarusian head of the Customs Service advised him to be accurate in his assessments.
Circulation of the Bureaucrats
The future of Špilieŭski, Ladućka and Žadobin remain unknown, but it appears that they will remain in the ruling elite. Moreover, even a disgraceful dismissal does not preclude someone from getting a governmental post in the future. Many stories confirm this thesis.
Piotr Prakapovič remains the best example. During his reign at the National Bank the financial crisis of 2011 unfolded. However, soon after his dismissal Prakapovič became an assistant to the president, and now holds the post of deputy prime minister. In 2003, Lukashenka dismissed Michail Rusy, Minister of Agriculture, for the falsification of accounting data and according to Lukashenka a "mockery of the peasants". But now Rusy holds the post of deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture.
The isolation of the nomenclature remains one of the reasons for the recycling of bureaucrats. People in the nomenclature should be loyal to the president, so many professional and democratic people left the bureaucracy in the 90s. Opposition politicians Aliaksandr Milinkievič and Andrej Sannikaŭ serve as examples. The truth is, Lukashenka simply lacks new people to replace incompetent bureaucrats.
Bureaucratic work in Belarus enjoys little popularity among people in their 30s and 40s. As economic analyst Siarhiej Čaly said "nobody wanted to be a minister." Moreover, the salary is low, and on average ministerial employees in Minsk earn about $1,000.
The recent appointments of at least a few young people to ministerial positions became a sign that the Belarusian elite may be capable of regeneration.