Why Belarus Needs To Reform Its Bureaucracy
Belarus is awaiting reforms to the public administration system, ordered by Alexander Lukashenka last year. It looks like the president’s main motive is to save money. Considerations of efficiency come second. However, the existing system of public administration cannot boast of particularly outstanding achievements.
Several indicators point to the necessity of a serious overhaul. Reasons for public administration reform are as evident as, perhaps, never before.
International governance ratings score Belarus very low. Bureaucrats are becoming increasingly uninterested in state service. The state apparatus systemically fails to reach socioeconomic targets. The functions of government bodies remain excessive and often overlap. Finally, corruption is rampant.
Quasi-Reform Out of Necessity
In 2012 the Belarusian president declared that he wanted to reform the system of public administration in the country. He said that the state apparatus needed optimisation and appointed a special state commission to prepare reforms.
In January 2013 the commission presented its conclusions. Among other things, the members of the commission provided a recommendation to liquidate two ministries: the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services. The commission also suggested that some functions be transferred from ministries to state corporations.
But Lukashenka only supported the idea to fire about 25 per cent of government officials – in order to save state funds and raise salaries for the remaining 75 per cent. He practically dismissed the commission’s recommendation to dissolve the two ministries saying that he was “not ready to make such decisions yet”.
Now the legal act that will define the contours of the proclaimed public administration reform is going through its final discussions in the Council of Ministers. According to a source in the government, the prime minister’s office is not going to push for something different to what Lukashenka announced in January. Even though primarily it spoke in favour of reforming the structure and functions of the executive branch.
Thus, it looks like the whole “reform” will be limited to mere personnel firing. And this obviously cannot solve the problems of the public administration system in Belarus, which, in Lukashenka’s own words, fails to deliver.
Poor Scores in International Governance Ratings
Respected international studies prove this failure. Worldwide Governance Indicators by the World Bank has the reputation of being the most thorough comparative study of public administration systems in the world. The chart below shows the 2011 results in in the category “Government effectiveness”.
Presumably, the problem of government officials leaving their posts in Belarus in search of better professional opportunities elsewhere became one of the triggers for Lukashenka. He publicly admitted it several times.
The situation looks logical. The level of pay that Belarusian bureaucrats enjoy leaves much to be desired. If we compare responsibilities and salaries in the public and commercial sectors, the latter is far more comfortable. And the commercial sector in Russia offers even better opportunities.
Hence, more and more government officials in Belarus prefer to change their jobs.
Average salary of a civil servant in Belarus
Average salary of a high-profile civil servant in Belarus (a director of a ministry department)
Average salary of a medium-level manager in the commercial sector in Belarus
Average salary of a high-profile manager in the commercial sector in Belarus
Average salary in Russia
Average salary in Moscow
Average salary of a high-profile manager in the commercial sector in Moscow
*As of November 2012
The problem seems self-evident. And it goes beyond miserable salaries in the government sector. Huge workload is another factor.
During an 8-hour long session of the Council of Ministers on 1 March President Lukashenka disclosed many secrets of the Belarusian government. He pointed to personal shortcomings of almost all ministers and made several catchy statements about the state of the public administration in the country. For example, he emphasised that a great deal of his own decrees never come into being because of the government’s poor performance.
For observers of Belarusian politics this was a familiar scene: the populist authoritarian leader publicly reprimanding his appointees to demonstrate to the general public that he remains in full control of the situation. But in fact, Lukashenka really spoke the truth.
Analysis of the government’s achievements proves a poor record. Take for example the 2006-2010 Program of Socioeconomic Development (Belarus sticks to the Soviet tradition of 5-year long macro-plans).
Technically the government accomplished most of the quantitative goals, like general investments and personal income growth. But the achievement came at a very high price. The authorities’ policies led to huge macroeconomic imbalances, which in their turn led to the 2011 financial crisis. The latter resulted in the 300 per cent devaluation of the national currency and enormous monetary losses for the population: according to some estimates, the Belarusians lost more than USD 1 billion.
In any democracy in the world this is reason enough for the government to step down. In Belarus, however, the government lingers on, as President Lukashenka does not have much choice from among his nomenclature to form a new one. However, such poor performance definitely signals the need to reform the governance system that fails to deliver on its basic functions.
Excessive and Overlapping Functions
A popular saying in Belarus goes that you cannot even sigh without official permission.
According to the legislation, the state apparatus has 1500 functions. But as the Ministry of Economy found out, if we take a closer look at all these functions it turns out that the real number exceeds 3800. The laws are often so vague that one big function of the state bodies actually foresees three or four smaller functions. Not surprising, therefore, that the government seems to be everywhere in the country.
And also unsurprisingly, the functions of different government institutions quite often overlap. The state’s controlling activities serve as a classic example.
The central body that deals with controls is the Committee of State Control. But besides them, 37 (!) other government institutions have the right and responsibility to exercise controlling functions. For local businesses this turns life into a real nightmare. Each year entrepreneurs’ unions call for a fully-fledged government reform to stop the controlling mayhem.
If we compare corruption in Belarus and, say, Ukraine, the former will look almost flawless. And this is an argument that the authorities in Minsk often proudly make.
However, numerous international corruption indices do not leave much room for pride. For example, in 2012 the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International ranked Belarus 123rd. In 2011 the result was even worse – 143rd place. This is another reason for the Belarusian authorities to seriously consider public administration reform.
To sum up, the Belarusian system of public administration definitely finds itself in crisis. By merely firing a quarter of civil servants, the government solves no major problem. Comprehensive reform is knocking on the door.
Quo Vadis Belarusians? – Belarus Civil Society Digest
The snow storm “Xavier” did not discourage Belarusian civil society from new projects and initiatives.
BISS recently discussed migration and Liberal Club “diagnosed” Belarus at roundtables in Minsk. The DisRight Office launched a new phase of an accessibility campaign. The Festival of Central European literature Shengenka opened in Minsk. Gomel activists campaign want to preserve historical wooden buildings.
The government asked business to form partnerships. Due to Constitution Day, Belarusians had the opportunity to query the Chairperson of the Constitutional Court.
Civil Society Activities
BISS roundtable on migration. On 14 March, in Minsk, the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) held a roundtable Quo vadis, Belarusians? The Impact of Migration on the Economy and Society. The event presented some results of a recent national survey on migration, as well as a study on migration, published by the Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration CARIM-East. The event brought together experts on migration topics from government bodies, independent research institutes and international organisations.
Human rights defenders put new questions. The first anniversary of the execution of Uladzislau Kavaliou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, sentenced to death on charges of terrorism, is being marked in March. During a press conference held in Minsk on 13 March, the mother of one of the executed, Liubou Kavaliova and human rights defenders declared that they start a series of actions in order to get the information about the place of Vlad Kovalev’s burial and issuing his body.
From Accessibility to Equality. Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities is launching a new phase of the information campaign Accessibility under the slogan "From Accessibility to Equality" aimed to visualise and expand understanding of accessibility. The Office has produced four video-clips, where people with disabilities tell their real stories. The Office has also announced a competition for the best graphic "Accessible to the disabled."
Roundtable of liberals. On 15 March, in Minsk, the Liberal Club held a roundtable, aimed at gathering those who are in Belarus to declare their commitment to liberalism and to give them an opportunity to explain what kind of ideals they actually defending. The round table was attended by Yaroslav Romanchuk, Mises Center, Oleg Gaidukevich, the Liberal Democratic Party, Yauheni Preiherman, Liberal Club, etc.
Marketplace in Hrodna. On 26 March, in Hrodna the Capacity Development Marketplace is to hold an Open House day for CSOs and providers from the Grodno and Brest regions. The event is a continuation of the first national Capacity Development Fair, held in Minsk in October 2012, and is designed to present the regional market of organisational development’s services for local nonprofits.
Bell's Call for papers. The Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre after releases the electronic newsletter “Bell”. “Bell” is a monthly electronic analytical publication comprising articles written by Belarusian researchers and journalists. Next “Bell” issue “Russia's mounting influence in Belarus” is expected to be published in the middle of April.
MediaBarCamp 2013: Survive in the Web. On 9-12 May, in Lithuania, the 6th International MediaBarCamp, dedicated to the use of new opportunities of online media and the development of media activism, will be held. The participants – media, CSOs, political organisations – will have an opportunity to present their online projects at special presentations and in working groups. The organiser of MediaBarCamp 2013 is the Swedish International Liberal Centre (SILC).
Shengenka in Minsk. On 12 March, Festival of Central European literature Shengenka opened at the Minsk Gallery Ў. The Festival consists of five events and aims to introduce the works of well-known Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish writers, philosophers and political scientists translated into Belarusian. The project initiator is Laboratory of Science and Art of Translation, its co-organizers are the campaign Budzma Belarusians! and the Association of Belarusian Writers.
The latest book by Joanne Ivy Stankievich recently came out with Outskirts Press. “Living with a Scent of Danger, European Adventures at the Fall of Communism” is about the 13 years the author and her husband spent in Europe: 1988-2001, when he worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. They interfaced with KGB and Foreign Ministers and participated in the transition from Communism to, mostly free, societies in Eastern Europe.
34 sights of Belarus. Online magazine 34mag.net prepared a subjective guide titled 34 sights of Belarus, a concise guide to places for Belarusian and foreign visitors. The guide contains a map and a witty description of the proposed architectural monuments.
Gomel tries to preserve wooden buildings. Gomel CSOs, which work to preserve local historical wooden buildings, plan to hold informal public hearings and develop consolidated actions. The hearings are to be held with the support of Gomel Democratic Forum. Earlier, on 13 March, Gomel activists with the police's assistance managed to prevent the destruction of a monument of wooden architecture. Youth CSO Talaka also appealed to the city authorities to take one of the buildings on the organisation's balance to make there a museum and a youth cultural centre.
Belarusian Week in Vilnius. On 25-30 March, the Belarusian Week will take place in Vilnius. The program of the Week includes various events such as conference, festival of short films, music festival, which are going to begin with the solemn celebration of Freedom Day on 25 March. The Organising Committee invites all Belarusians in Vilnius and Belarusian guests of the Lithuanian capital to join the celebration of the Freedom Day.
Belarusians collect money to save old Belarusian films. A campaign on the Internet has begun raising money to save old movies shot by Belarusfilm. Since the cost of restoration and digitisation of the films are not provided for in the state budget, Belarusians themselves decided to save them for their own money.
Trainings and Seminars
Raising the expertise of young researchers in Belarus. The Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC) together with BISS launches an opportunity for the Belarusian beginner researchers in social sciences to further develop their expertise and analytical skills. Within the framework of the programme "Raising the Expertise of Grassroots Level Researchers in Belarus” and in collaboration with the Belarus Research Council, new Belarusian researchers will be provided with training and a scholarship to spend time at a leading European think-tank.
New consultants. Clearing House Project recruited a new set of consultants who will provide free services to Belarusian CSO on developing project proposals for competitions held by the European Commission and other programs. Five new consultants will take part in a series of informational meetings and workshops that will soon take place in different Belarusian cities.
Seminar on quality assurance in higher education. On 26 March, in Minsk, the Office for a Democratic Belarus (Brussels, Belgium) together with the Office for European Expertise and Communication (Minsk, Belarus) will organise a seminar on quality assurance in higher education. The seminar will be conducted in the frames of "EU and Belarus: Sharing Knowledge programme". The organisers encourage participation of representatives of the Ministry of Education, researchers, academics from Minsk and regional universities of Belarus.
Conference on elderly education and socialisation is coming. Over a hundred people applied to the International conference, to be held on 29-30 March in Grodno and dedicated to the socialisation and intellectual, physical and social revitalization of elderly. Actual challenges and best practises will be discussed by representatives of the nonprofit, state and educational organisations from Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Russia. The conference is organised by the Third Sector Centre in cooperation with the registered association DVV International.
Interaction between the State and Civil Society
Authorities are asking for help from business. On 13 March, at a meeting of the Assembly of business circles, The government of Belarus and business once again tried to establish a dialogue. Economy Minister, Nikolai Snopkov urged entrepreneurs to strengthen partnerships with the state. Business said they are not against cooperation, but are waiting on the authorities to improve the business environment.
Constitutional Court online. On 15 March, Belarus Constitution Day, a state-run news agency Belta conducted an online conference with the Chairperson of the Constitutional Court, Piotr Miklashevich. All internet users had an opportunity to ask questions in this open discussion.
ARCHE gets third registration denial. As reported by the acting editor-in-chief of the magazine, Ales Pashkevich. According to him, the reason for the registration denial appears to be wire-drawn.
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.