Brainstorm

Let’s make one step into the near future… We’ll have a look at the innovation economy. Houses are made from modern comfortable and economical materials “made in Belarus”. Dwelling is getting more and more affordable owing to state-of-the-art technologies…
The last loss-making and inefficient companies disappear from maps, and there are no productions working only to fill stocks. New companies emerge, and the intellectual resource prevails. The key industries are microelectronics, laser technologies, optics, and medical equipment, production of generic and original medicines. Companies that make energy-saving technologies compete to make energy cheap and available. The oil and gas constituent accounts for less product cost than ever. New powerful technical centers are established. Just like the town of Espoo (the birthplace of the world famous Nokia holding) new techno-cities appear in Belarus around production clusters that make “intelligent” export-oriented commodities.

Scientific careers are as prestigious as never before. The main criterion of efficiency is the number of developments applied to industry and other sectors, rather than the number of scientific works and defended theses.
The Internet and IT are developing fast. Trade, banking and education account for larger niches of the world net. Management is getting more professional. Creativity and higher educational status are in great demand. Hundreds of thousands of people are involved in making real products, whereas earlier they were all involved in paperwork. All documents are available in laconic electronic form.

It is possible? I believe it is. Relevant targets have already been set by the government, and I cannot see why they may not be met.
The innovation vector is not a tribute to fashion, but a real necessity that has recently been analyzed by Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Tur.

According to him, the draft program of socioeconomic development of Belarus for 2010–2015 that is being drafted by the Economy Ministry envisages a 7 to 8% annual GDP growth. “We need this growth to survive and compete with the leading economies of the world, Andrei Tur explained. “But if we focus on production volume the consumption of raw materials may rise drastically, so we must aim at innovation. In other words, we must focus on the innovation way to develop the country,” he deputy minister said.

“Innovation now accounts for 1.2–1.4% of GDP, but the figure needs to be at 30% to make an economy competitive and able to reproduce,” Andrei Tur added. The task is very difficult, as there is a marathon’s distance between the target and the real figures. But targets and forecasts are there to have goals, and any goal may be attained provided two serious obstacles are dealt with.

The first one is the financial obstacle. Innovation requires money, and this should be big money. Where could this money come from? The report of the deputy director of the State Science and Technologies Committee Igor Voitov (the report was presented at the international forum “Innovation Technologies and Systems” in Minsk) says the key sources to finance investment projects are the state budget, innovation funds, agriculture support fund, bank loans and foreign investment. It seems logical and clear. Large-scale projects require diversity of investment inflows…

I have a question, though: we all should be concerned over the use of state budget funds. People should be interested in the way the state funds are distributed and what the criteria to get state money will be. Besides, who will control the spending of budget funds, which top the list of investment sources? Some may get more and some will certainly get less, some funds could be misspent under the optimistic and commendable banner of “innovation project”.

It seems it would be more relevant to enable the companies to finance their own expenses. Everyone should count on themselves, and all should play in equal conditions. Belarus has an effective instrument to encourage self-financing — to reduce the profit tax rate. It stands at 24% (the Russian Finance Ministry is getting ready to bring it down to 20% to promote innovation development). The reduction in the profit tax, which is not the key source of budget revenues, unlike the value-added tax, is a global trend of the last three years. But profit is the main source of investment and renovation of production… This matter should be thoroughly discussed.

And the other thing Belarus should give a good thinking: the readiness for innovation. Are managers and common employees eager to develop? Have there been any projects to increase the share of intellect in Belarus’ production recently? Who initiated positive changes and reforms? How much time does it normally take to get from the innovation project to its implementation? What factors may encourage innovation? What does the scope of the project depend on?

I guess a full-scale probe into the innovation potential of the country would come in handy. The government would acquire a road map with all “points of increase” and “dead centers”. This would make the progress to the 30% target fast and precise. Belarus would have its own concerns of the Nokia type sooner than 2015 or even 2010. I have no doubts whatsoever that this will happen soon.

Vitaly Artyomenko
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