Development should be based on independence but drive into the future is really vital
In his sincere, three-hour-long Address, Alexander Lukashenko outlined acute problems which should be solved by the country this year
On social justice
The President is convinced that the realisation of social justice is essential within authoritative bodies. He underlined, “The major goal of state social policy is the nation’s wellbeing, and the enhancement of standards of living. Authorities must take care of all our age groups and ensure the principle of social justice, paying attention to public needs.”
Despite complex conditions, the 2015 budget (as in previous years) is socially oriented: an important factor in gaining public approval and state stability. Our country is among those with a high level of human development and, in recent times, has risen from 58th to 53rd place globally (among almost 200 states).
Mr. Lukashenko is convinced that our country won’t lose its independence in its membership of the Eurasian Economic Union. “Regional economic integration is a key factor in enhancing the sustainability of the national economy, against a background of instability in the global economy. We are building activity within the Eurasian Economic Union in this respect,” he said, adding, “Lifting barriers to mutual trade and refusing to accept restrictions to the movement of goods and services is, definitely, a painful process for any state. Accordingly, these should be realised on the basis of equal rights.” Meanwhile, the future may hold rapprochement for the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.
On vectors of co-operation
In order to lift accumulated problems between Minsk and Washington, Belarus relies on the US’ political will. Task-oriented work to find common points of interest with the United States (via the realisation of economic projects) has begun producing its first real results. Our country is also interested in taking its contacts with the European Union to a new level. Against events in Ukraine, our country is gaining greater significance for Russia, the EU and China, remaining a unique corridor of calm between east and west, south and north. Moreover, Belarus has achieved a level of multi-sided strategic partnership with China, based upon many years of trust. We’ve advanced in our bilateral co-operation, from simple trade to the realisation of major investment projects. The forthcoming Minsk visit by China’s President, Xi Jinping, should inspire new levels of interaction.
Belarus’ international position has been strengthened by its peace-making activity, endeavouring to settle the Ukrainian situation. Noting his various meetings with the US and EU, accompanied by Belarus’ Foreign Minister, the President commented, “Importantly, the Americans and Europeans have acknowledged that Belarus is playing a major role in the region in terms of security. This is both true and fair. It’s a matter of principle for us to strengthen partners’ recognition of Belarus as a reliable and stable country, of value internationally.”
“The major goal of state social policy is the nation’s wellbeing, and the enhancement of standards of living. Authorities must take care of all our age groups and ensure the principle of social justice, paying attention to public needs.”
Since 2013, Belarus’ population has been growing and, according to Mr. Lukashenko, this positive trend must be encouraged to continue. He noted, “We’ve reduced natural population decline almost 4-fold, raising the birth-rate and lifespan and reducing mortality. This is largely due to our development of the health care system, which includes emergency care and scientific-practical centres countrywide. Complicated operations are now common place, including organ transplants.”
The President added, “Family allowances have risen significantly and equal conditions have been created for all family categories, offering increased support in line with the birth of each child. This will remain our national priority. The ideal and social norm should be a strong family of at least three children.”
The state refuses to ignore the elderly, who have contributed to the country’s development. Those at retirement age now number 2.1 million: 22 percent of the population. By 2020, under current trends, the share will reach 27 percent, which presents a growing challenge in terms of financial sustainability. He admitted, “The growth of pension allowances will depend on growth of salaries and the state non-budgetary social protection fund. The state must keep retirement pensions at no less than 40 percent of the average salary — as is common worldwide.”
On health care
Belarus is keen to see its domestic market supplied with locally-produced medicines of good quality (at least 50 percent in monetary terms, by the end of the year). “Belarus is among the global leaders in terms of health care. Yet, some citizens continue to neglect their own health. This may be due to our subsidy of health care (as is not always the case in the West). Of course, we won’t introduce fees immediately but we need to promote personal responsibility for a healthy lifestyle,” Mr. Lukashenko emphasised.
On drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction
According to the Head of State, the time is ripe to adopt laws to promote the psycho-social rehabilitation of citizens suffering from alcoholism, drug and chemical abuse, while applying forced measures of treatment and labour therapy. “Such evils as drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction don’t just harm health; they threaten our nation’s genetic future. They must be strictly excised — to ensure public wellbeing. Even schoolchildren and students, attending professional colleges and universities, are becoming addicts. Everyone — including lecturers and the police — must help cut out this infection,” he noted.
2015 is the Year of Youth in Belarus. Young people’s role in the country’s development is growing apace: their potential and energy used to the benefit of society. The Head of State stressed, “We’ve achieved visible improvements to the younger generation’s social-economic position and have raised educational levels. Youth policy must now focus on an active civil position, high morale and culture. Our society needs to attract young people towards particular spheres, while developing their artistic potential.”
Much budgetary money is annually spent on the sphere of education and should be used to ensure the greatest benefit. Mr. Lukashenko said, “We have an excess of some specialists and several universities offer similar departments. We need not quantity but to attain a world level at our educational establishments. The Education Ministry should study these issues in detail and make proposals to further optimise our education network.”
Mr. Lukashenko is convinced that Belarus needs not only to change the geography of its exports but the structure. “At present, most Belarusian sales include raw materials — such as potash fertilisers, crude oil, oil products, timber and ferrous metals. The collapse of any of these markets negatively influences our economy,” he stated. “Accordingly, we need to find markets and then make products. At the moment, we do the opposite. Company heads must realise that marketing, advertising and promotion are as important as production, quality, price and prime cost.”
On state support
Mr. Lukashenko believes that we need to shift to allocating money to specific programmes, with state support rendered exclusively by tender and with all forms of ownership enjoying equal access to resources. He is keen to facilitate economic informatisation, saying, “We should introduce the modern managing mechanisms used by our rivals, to speed up economic informatisation; we can do this.”
On fighting corruption
The renewed law on battling corruption is soon to come into force, having its second reading imminently. The President has asked parliamentarians to ensure that the law (including over 300 proposals and comments) is not watered down. Receiving a wide response, it has been discussed by Belarusian society.
Mr. Lukashenko has ordered the Government, the Presidential Administration, the State Secretariat of the Security Council and certain specialists to develop draft laws stating company heads’ responsibilities. “We’re introducing a moratorium on the growth of taxes and rates. Simultaneously, we’ll lift excessive control over the economy, while cutting parallel inspecting procedures,” he commented.
In building housing, the existing mechanism of state support for mortgages need supplementing with other measures, such as rented properties and a system of housing construction savings. The President has instructed the National Bank and the Government to elaborate credit instruments and others similar, to ensure the middle classes’ access to such funds.
Mr. Lukashenko has instructed the Government to restructure indebted enterprises, with the help of investors, stating, “The bailout of companies now irrelevant to the market and the economy cannot go on. It is a waste of resources to invest money in trying to save them. The shutting of a ‘backward’ enterprise is no tragedy; it makes absolute sense. However, we may convert them rather than liquidate.” New conditions are needed to encourage the growth of promising companies offering new jobs and higher salaries, to replace closing companies.
“We’ll have to step up efforts to attract private investments into agriculture. The Government should encourage investors via an individualised approach, ‘selling’ our agricultural enterprises,” Mr. Lukashenko is convinced. Our country is the world’s third largest exporter of butter and one of the world’s top ten exporters of milk, and leads in cheese exports, but the branch needs new and more efficient methods of development. Self-sufficiency is vital.
“Regional economic integration is a key factor in enhancing the sustainability of the national economy, against a background of instability in the global economy. We are building activity within the Eurasian Economic Union in this respect.”
On small businesses
Mr. Lukashenko urges, “The Government needs to work alongside entrepreneurs to review the whole chain: from setting up a business to closing. Take a reasonable look at this process and significantly reduce the number of documents, statistical reports and approvals required. Focus on the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the basis of economic prosperity and stability.”
The President believes that today’s cabinet style of economic management is unacceptable, stating, “Each minister, from members of Government and deputy prime ministers to the PM, should understand the processes taking place in labour groups. They should aim to solve issues, asking directors why problems remain.” The Government should be a serious regulator, determining and fulfilling strategies and penetrating deep into the work of enterprises.
Parliament is a key platform, addressing issues of national importance to all levels of society. Speaking to the chairs of both houses of the National Assembly, Mr. Lukashenko called upon them to invite people of various opinions into Parliament, suggesting that they ‘discuss problems, prepare solutions and submit proposals’. “I’m always ready to hear you out,” he reminded them.
Mr. Lukashenko is convinced that Government bodies, including Parliament, should talk to the opposition. He noted, “We don’t need confrontations within the country; we need to talk to everyone. In recent times, constructive public organisations have been taking a greater role in Belarusian civil society, promoting democracy, and protecting human rights and freedoms. The Belarusian political system has proven efficient, and the state would like to hear various political opinions being expressed.
On social parasitism
The President wishes to tackle the problem of social parasitism. While most citizens fulfil their constitutional duty, working and paying taxes, some claim social benefits without contributing. The controversial decree ‘On Preventing Social Parasitism’ has now been adopted, but Mr. Lukashenko is eager to see it studied more deeply, to answer criticisms.
The President is confident that sport is the spirit of the nation and should be supported at the highest level, in all possible ways. Contemporary sport facilities have been launched countrywide, to help strengthen the sporting sphere and to encourage individuals to pursue personal fitness as part of a good health regime.
Huge funds have been invested in the revival and renovation of a number of sites but Mr. Lukashenko believes that many remain under-utilised, failing the cultural potential of the nation. He wishes to see Belarus gain respect internationally, advocating, “We desperately need high-quality literature, paintings, theatre productions and films, to illustrate the life of our young sovereign state. We lack works supporting our spiritual values and uniting people, protecting them from lies, immorality and lack of culture.”
The Head of State is convinced that we need creative unions to encourage artistic talent, orienting them towards the highest aesthetics and resisting platitudes and a lack of spirituality. Tasks in the social and cultural sphere should promote hard work and dedication, while supporting an educated, cultural and healthy nation. Mr. Lukashenko stresses that this is the backbone of the country’s wellbeing.
Feedback on the Address
Cui Qiming, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of China to Belarus:
In his Address, Alexander Lukashenko paid attention to very important issues, of which Belarus can be proud. Peace and calm in the country enables it to preserve its stability, even under the most unfavourable external factors. The President notes that Belarus attaches great importance to its relations with China. These have been developing fast and have already entered the level of all-round strategic partnership. This has become possible primarily due to a high level of mutual trust and personal friendship between the leaders of our two states. This is very important in politics. We boast mutually beneficial economic co-operation while implementing many promising joint projects in construction, power engineering, machine building and other areas. All this enables us to say that our partnership boasts huge potential.
Igor Marzalyuk, Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and National Security of the Council of the Republic:
In my opinion, the President’s Address is based on such fundamental ideas as the country’s sovereignty, economic modernisation, education and national culture. Undoubtedly, these are necessary for a significant breakthrough. To my mind, Mr. Lukashenko has clearly drawn a line under all speculation regarding our relations with Russia, which has been and remains our major strategic partner. We aren’t alien to each other. Nevertheless, our collaboration needs to develop, through principles of equality. We shouldn’t turn away from the European Union though; despite the escalation of the geopolitical situation and the cooling of relations between Russia and the West, the President underlines the relevance and viability of preserving ‘big Europe’, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This is a constellation of two great traditions: eastern and western Christianity. We are two very close civilisations. We should do our best to avoid creating new divisions, rather promoting a huge common market.
Sergey Novitsky, Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee for Regional Policy and Local Self-Government of the Council of the Republic, and Director General of Henkel Bautechnik JLLC:
The Address was very clear and well structured. Representing business, I was interested to hear the President say that state and private enterprises should pay taxes, and create new jobs and added value, under equal conditions. The idea that funds will be given to businesses for a particular business plan or a definite project (under conditions of obligatory return) is vital. We can’t allow negligent heads of enterprises to say that plans are unworkable. Our nation is not at war, oil and gas prices have fallen and resources have become cheaper. The state machine is functioning normally, as are factories and plants, so why should we be uncompetitive? Increase your competitiveness rather than giving excuses.
Inessa Kleshchuk, a member of the Standing Committee on Law of the House of Representatives:
I like the President’s thesis that confrontation is of no benefit. We, parliamentarians, need to invite representatives of the business community, political parties and public organisations to discuss draft laws. We need to encourage honesty. I’ve outlined priorities for myself and the ideal is a happy and hard-working family with three children.