We face global challenges, economically and politically. What are the reasons for these hardships? What have we done right and what might we have done wrong? Most importantly, what can we expect of the future? What course will we next follow? The Congress’ aim was to answer all these questions, and the President delivered a speech.
Our country is able to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. A set of measures is being implemented to improve our system of state border protection, mainly in the southern direction. New divisions have been deployed, an integrate border protection system is being created, up-to-date armaments and machinery are being introduced. Mr. Lukashenko succinctly described security measures, saying that the existing system is ‘an efficient shield against terrorism, drug trafficking and illicit migration’. He added, “One of the most important tasks in the military sphere is provision of forces with the latest armaments and machinery, as is vital for the protection of the homeland. Our researchers, jointly with defence sector organizations, have been testing within densely populated Belarus (rather than at a deserted polygon site), the ‘Polonez’ multiple rocket launcher system: a worthy rival to international high-precision arms.”
Military and related technical cooperation is set to continue with the Russian Federation regarding regional forces grouping, and via the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and beyond. Mr. Lukashenko asserted, “Leading a peaceful and good neighbourhood policy, with the inadmissibility of using force in resolving international controversies, has enabled us to become the main platform for negotiations to settle the armed conflict in our dear Ukraine.” Today, the global community sees Belarus as a proponent of regional security.
On development programme
Speaking of Belarus’ programme of socio-economic development for 2016-2020, the President noted confidently that it’s a ‘programme of development, not stagnation’, ‘of the future, not the past’ and ‘of actions, not expectations’.
He asserted, “We well understand that problems won’t resolve on their own. Crisis symptoms won’t disappear at the wave of a wand. This is why principles of progress and openness underlie the programme. We`re relying on knowledge and technology. This is vital to solving current problems and moving forward.”
The President emphasised, “It’s necessary to be sensitive to the moment, and to know and understand when radical steps can be taken. Indeed, they are sometimes required but what will happen if, at the very moment that we need to stick together, to organise ourselves, to prevent further decline and move carefully, as if we walk upon thin ice, we end by breaking it instead? It’s clear what will happen.”
On people power
The All-Belarusian Congress is an effective mechanism of the people’s rule, the President believes. He states, “The right of each citizen to participate in managing state affairs is an integral requirement of the time.” The motto ‘Together, for strong and prosperous Belarus’ symbolises social continuity and unity for the sake of the Motherland. The All-Belarusian People’s Congress is, by right, one of the most important forms of direct democracy and a public institution of modern Belarus that has proven effective, providing open and honest dialogue with the people as a norm.
On forward-looking strategy
Mr. Lukashenko stressed that ‘cardinal demolition and renovation’ is not the be all and end all. He underlined, “We should improve the path chosen and along which we have, quite successfully, completed two stages of recovery and stabilisation. At a certain stage, we’ll shift from ‘catching up’ to being ‘forward-looking’. To master new niches, we should work hard, even aggressively, and, most importantly, reduce costs as far as possible, to reduce the prime costs of production and to save financial resources.”
What factors impede our moving forward? Primarily, low labour productivity, which has stood at $20,000 per head for the past three years. Another factor noted by the President is lack of innovation. He stated, “We’re almost three times behind highly developed countries regarding high technologies’ industrial prominence. We’re manufacturing goods with low added value and low performance.” The third factor is an insufficiently effective investment strategy by individual enterprises and by whole industries.
Within a five-year period, more than 80 large investment projects, worth more than $27bln, should be implemented in Belarus. The President commented that preferential loans for new projects and programmes would be given ‘fairly and openly through a singular operator’. He stated, “The main principle is allocation of funds on the basis of competition, with priority given to the return and reward of resources. External sources of finance, primarily foreign investments, will play a special role.”
The volume of foreign investments into the economy of Belarus has grown 2.5 times over the past five years. By the amount of GDP per capita by purchasing power parity, Belarus is now among mid-level income nations, its indicator having risen from $5,200 in 1990 to $16,500 in 2010 and to almost $18,000 in 2015.
The objective for the coming five years is to bridge certain gaps and occupy a niche in the global economy. New approaches to economic modernisation and efficient public administration should be the basis for advancement. At present, 1,005 organisations account for almost half of the economy’s net assets, governed by ministries and concerns, yet contribute only a quarter of total revenue. Clearly, they lack efficiency, with Mr. Lukashenko mentioning poor management as a factor. He stressed, “Economic independence should be strengthened, and attention should be focused on preserving shareholder value and performance efficiency. Costs should be reduced to increase labour productivity.”
On ‘green’ economy and knowledge
Transition to ‘green’ technologies and an economy of knowledge is on the agenda. The output of innovative production has more than quadrupled within a five-year period. The country boasts significant advancements in the high tech sphere, in particular, in the production of optical and laser appliances and automated control systems. A number of computer applications developed by Belarusian specialists are widely recognised globally and our country is second to none in the Commonwealth for export of computer and information services per capita.
Regarding education, Belarus is among the top 30 developed countries, leading within the CIS. Its GDP almost doubled between 2000 and 2010, while real incomes more than tripled. Food security and many other significant issues have been solved.
We have achieved indisputable success in social policy, as confirmed by our accomplishment of UN millennium development goals in 2015 and by the human development index, which placed Belarus 50th among 200 countries in 2015 (up from the 68th place in 2000). “We’ve entered the group of countries with a high level of human development. Since 2014, for the first time in 20 years, the population of Belarus has begun to grow. Birth and mortality rates have practically equalised; the demographic scissors have closed. This is the result we’ve striven for, so we’re rightfully proud,” summarised the President.
Systemic efforts to strengthen confidence in the Belarusian Rouble should be continued, believes the President. “Without keeping stable annual inflation rates below 5 percent it will be hard to revive the economy. The Government and the National Bank should continue systemic work to strengthen confidence in the Belarusian Rouble, ensuring steady growth of international reserves, maintaining them at a safe level, increasing the efficiency of budgetary expenses and reducing external public debt.”
On state apparatus
Our country has among the most compact government machinery in the world, but its operation lacks efficiency. Comparing the cost of upkeep of Government machinery in various countries, Belarus boasts a lower percentage, of just 2 percent of GDP. In the European Union, this parameter is 3.5 times as large, and in Russia it is double.
The necessity of cardinal improvement of the state governance system, to enhance its efficiency, has been long acknowledged, and a whole package of measures is required. The President believes that the best and most competent people should be engaged at Government institutions and that the prestige of public servants’ work should be increased. Globally, smart and energetic specialists are being head hunted and are being attracted by high salaries, incentives, and employment benefits.
Mr. Lukashenko noted, “Optimisation of the state machine should not boil down to merely reducing the number of personnel. Public administration should be brought to a measurably higher level. People should understand that the state is neither donor, nor controller, but a partner providing conditions for successful development of enterprises, regions and the country as a whole.”
The President wishes public servants to show more independence in taking managerial decisions and, addressing the Head of the Presidential Administration, the Prime Minister and the Chairman of Minsk Regional Executive Committee, ordered, “Submit me your proposals to reduce state apparatus by at least half, while formulating a system of measures on strict fulfilment of the adopted decisions.”
We should simplify the terms of commercialisation of research results. The President emphasises, “In priority areas, in ten years’ time, we should be among the leading countries. Our primary objective is to increase the share of high-tech and mid-tech production. We need to move closer to the indicators shown by the world’s leading countries, bringing the high-tech sector to 5 percent and the mid-tech sector to 50 percent within the structure of the economy.”
The President has urged large industrial associations and research organizations to create research centres for developing new materials.
Tax payment procedures should be set up to be as easy as possible, believes Mr. Lukashenko. “In rural areas, new enterprises will be exempt from profit tax and real estate tax for two years.” Centres promoting entrepreneurship should be set up in districts with a population larger than 30,000 people. He added, “All this will allow entrepreneurial development to grow, including across the regions, engaging more people in labour.”
On new jobs
“Improving the structure of the economy inevitably leads to a reduction of labour [where it’s not needed]. To prevent a surge in unemployment, measures should be taken to enhance the work of employment services, providing retraining for specialists, and simplifying conditions for movement between regions and industries in search of employment. Most importantly, we need to create new, highly productive jobs. More than 250,000 jobs must be created within five years,” Mr. Lukashenko has underlined.
For this purpose, competitive financial mechanisms should be employed. He stated, “Access to the financial instruments and markets of the European Union and the funds of international finance organizations are opening up through our banks. Domestic banks can now provide about $1bln of Chinese loans to private businesses.”
Rejuvenation of executive personnel and the creation of conditions stimulating the younger generation’s skills are major areas for the organisational and ideological work of the Presidential Administration, and for all state powers.
The President notes, “We must continue working to improve the system of support for talented and gifted youngsters, who boast leadership qualities, to reveal their creative potential.”
Major attention should be directed towards respect for family values. The support of young families has always been and will remain a major state concern. When youngsters have good living conditions, they create their own families and have children, raising the chance of them remaining locally. State management bodies, large enterprises and businesses must more actively select and promote talented young people. “They need to encourage prospective personnel from university or, even, from schools, offering training programmes, internships and work experience at enterprises. They should try to spark interest in professions, enabling us to transform and ensure a confident future for the country.”
Volunteer and student construction brigades will be developed further, with the leading youth organisation — the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) — playing a central role in this major work.
On nuclear power plant
The country’s power complex will be dynamically developing in the coming five years. From 2018 to 2020, both units of the Belarusian nuclear power plant will launch, creating around 2,000 new jobs. “This will be a step towards making energy resources cheaper, so will facilitate the growth of competitiveness of all economic sectors: industry, transport, and the sphere of services. Belarus needs to use the advantages of nuclear power engineering to form a cluster of energy-intensive manufactures around the nuclear power plant. It’s necessary to form conditions to shift from the use of natural resources by enterprises and citizens (of gas and oil) to relatively cheap electricity,” explains the President.
On Eurasian integration
“In recent years, both Russia and Kazakhstan have set up a range of manufactures similar to those of Belarus, though we haven’t agreed on this. Such duplication creates excessive pressure on the common market of our states, since enterprises have to compete. It would be strategically more efficient to reinforce specialisation and to develop cooperative ties. What’s the sense in spending scarce resources to create what already exists?
Production envisages a scientific and design school, as well as a system of professional personnel training. All involve great expenditure,” stresses Mr. Lukashenko. The Government and designated officials must act to find solutions to issues facing statutory bodies within the Eurasian Economic Union.
On cooperation with the EU and USA
“In order to develop dynamically, we need normal relations with the European Union and the USA. Recent years have seen a warming in our mutual relations. The move away from a policy of sanctions towards Belarus opens up new opportunities to develop collaboration and it would be a crime to ignore this,” notes the President. “We need to make up for lost time, reaching the level of relations with the EU and the USA that our EAEU and the CIS partners enjoy.”
The European Union is the second most important market for Belarusian exports, so constructive, multi-faceted co-operation with the EU meets our national interests. “The key task for the future is complete normalisation of relations and the signing of a basic agreement between Belarus and the European Union,” adds the President.
On the CIS future
The President is convinced that the Commonwealth of Independent States hasn’t exhausted its opportunities. “Integration processes within the CIS space are now experiencing difficult times. Sharing the opinion of the unconditional necessity of modernising the Commonwealth, we believe it’s reasonable to preserve it as an international organisation. The task is to reinforce economic interaction and make the CIS more attractive to its member states,” he asserts.
On relations with China
The President noted that, in recent years, Belarus has implemented strategic decisions to strengthen its economic ties with the People`s Republic of China and has promoted an all-round strategic partnership. He stated, “It’s necessary that, in the near future, innovative and investment components define the character of our mutual relations with Great China. It’s vital that we generate well-thought out business ideas, taking into account market realities, creating investment projects to attract Chinese investors.”
On high technologies
Several years ago, we began working in the field of information, with the first results already apparent. According to the International Telecommunication Union, Belarus now outstrips all CIS countries and countries in Eastern Europe in terms of information-communication technologies. “We’re approaching the top-30 of the most developed countries in the world in this sphere, and it’s only the beginning. For the coming five years, we’ve set the ambitious task of becoming a leader in our region, and in Eastern Europe,” noted the President, adding, “Accelerated information is not just a trend; it’s a case of survival and competitiveness for the economy.”
On natural riches
The President has charged the Government with preparing a more active mining strategy, saying, “The country has a powerful investigative complex, having rich experience of geological prospecting, and development of deposits. Our strategy should reflect how best to use this potential for export.” Mr. Lukashenko has demanded that we make full use of potential at Belorusneft Production Association, at Belgorkhimprom Institute, and the Scientific and Practical Centre for Geology conducting research into new deposits and how we can generate revenue from helping other nations with extraction. He states, “We should convert our experience of geological prospecting and extraction, gained over many years, into currency. Inflow of investment resources and high technologies will allow all branches to move to a new level.”
“In this five-year period, we’ll start reforms, systematically improving our pension system. To keep the level of pensions and the regularity of payments, we must reconsider terms however. Pensions should stand at 40 percent of current average salary, as is the world standard,” Alexander Lukashenko asserted. Meanwhile, those who are disabled need to be cared for. He explained, "It’s an important task that we must solve. Over the coming five years, we’ll ensure that 3,500 sites countrywide become fully wheelchair-accessible.”
The President has noted export development as a priority, since it substantially influences the country’s welfare. He emphasised that diversification and development of new commodity markets for goods and services are to the fore, to promote entry to new foreign markets and to strengthen Belarus’ position on traditional markets. He commented that the first year of work of the Eurasian Economic Union has seen some difficult moments. He is keen now to see us achieve realisation of agreements and to move ahead in eradicating restrictions to mutual trade.
He stated, “Estimating the potential of traditional markets, we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to see a more significant presence for Belarusian goods and services across Europe, Asia, the USA and Africa. It’s difficult, but necessary, to reorient exports from markets close by towards Asia, the USA and Africa. Our plan is to raise export revenue with distant countries by up to 52 percent.”
To simplify loan procedures for export sales, the Development Bank is to create a specialised agency, using a one-stop-shop principle. The diplomatic corps will be involved in helping promote exports, as will experts in the field of foreign trade, heads of enterprises and branches, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The President underlines that major processing, through from raw ingredients to ready to eat products, will remain the focus, with necessary infrastructure receiving investment. Farming needs to reach its full potential, with entrepreneurship encouraged. At present, 9,000 people are employed in agriculture. “By 2020, we’ll need to have created at least another 3,500 new workplaces and to have tripled farm production,” stressed Mr. Lukashenko.
On state programmes
“For the period from 2016 to 2020, more than twenty Government programmes are planned, with nearly two thirds of budgetary funds invested into the social spheres of medicine, education, culture, support of families and social protection,” Mr. Lukashenko noted.
The Head of State is adamant that all those who are vulnerable should receive state support, including via non-cash housing grants, with a view to softening the rising cost of utility bills. He underlined that reduced costs for services are needed to balance rising utility bills, alongside higher salaries and benefits for vulnerable categories of citizens.
All public health services should focus on early diagnosis and high quality treatment across a wide spectrum of diseases. The President stated, “We must increase volumes of hi-tech medical aid, such as cardiac surgery and neurosurgery, surgical ophthalmology, transplantology, and endoprosthesis, as well as telemedicine, and remote monitoring of health.”
A stage-by-stage transition to emphasis on local services is required, using general practitioners, ambulatory-polyclinic help, and nurses. “By 2020, we need to have doubled the number of such workers,” commented the President. Promotion of sports and fitness will continue, encouraging membership of clubs and sporting teams.
The system of education should not be isolated from the economy, as the President asserts, saying, “We must increase the practical orientation of education, especially regarding information technologies, so that workers understand all production stages. The idea of continuous education doesn’t mean that a person will be always a student. It’s a question of constant improvement and self-development.”
Speaking about some aspects of the school syllabus, the President said that textbooks need to be clear and up to date. The Ministry of Education is tasked with creating new textbooks in the near future, working with ‘the best teachers’. The President is confident that young children have a huge capacity for learning, and should be stretched.
“Belarus is a citadel of traditional culture and morals and will always be so!” the President has asserted. “Workers of culture need to be encouraged to show initiative, rather than relying on the state. We can further promote the cultural sphere, and raise our tourist attractiveness.”
Works of literature, music, art, theatre and film are urged to promote the traditional values of Belarusian society, to reflect our national spiritual experience.
On Parliamentary elections
Our deputies are professional, competent citizens who have experience of successful work in their sphere and can solve tasks put before them. They are fair and decent, and able to keep their word, without swagger or arrogance. Those applying for a place in Parliament should have a constructive programme of action planned, with forethought, and an ability to prioritise. Mr. Lukashenko stated, “I say directly, I’d like to see such people in the new structure of the Parliament. They’ll face heavy tasks in improving our legislation, developing co-operation with foreign partners, and strengthening Belarus within the international arena.”
Over the coming five years, the country plans to construct over 18 million square metres of housing, including 1.55 million specifically for vulnerable citizens. Over the last five years, more than 25 million square metres of housing has been constructed, with efficiency and the transition to new technologies as a goal. Mr. Lukashenko noted that we need to export our construction services, through design or all the way through to final completion of a build. He is also keen to see individuals organising their own house building.
Delegates take the floor
Vasily Revyako, Head of the Progress-Vertelishki Co-operative in Grodno Region:
The programme for the country’s socio-economic development is setting the task of wisely reducing costs of production by at least 25 percent. In this way, we`ll remain competitive on external markets, conducting a more flexible pricing policy. A priority for us is movement away from imported machinery in favour of domestic, and the use of mechanisms to considerably reduce expenditure on repair and purchase of spare parts.
Semen Shapiro, Chairman of Minsk Regional Executive Committee:
We have chosen our path. And here is the result: over the past 20 years, independent Belarus has provided a high level of quality of life for its citizens. The people of Belarus showed truly historic wisdom at the election of the first head of their independent state. The development of a strong team of young professionals is at the heart of the essential achievements of Minsk Region. We find them and raise them. The average age of farm managers in recent years is under 30 years, while the average age of executive committee chairs is about 35. They are the future.
Valery Gubarenko, Chairman of the Brest Regional Organisation of Veterans of the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans:
We are fortunate in living in a country whose main achievements are peace and independence. This is why our sons are not being transported from hot spots around the globe in zinc coffins. The situation is not such everywhere in the world. Several countries are involved in military activity. Veterans of Brest Region, like all citizens of Belarus, are concerned about the geopolitical situation. We have no doubt that our country has everything we need to solidly maintain stability and security. Our army is equipped with modern equipment and weapons and is able to repel any aggressor. In conclusion, I wish to include the study of information about Brest Fortress and materials held by the Great Patriotic War Museum to be incorporated into educational syllabuses.
Svetlana Soroko, Director of the Palace of Culture in Molodechno, a member of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly:
This year, my hometown of Molodechno received status as the cultural capital of Belarus. A nation without culture cannot be rich. Cultural workers have far-reaching plans for the coming five-year period. At the Council of the Republic, we’re working on a code of culture, with members of the House of Representatives and the Government. This document will open broad prospects for attracting investments into the sphere of culture, based on public-private partnerships, and development of patronage traditions.
Irina Shabuldaeva, a wall painter at Gomel’s House-Building Plant:
We, construction workers, are ready to work longer hours, with due diligence, so recent news of the possibility of reduced volumes of housing built with state support is of concern to our team. Commercial construction of housing at this stage won’t cover falling volumes. We need to pay attention to this. It may be worthwhile to develop new forms of financing and support for citizens. Then, more people will have the chance to improve their housing, and will have employment. I say this not only for us, construction workers, but for other sectors of the economy. As a matter of fact, construction has always been the driving force. We also need to make training relevant, and to enhance the prestige of blue-collar jobs. We want to attract young people into the construction industry: not just those who don’t go to university or college, but those who deliberately choose the profession.
Leonid Penkovsky, Chairman of Beshenkovichi Regional Executive Committee:
Over the coming five years, it will be essential not only to maintain the current level, but to ensure further increase in output, while increasing quality and productivity. Satisfying objectives will be difficult without further state support for the agricultural sector, in the form of concessional loans, markups for manufactured goods, and deliveries of leasing equipment. I believe we should pay more attention to the development of farms, especially in branches such as sheep breeding, rabbit breeding, and fur farming. We have the chance to do so. It’s important to note that a modern plant producing medicine to treat cancer and other serious diseases is to launch in Beshenkovichi by the end of the year. Its products will be import-substitutional and oriented for export.
Question and answer
Hotline during the 5th All-Belarusian People’s Congress allows anyone to call with suggestions on social and economic development
During the forum, phone call statistics were disclosed by the Chairman of the House of Representatives, Vladimir Andreichenko, who noted that over 420 calls had been received by the end of the second day of the Assembly. Most touched upon the sphere of housing services and utilities and construction, although many concerned social policy and labour relations.
Mr. Andreichenko underlined that operators had often accepted words of gratitude to organizations for assistance provided. Some citizens brought up problems, such as the need for career guidance for schoolchildren, and the introduction of e-schools, the necessity of provision of housing for soldiers, the need for nationwide urban clean-up days, the promotion of a recycling culture, and the need for environmental packaging for food products. Mr. Andreichenko mentioned that an interesting proposal had been received: to set up a Presidential Council of Young Scientists, to generate ideas for economic application.
Some requests were more personal, such as that from a young man suffering with hip joint arthrosis, requiring stem cell treatment not yet available in Belarus. He needs expensive surgery available in a neighbouring country, and efforts are being made to facilitate this.
Of course, requests may be personal while having the potential for nationwide reform. One wheelchair user from Minsk phoned to say that his building needs an access ramp, to allow mobility.
All questions and requests are being processed, with some to be included into the outcome programme documents of the All-Belarusian People’s Congress. Every applicant will receive a detailed answer.
By Olga Korneeva