Green light for entrepreneurs
[b]President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes Council for Entrepreneurship Development should drive forward constructive ideas, while helping realise business potential[/b]Speaking at a Council session, Mr. Lukashenko stressed that its major task is to advise entrepreneurs of state policy, to ensure that the interests of society are met and that civilised market relations are supported. The President added that economic modernisation is a focus for the private sector as well as the state sector, with investors sought from Belarus and further afield.
Speaking at a Council session, Mr. Lukashenko stressed that its major task is to advise entrepreneurs of state policy, to ensure that the interests of society are met and that civilised market relations are supported. The President added that economic modernisation is a focus for the private sector as well as the state sector, with investors sought from Belarus and further afield.
“The Council was established to help entrepreneurs realise their full potential, supporting efficient market structures and solving acute problems in a business-like manner — without red-tape,” the Head of State emphasised. Mr. Lukashenko noted that he is eager to listen to businessmen’s ideas on enhancing efficiency. “The decisions we make now must drastically improve the Council’s work; it should absolutely meet modern requirements.”
Mr. Lukashenko asserts that the Council for Entrepreneurial Development is virtually the only such council set up under the auspices of the President. He explained, “Confusion abounded, with too many officers within law enforcement bodies and government agencies wishing to line their pockets. This was pretty commonplace but I hope things have changed by now. I was unhappy with the situation of so many people wanting to intimidate, harass and jail businessmen, which is utterly unacceptable. It’s important for me to help new businessmen: our policy is simple — to make life easier for them and all those who work with them. I want everything to be fair and honest. We need to know what is going on in the business community, so I want to be kept informed.”
Mr. Lukashenko admits that he often failed to receive such information from entrepreneurs. “Accordingly, I’ve appointed someone close to me, who can voice their position openly and honestly — even if it differs from the opinions of others,” the President noted.
Mr. Lukashenko stresses that businessmen do not need overprotection or privileges. “You are not disabled or pensioners. You began a business to try and make a profit, so it’s fair to pay taxes, which feed the state budget, helping those who cannot earn as much. Nobody is suggesting that we strip businessmen of all they have. We should be generous but we don’t need to give away money for nothing. Everybody should work but, if you would like to help an orphanage, or essential spheres like sports, healthcare or education, let’s team up,” the President said. “You cannot accuse me of forcing businessmen to help the state. If you can help, then do so; if you cannot, that’s up to you, although the attitude of the state, and my own, towards you may be affected,” he added.
Mr. Lukashenko stressed that businesses’ participation in social programmes is really quite essential. “Only then will people respect you, no longer badmouthing businessmen as being self-seeking,” the Head of State emphasised.
Mr. Lukashenko has set up the Council to operate without the participation of state officers — except for its Chairman — to avoid corrupt practices. “You are business people, so it’s extremely important for me to hear your opinions on the most topical issues of our social-economic policy. I’m especially interested in alternative views, which differ from the position of the Government and other state officials,” said the President, adding, “Piotr Prokopovich has been appointed Council Chairman and has direct contact with the Head of State. I hope to see you working actively to ensure the country gains real benefits.”
Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Prokopovich notes that the goals of the new Council are primarily related to entrepreneurial ventures, as defined by Belarus’ 2011-2015 programme for social-economic development. Small and medium-sized businesses are expected to account for at least 30 percent of GDP by 2015, with the Council aiming to reduce the amount of bureaucracy.
Mr. Prokopovich believes it’s vital to seriously alter the structure of small and medium-sized businesses, which primarily focus on retail trade and imports at present. “We should move towards industrial production and services, since these spheres are in demand and, ultimately, are responsible for the country’s fate,” he said.
The creation of new jobs in the private sector was another focus of the session, with at least 300,000 jobs sought over the coming three years. Mr. Prokopovich notes that the Government is deve-loping a package of measures to ensure state support of entrepreneurship, with a document soon to be studied by the Council of Ministers’ Presidium.
Deputy PM Mr. Prokopovich intends to make use of experienced businessmen’s expertise. Those who have already set up successful enterprises in Belarus, conquering new sales markets, clearly have something to teach us. “If an enterprise is not developing or being modernised, it has no future. Within the Single Economic Space, we’ll be facing colleagues from Russia, Kazakhstan and the rest of the world,” he underlines. “We should create a new segment within our economy. In the current five year plan, private businesses already occupy one third but we want to raise this to at least 50 percent in the next five year plan. It won’t be easy but it’s achievable.”
The Deputy Chairman of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, Sergey Novitsky — also Director General of Henkel Bautechnik JLLC — is keen to stimulate private investments into long-term projects. He wants to establish new manufacturing, while raising highly skilled employment. “It’s high time that we transform the dynamics of the private sector, seeing progress and a rise in GDP,” he believes.
He has also put forward several suggestions to improve manufacturing co-operation, the subcontract system, state procurement procedures and mobility of employment in the private sector. In particular, Mr. Novitsky suggests that holding companies can improve their competitiveness by being partnered with small businesses, since these can provide component parts and maintenance services.
“I’m ready for more. If a private business is a parent company in a holding company, that’s great,” notes Mr. Lukashenko. The Head of State emphasises that he is in favour of joint implementation of major projects by private companies and state-run enterprises, saying, “I’ll keep my finger on the pulse by taking note of private companies; businessmen never invest in nonstarters.”
The Chairman of the Public Participants’ Meeting of Conte Spa JLLC, Valentin Baiko, believes that Belarus has the conditions to develop business and promote competitive market conditions. He notes that significant internal reserves exist for entrepreneurial development, saying, “We keep hearing about the need to attract foreign investors. It’s true that this is vital but we shouldn’t forget that, over the past 10-15 years, various ‘home-grown’ contemporary and efficient enterprises have been built countrywide, gaining popularity domestically and abroad. Those behind these businesses are interested in peace, order and security; they have a vested interest in the success of our country because their children live here.” Mr. Baiko is convinced that additional conditions are needed, to ensure that it is profitable to invest profits into the country’s economy, to further develop production.
Mr. Lukashenko stressed that his contacts with private businesses are guided by state interests. “I’m in touch with everybody. I’m not afraid that some might say that businessmen are gathering around me. They are my citizens and I must support them for the single reason that they can benefit our state,” he asserts.
Mr. Lukashenko assured those present that the state is ready to support promising and interesting projects but notes the importance of business responsibility. “Don’t attempt to swindle,” the President warns. “If you make promises, you must keep your word. If you can’t do so, then don’t come. Your word is all in business.”
The Head of State has spoken about privatisation many times, recently underlining, “We’ve already stressed that we won’t privatise anything ‘en mass’ and have rejected certain enterprises from the privatisation list. In theory, any enterprise can be privatised: even Belaruskali (which is worth looking at), those involved in oil processing, MAZ, BelAZ and so on. However, these companies have very high prices: Belaruskali is valued at $32bn and I can’t reduce it. If buyers reject this price, it’s fine; we’re in no hurry to sell.”
Efficient enterprises do exist but the President is eager to see prices and inflation kept within strict controls. “I’d say that this is an issue for the Government to solve. Last year, when we were coming out of an unclear financial condition, I chose to overlook some issues, even when administrative prices rose. The same won’t be true this year, so businessmen shouldn’t reproach me for state interference. We’ll be working meticulously to control inflation and price growth; otherwise, modernisation lacks impact,” he notes. “We’ll be considering how best to keep inflation and price growth at an acceptable level — for society and production.”
The Governmental meeting focused largely on entrepreneurial initiative in Belarus, attended by representatives of business circles. The latter offered some worthy proposals for study and the Head of State stressed that the new council has much to consider. Mr. Lukashenko is ready to continue offering his support and help where necessary, solving problematic issues.
By Vasily Kharitonov