Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has appointed new government members. The personnel decisions were announced by the Belarusian head of state.
Sergei Rumas who had chaired the Development Bank of Belarus was appointed prime minister.
Alexander Turchin who had been head of the Council of Ministers Office was named first deputy prime minister. Igor Lyashenko was appointed deputy prime minister. “He is away on business now; he is in touch with the situation. He will be responsible for the matters that had been dealt with by Vladimir Semashko,” the President said. Before his new appointment Igor Lyashenko had led Belneftekhim Concern.
Vladimir Kukharev was also appointed new deputy premier. He used to work as Deputy Chairman of the State Control Committee. “He will oversee construction, housing and utilities and transport. It is the basis. The government will advise you on how to distribute these responsibilities,” the President said.
Apart from that, Igor Petrishenko was appointed deputy premier. Before his new appointment, he had been Belarus’ Ambassador to Russia. He will be responsible for social matters – healthcare, education, culture and sport.
Dmitry Mikulenok was appointed minister of architecture and construction.
Pavel Utyupin was appointed industry minister. “You know this sphere of work. You worked in this field for five years. It is also very good that you have experience of working at the Economy Ministry as well. This experience will come in handy for you,” the Belarusian leader said.
Konstantin Shulgan was appointed communications and informatization minister. He is a disciplined person, from the military; he is very well familiar with this realm, in particular, development prospects of information technologies and the way to increase their share, the head of state said describing the new minister.
Dmitry Krutoi will lead the Economy Ministry. “I would like the Economy Ministry (you have carefully studied this organization) to get a new lease on life and adapt to the new reality. It is very important,” the President said.
The State Military Industry Committee will be chaired by Roman Golovchenko. “You worked there; you know this field very well. It is very good that you served as an ambassador in various countries. You have everything in place to work at the State Military Industry Committee,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“These matters have been on the agenda for a long time. At least for me, the President. They have grown particularly relevant after the recent developments in the east of Belarus. I made a decision back then to refresh our government, in particular, what concerns the top officials. The head of the administration was instructed to hold consultations with respective officials and to explore the President’s candidate pool, to consult with civil society leaders of our country,” the head of state said.
“You know very well what the civil society in Belarus is. It is not those who walk in the squares and talk. These are heads of our women’s organization, the youth organization, trade unions and the veterans’ organization… I was informed that such consultations were held. As far as I know, those people from the candidate pool were upheld and approved,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“I have already said that I keep track of the society’s reaction to my decisions. From the very first days of my presidency I have been orienting on the people’s opinion of the course that the country is following,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko said that it is natural that opinions are different. “We live in a democratic state between two democratic blocs from the west and the east. To have dictatorship in Belarus is impossible. The order, however, will always be kept in the country,” the Belarusian leader said.
The President has explained seemingly harsh personnel decisions that followed his visit to Orsha District.
“When I made decisions in Orsha, many or some took it as some spontaneous move. Some thought that the things that happened in Orsha District should not have probably triggered such harsh criticism of the government. I am going to say the following: it is not only about Orsha. It was just the last straw. One should look deeper. You were close to the government (some of you worked as government officials, though not on key positions). You understand that there should not be any disagreements or different interpretations of the way the national development policy should be carried out,” the Belarusian leader said.
The head of state noted that Belarus had opted for a certain development strategy. “In line with the country’s constitution, the President announces this development strategy in his election program. And people vote depending on this strategy. So no one dares deceive people,” Alexander Lukashenko emphasized.
“Our government, I will not mention names, used to act in the following way: let us declare one strategy and carry out a different one (people do it in other countries, after all). I have never acted this way and will never do! The government was handpicked to deliver the strategy we had promised; therefore, this strategy should be followed. The cornerstone of our policy is people. This is not populism. I have always said it. Failing this, we should not be in this country. People are all important,” the Belarusian leader said.
Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that discipline, integrity, teamwork, power vertical, strong power to strengthen discipline and professionalism are factors underpinning the country’s independence. “Therefore, the second target is securing the country’s independence. We will be independent, if our economy develops in a proper way. If we let the economy crumble, we will have no independence. No phrase-mongering can save us from havoc,” the head of state said.
The President noted that at some point individual government members started interpreting it in their own way. They suggested selling government property as soon as possible. “In fact, no one is against privatization. I have made it clear. As I said, we should carefully study the state of things at each company, big or small, before selling its shares. After all, these companies employ people,” the head of state added. Other matters should also be carefully examined, like the terms of privatization, a company’s development prospects and the future of its employees.
“Some investors come to me and say that they do not need that many employees. They suggest throwing half of the personnel into the street. “We fire them and nothing is left of a big company. Belarus does not need privatization like this and will never go for it,” the President emphasized.
“Do we want to follow the path of our neighbors? They have already denounced the privatization that was carried out in the 1990s,” the Belarusian leader said.
Alexander Lukashenko added that Belarus opted for a gradual modernization and improvement of what it has. “What we have today produces what is in demand on the market. Why should we scrap all this?” the President asked.
He cited an example of agriculture. Investments in this economic sector were criticized as a waste of money. “Today everyone admits: agriculture has saved the country. We built dairy complexes and upgraded horse-and-buggy farms. Today everyone says: dairy is gold. These are not my words; that is what specialists say,” the Belarusian leader noted.
A similar situation is with the upgrade of the woodworking industry. “Today it is the main driver of our economy. If I am not mistaken, woodworking companies demonstrate a growth rate of 24-25% over the past year,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“Such a peaceful and gradual modernization is what we strive for. Should we want to sell some agricultural or woodworking companies, the price for them will be considerably higher,” Alexander Lukashenko noted.
“Most importantly, during my first years in power I promised no shock therapy, no shocks at all. Because this means cutting people to the quick. I never agreed to that and never will. No one is allowed to cut people to the quick. First, our people are different: they are used to integrity and justice. They will reject a policy like that. However, the government tried to push for this shock therapy by all means. I had to check them all the time,” the President said.
At the same time, the task to raise the country’s average salary to at least Br1,000 threw them into panic, the head of state said. They said it is impossible. “It turned out to be possible even with the strategy they tried to push through in Belarus. However it took a lot of efforts of mine to persuade the government that people should earn at least Br1,000 on average, that we need to deal with the most underpaid professions (nursery assistants, cleaning staff and nurses in hospitals who take care of children and us when we get sick; as well as people working in cultural sphere, social workers). Their salary should be higher. However, all the government had to say about it was the following: we can’t, we shouldn’t, the exchange rate will plummet, the country will come crashing down,” the head of state noted.
“Good, I suggested an alternative. Let us have the same salary as these unfortunate nannies,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, this suggestion was met with the following response: No way, it is impossible in the government; top decision-makers should have a higher salary; the higher salary they get, the better they will work. What kind of justice is that?” the head of state asked.
“It got even worse. We are in talks with international organizations, including the IMF. Their demands are clear. The International Monetary Fund is following a certain policy and there is no way around it,” the President noted.
At the same time, not the IMF, but “some personalities in the government” started suggesting an abrupt removal of utility subsidies and privatizing all government assets. “What would we get in return? Popular discontent and failure to pay, at the very least. People just would not be able to pay the new housing bills. Therefore, as far back as during my election campaign I made it clear: as the salary will rise, the prices for utilities will gradually increase. We have agreed upon a $5 increase a year. No, they say that it is not enough and cause complete mayhem. That was the way the talks with the IMF were carried out. The President sets one task, but they in the government and the National Bank are trying to push through by hook or by crook this so-called liberal policy, this brainless policy,” the Belarusian leader said.
He said that he had to interfere, invite IMF representatives and make it clear on behalf of Belarus, which way the country will go and how it will negotiate with international organizations. “Look, many international organizations and banks, the EBRD, understand us and provide loans. Because we honor our commitments. We always give back the money we borrow. No red tape, the head of state said.
However, red tape and irresponsibility started plaguing the government. This was not acceptable, Alexander Lukashenko emphasized.
He noted that it was tolerated for some time. “However, when they stopped fulfilling the tasks given by the President publicly, when people looked at it and asked why the government fails to execute the President’s instructions, that was the last straw,” the President noted.
“I was absolutely fair towards these officials. I set the task two years ago and for two years I reiterated it and explained what should be done. In other words, the President set the task, explained how to fulfill it, saw that the task was not fulfilled and started doing it himself. Why would I need such a government,” the head of state asked.
“I will not unroll any program for you. You know the agenda very well and you all contributed to the elaboration of this program, to say nothing of our new premier. This is a person who worked in various sectors. He has an opinion of his own. I respect this, I entrusted him many specific issues outside his purview and they were always accomplished,” the President said.
“I have great hope for you. We will soon approach the elections, both parliamentary and presidential elections, and they will put us to the test. I would never want to be rebuked for your bad work,” Alexander Lukashenko emphasized.
“You are fingers on my hands. Every finger hurts the same. You are my “children”. I am responsible for you,” the head of state said figuratively.