Introduction of Andrei Kobyakov as Belarus’ Prime Minister

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President of the Republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko expects the government to come up with constructive and breakthrough ideas to increase the efficiency of the domestic economy. The President made this statement as he introduced newly-appointed Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov on 29 December.

The President said that there was nothing extraordinary about the new appointments. “The process never stops. Our life always goes on. Personnel rotation, appointments, and personnel movement at all levels represent a tradition, particularly in the year of the presidential election. We did it in the past. The backbone of the government, other managers of the country were appointed before the presidential election,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“I believe that the present personnel decisions, which are meant to bolster the economic block, are particularly important,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. This is why more than half of the top officials in the Council of Ministers have been replaced. “If the economy works well, we will have money, foreign currency, and hence stability in our society. And the nation will never excessively complain about us,” the head of state pointed out.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the personnel decisions that had affected the government were not a spontaneous step. “I had taken at least half a year to think them through. I had a lot of doubts. Nobody had been lobbying for any posts. Until recently many knew nothing about the jobs they would have to do. It was my personal decision. But the decision did not come out of the blue,” the President emphasized.

“Andrei Kobyakov will be introduced to the parliament soon. In accordance with the Constitution he is supposed to present the government’s action plan before the parliament within two months,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Andrei Vladimirovich Kobyakov is not a new person for you. He has a long record of economic, diplomatic, and managerial work. He worked as deputy prime minister for ten years. He was the head of the Belarus President Administration for the last two years and slightly more,” said the head of state. Besides, the President noted that Andrei Kobyakov still has to prepare proposals for the further optimization of government agencies. “We have to free government agencies from double functions and non-core functions. Use international experience and, most of all, take into account our situation, our life. Nobody can raise the issue of higher salaries for civil servants without optimizing the structures you run. Get them optimized, drop the excessive functions that you don’t need at this or that stage, and act. By removing these functions, we will improve discipline and responsibility for the decisions that get made,” the President stressed.

The enumerated the most important issues that the new government will have to address.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that one of the primary objectives for the government is to ensure normal operation of organizations. “It is vitally important to preserve jobs. The economy should be efficient,” the Head of state remarked.

The President reminded about recently signed decree No. 5 that gave additional powers to executives. “All the executives have been granted additional powers and all the abilities to justly demand results from their subordinates, to incentivize good work, and to punish the lazy. Executives have never had such ample powers that they have today. These instruments can be used to resolve any problems within a short period of time,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

However, executives must be personally responsible for the result. “It is the heads of the enterprises that should work to earn money while the government takes care of organization and strict control,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

“The replacement of heads of enterprises will continue. I would like to make it clear that it will not be possible to just stay in the executive seat. It will be even dangerous. If you feel that you cannot work anymore, step aside and allow others to do the job,” the Belarus President said.

The head of state underlined that nobody will be fired just to land in another executive seat: “If you are a failure in the civil service, if you have even broken the law, you will never become an executive in a public agency or a private one. Never ever. And I will make sure of it”.

The President remarked that diversification of export is one of the main objectives for the Belarusian government in the current situation. “Nobody will create comfortable conditions for us. To successfully promote our products, we have to reduce the prime cost, improve the quality of products, search for and find new markets,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. “We cannot be dependent on one or one-and-a-half markets. Indeed, Russians are our brothers and sisters, our friends, but you see how they behave in some situations. This is why we must diversify, whatever it takes. Do not take offence at me, but the control will be tough,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out.

At the same time the president emphasized that diversification in no way means withdrawal from the Russian market. “We should work a lot more effectively in this direction and actively occupy the product niches that are being vacated. The main task for the government is to support the Belarusian exporters. We have all the necessary leverages to maintain the level of competitiveness of our enterprises,” the head of state noted.

The Belarusian President also said: “The embassies should first of all focus on trade. We do not need representative offices and smooth-faced white collars,” the president noted. Aleksandr Lukashenko explained that the embassies can help find out which products are in demand in this or that particular region. The head of state noted that ambassador should always stay in contact with the government official responsible for a particular country or region and coordinate activities with him.

“We should ask them (foreign partners) to buy our products. First of all I mean the heads of the states that want to be or already are in good relations with us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. The president mentioned Kazakhstan as an example of a country where Belarusian products could replace those imported from other countries.

Aleksandr Lukashenko paid special attention to the quality of Belarusian products. “The quality of our goods should be significantly improved. We receive more and more complaints about the poor quality of some components or products. This is a crime. If necessary get down to manual assembling. Take goods to pieces and reassemble them, but the products supplied to the market should be of high quality,” the Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

The President noted that apart from addressing current tasks, the government should start working on plans for the mid-term perspective, first of all Belarus’ social and economic development draft program for 2016-2020. This program is to be defended at the next All-Belarus People’s Congress.

Speaking about the new First Deputy Prime Minister Vasily Matyushevsky, the President of Belarus noted: "He has a Ph.D. in economics, and is well familiar with the economic, financial and banking systems and specifics of the  investment activity. I have noticed them (Vasily Matyushevsky and Pavel Kallaur (the new Chairman of the Board of the National Bank) long ago. When I was an MP I met them through work and closely watched them progressing especially Pavel Kallaur.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the government should establish effective interaction with the National Bank. "The goal is to ensure, by concerted efforts, the stability and balance in the domestic monetary and financial market and to engage all financial resources for the real production sector.”

Speaking about the new Vice Prime Minister Natalia Kochanova, the President noted that she served as Chairperson of Novopolotsk City Hall. Now she will oversee the social issues in the government. "She knows people’s concerns. I highly count on her practical experience, wisdom and female practicality. It is good that the government will have a person from a region. Her career was connected with addressing concrete everyday concerns of people, particularly in the housing and utilities sector. Whatever difficulties we have to face, the main task of Belarus’ socio-economic policy is care about people,” the president added.

The President expects effective work of the old teams in the government. Vladimir Semashko will remain in charge of coordination of the industrial, fuel and energy sectors. It is very important to successfully complete the projects that are underway, and to ensure the proper return on modernized production facilities, Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined.

Vladimir Semashko will also oversee the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant and other projects.

“Problems have piled up through the roof in the housing and utilities industry and the civil engineering industry, for which [Anatoly] Kalinin is primarily responsible. We have made the relevant decisions. A commission on housing and utilities industry and the civil engineering industry has done its work. I cannot say we have made some major headway. This is why, Anatoly Nikolayevich (Kalinin), you will have to follow the hardline policy we have determined. I mean that our ministers are also responsible for the situation,” the President said.

The head of state also spoke in negative terms about the fact that the decisions made at the government conference held by the president are not fulfilled properly as the State Control Committee has found out. “Bear in mind. God forbid if people complain that the construction of some house is past the deadline. I have already said that you are better off not starting the construction of a house if you don’t expect you will be able to finish it on time. People should not be offended,” pointed out Aleksandr Lukashenko. He went on saying: “Virtually all of us have their own apartments. We live quite good lives. We should not forget that at the same time thousands and hundreds of thousands of people don’t have their own homes. If they raise the money little by little from all the relatives, if they are so intent on earning and investing in their homes, while you destroy these plans in the final construction phase, it is inadmissible,” the head of state stressed.

Speaking about Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Rusyi, the President said that he will continue overseeing the development of the agriculture. “We will discuss top issues in the sphere of his responsibility at a broad-participation government conference in H1 2015. The conference will be dedicated to agriculture. As the head of the relevant conference Mikhail Myasnikovich once took care of these things. We will evaluate the government’s performance and his personal performance with regard to the improvement of the operation of the Belarusian agriculture,” said the President. Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that a lot has been said lately about sales of agricultural products. “Mikhail Ivanovich [Rusyi], it is time you did better. I will not do your job of selling food anymore,” said the President referring to the Belarusian-Russian food trade dispute. “Act, deal with these issues, we need progress,” he added.

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that the ultimate goal of the Belarusian state is to create comfortable living environment for people. “Remember one thing: people do not need any handouts if they are humiliated, and no money if there is no justice, if they are mistreated at work. The most important right is the right to work and to be rewarded for good performance. We should no way humiliate people or let others do it,” the President said. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that people should be proud of living in this country.

After the ceremony to introduce the newly-appointed premier Aleksandr Lukashenko answered journalists’ questions. The head of state talked about the recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the problems with the delivery of Belarusian foodstuffs. At the meeting the heads of state outlined solutions of the major issues on the bilateral agenda.

Such a situation may happen in the future again. Life with no disputes sounds like a fairytale, the Belarusian leader noted. The heads of state had a tough and business-like conversation. “It was not the first discussion of this kind. It does not mean that there is antagonism between us. We are friends and we can openly discuss the things that we are concerned about,” the head of state said.

Disputes will emerge due to the conflict of interests with Russian manufacturers who view Belarusian companies as their primary rivals, Aleksandr Lukashenko believes. “They cannot compete with us in terms of quality, price, the level of organization. That is why they resort to such administrative, sometimes lawless methods,” the President emphasized.

Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced that the format of the Union State in the relations between Belarus and Russia is still up-to-date. “The Eurasian Economic Union should do a lot to reach this depth of integration which exists between Belarus and the Russian Federation,” the Belarusian leader stated.

The President spoke about results of the recent session of the contact group on Ukraine that meets in Minsk from time to time: “They came to terms on few things but the decision to exchange POWs was made. And we can see that the exchange has begun as mass media report”.

“I think the next meeting will take place soon. But the decision to meet has not been made yet. There is no way out but meetings and negotiations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko was convinced.

The head of state spoke about the conflict in Ukraine: “It is not someone else’s conflict. It is a conflict at our door”. “We should do our best to tune down the conflict or eliminate it. If we can pull it off, we, the men, and I as the commander in chief, we will do it,” continued Aleksandr Lukashenko. “We don’t ask for it, we don’t force our way in and have never tried to. If we are asked to do it, we will if we can”.

The President made several comments in response to mass media speculations regarding the intentions to use the Belarusian army for peacekeeping purposes. “If our military personnel go somewhere as peacekeepers, I will be the first to go there. I want them to know it. My eldest son, who takes care of these problems today, will be there, too,” stressed the head of state. “I am not going to send anyone anywhere while I am already getting criticized,” the President added.

The situation in Ukraine was discussed during the meeting of the Belarusian head of state with Ukraine President Piotr Poroshenko. “Separating the warring parties is the key problem if we talk about the negotiations held with the president of Ukraine. Now the Ukrainian army and the militia are in touch. It is necessary to separate them at least by 30km. And it is necessary to control the zone to prevent any clashes, it is necessary to remove heavy weapons,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Closing the border with Russia is another problem for Ukraine. “There is huge distrust. President [Piotr Poroshenko] said directly: I would be very grateful if Belarusians could help us in this regard,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. The head of state said he had invited his Ukrainian counterpart to decide how Belarus could help resolve these problems.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said he is amused to be included in politicians’ popularity ratings.

The President said he is pleased that "they see him not as a dictator but, apparently, as a normal person”. “Otherwise, there would be no statements like that,” the head of state said. The head of state noted that he takes this with some irony. "This is a mishap of some kind, isn’t it? How? Yesterday they called me a terrible person, and today the most popular one.” "I thank those people who acknowledged us. This will benefit primarily Belarus," Aleksandr Lukashenko added.