Session to discuss topical aspects of Belarus’ development

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Global integration processes are getting superseded by the recognition of primacy of national interests, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said during the government conference held on 9 March to discuss topical aspects of Belarus' development.

According to the head of state, the government conference was arranged in view of the recent changes in global economy and politics. “New trends are getting more and more pronounced in many countries starting with the USA and Europe. In essence, global integration processes are getting superseded by the recognition of primacy of national interests. In layman’s terms, the world is getting nationalized,” he said.

In the economic dimension the changes are manifested as the desire to protect domestic markets, develop manufacturing in one’s own territory in addition to keeping out competition. In politics the focus is being shifted to domestic problems, which are getting more pronounced and intense. A surge of public protests and the growing popularity of right-wing parties and politicians testify to that. “You can see what is going on in Germany. It is particularly pronounced in France in the run-up to the presidential election,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

“Belarus is an open and export-oriented country. This is why we have to take into account the new trends and promptly respond to them. How are they affecting our economy?” Aleksandr Lukashenko wondered. The President remarked that positive and negative aspects can be seen. “On the whole, the drive towards prioritizing national interests matches our intentions, too. It is a fact. We keep in touch with the global trends,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. “However, there is a negative side to the process. It is getting more difficult to sell our products and services on markets of other countries, which are busy introducing more and more barriers. It is alarming that friendly nations stoop so low as to use the tactics, too. This is why we need to find ways to overcome these hindrances while preserving the traditional trade and economic ties as much as possible and looking for new niches for Belarusian exports.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko said he also wanted the participants of the government conference to answer a number of other questions. The President said he wanted to know about the efforts to protect the domestic market, whether the market is saturated with quality products, what effect import-substituting measures have had, what is being done to enable favorable conditions for the development of the Belarusian private sector, and how internal reserves are used to address emerging problems.

“The social and political situation in the country requires a thorough analysis. A stable country and a calm society are the most important values of our nation!” the head of state stressed.

In his opening remarks Aleksandr Lukashenko spoke about many topical issues pertaining to the Belarusian-Russian interaction, a number of important domestic issues.

The President demanded to be briefed on the cooperation with Russia, especially on the results of the recent intergovernmental session of the Eurasian Economic Union in Bishkek. “Of course, I am aware of the general state of affairs. I was very much surprised by the statements of my old friend Medvedev [Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev],” the head of state said. “They start to threaten us that we will have to buy natural gas at European prices, at $200 instead of $150. This, you know, looks like a hint to everybody, above all in Russia and in Belarus, that that we are dependent on Russia: that is to say, they grace us with a gift.”

“I do not want to go into details either, but Medvedev should understand that if we pay as much as they do in Europe, he will also have to pay for certain things. And the price will be much higher than the price for natural gas. I think that the majority of Russian people still think and realize that our relations with Russia are not about accounting. Accounting and the prices for the natural gas that does not belong to Medvedev should not be the bedrock of our relations,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.

“They are they about something bigger. To evaluate these relations, we should look back to the middle of the 20th century when one third of our population was killed, and you know how that happened. If someone wants to aggravate the situation and reproach us once again, such attempts will fail,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated.

The head of state outlined Belarus’ position in the oil and gas issues. “I will be concise and precise: we do not want low prices for gas. We want the government of our brotherly Russia to fulfill its obligations, in essence and spirit. If we are trying to build a union, a common state, our people and enterprises, our businesses should have equal conditions on this market. This is what we want,” the President said.

“If some people believe that they can constantly pressurize us and bring us to our knees, this will never happen,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

“Taking care of the matters that we always raise before sessions of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, I would like the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs to accomplish a concrete task: we have to prepare the agenda of the session and make part of the agenda the fundamental issues that need to be addressed today,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“We should not convert a session of the Supreme State Council, of which I am the chairman, into just another session arranged for the session’s sake where people get together, look at each other, have some snacks, and depart without resolving problems,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko gave instructions to prepare the agenda of the session and include concrete most important matters of bilateral relations as well as a draft resolution that has to be agreed and initialed during the session. “We don’t have to headbutt each other during the session. We have absolutely nothing against arranging a session of the Supreme State Council. Since we take turns, the session is supposed to take place in Moscow. I would like the agenda to contain 3-4 items at most. Instead of 25 items that we often blaze through during such sessions,” said the head of state.

One of the central topics on the agenda of the government session was the implementation of Ordinance No. 3 “On preventing social dependency”. Aleksandr Lukashenko answered all the questions raised in the society and explained the reasons for passing this ordinance, and spoke about its future. The head of state stressed that the document will not be abolished. However, it will be amended, and the authorities will take more careful approaches to the formation of tax payers lists.

The President said that he was keeping an eye on what the media, both opposition and state-owned, wrote. “I know about the statements by representatives of the so-called fifth column and even some things the public does not know about. Although the media have made some hints,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state emphasized that the ordinance is about ideology and morality. This is not some economic and financial document. “The state is not going to get big money from it. The key goal of the decree is to make people work,” the President underlined.

This ordinance does not apply to those who can but should not work, for example, pensioners, Aleksandr Lukashenko said. It does not apply to those who cannot work for objective reasons, such as disabled people and women with many children.

“We will support these people just like we support the elderly and pensioners using budget funds. All working people make payments to the budget. It is formed form the contributions of people and enterprises. The problem is as follows: some people make payments to the budget while others do not. But they use all social benefits,” the Belarusian leader said.

The list of budget-sponsored industries and fields can be continued. These include healthcare, education, security, defense, utility services.

The head of state remarked that there is another option. “We can compile a list of people who must take part in the financing of public spending. We will not make them pay this duty. But they will have to pay for all services in the state in full,” the President said.

“This will an absolutely fair approach. It will up to people to decide where to work and earn money. But if you do not finance your own state, do not take part in these events, pay in full. This is one of the options. I am saying all this to emphasize the essence and concept of this ordinance,” the head of state said.

The head of state criticized the work of officials responsible for the implementation of the decree. “Our MPs, at different levels and, first of all, those at the local level, failed to find their place here [in outreaching to the people],” he said.

“This is, first of all, the task of every chairman of the district executive committee, every head of a city or district administration. The governors and the Minsk Mayor are supposed to monitor the situation. You should have lists of the people who do not work,” he said.

“We must not hurt honest people, especially during these difficult times. Those 200-500 people who go on strikes are not social parasites. These people are those whom we have wrongly offended by requiring them to pay the tax,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

The President instructed the authorities to compile lists of those who must make payments under Ordinance No. 3 by 1 April. “The lists should be accurate. We need to involve all, namely members of the local councils, police, the special services, in drawing up these lists. They must be submitted to city and district administrations, regional authorities and the city of Minsk,” the head of state said.

The Belarus President Administration together with the government shall monitor the implementation of this decision.

The President announced the following decision: those who have been included in the relevant lists shall not pay tax under Ordinance No. 3 during the year 2017. “The person who paid the tax in 2016 will not have to pay it in 2017 if he is still out of work. If he finds a job then the money will be reimbursed to him or her on request,” the head of state said.

The money collected under Ordinance No. 3 must be spent on children’s needs only. “All the money collected should remain in local budgets, to be exact in district budgets, not the regional ones. This money should be spent on children’s needs only,” the President emphasized.

“Most importantly, every local government head should report to the district and town councils on how the money, every kopeck is spent. It may be used to support a kindergarten, a children’s home, or to help purchase things for kids and so on…. Children’s needs only. God forbid that even one kopeck is used for other purposes such as repairs of roads or apartments...,” the head of state noted.

In this context, the President instructed that all the jobless Belarusians must get jobs by 1 May. He also reminded about the requirement to raise the average salary to $500 in equivalent and to enhance performance discipline.

“As far as people with an antisocial lifestyle are concerned, there are some drunkards and alcoholics, no offense, but they are definitely freeloaders. They must be forced to work. Those, who have lost their jobs due to misfortune, should get help not only from employment assistance agencies but government bodies, too,” the head of state said.

“But people should understand that it is primarily up to them to find a job. We can only help them. Everyone should get a job by 1 May,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Remember: regardless of the place and area I visit my aides will go there first and will publicly invite the unemployed to meet with me. God forbid there are unemployed people after 1 May.”

“I don’t think it is true that it is impossible to find jobs for all the registered unemployed,” Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined.

“If you fail to implement my instruction to raise the average salary to $500 in equivalent, be ready to accept the consequences. We have already reached an agreement. If we reach this target, we will face no complaints: neither on the part of social dependents nor workers, intellectuals and others. We should solve this problem whatever it takes. We should provide people with jobs and raise the average salary to $500 in equivalent,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also gave an instruction to the interior minister to ensure perfect order in the country.

“Some people say that have taken part in a rally and will do it again. We cannot prohibit people from taking to the streets. You should get involved in this work, because we have failed to do it properly in Minsk, regional capitals and other cities. Allocate places in cities and towns where people could come and express their opinions. High-ranking officials will be there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“There should not be any obstacles for the normal life of working people. You know that our ‘maidan fanatics’ went to Kiev to look for organizers there. You understand that these people [participating in mass rallies] will be cannon fodder, the crowd. They go there not for political reasons. Some 300 to 400 people led by our ‘maidan fanatics’ who went to Kiev will try to instigate aggression. They will find 10 to 20 professionals like those who opened fire in Kiev. This will lead to bloodshed and disaster. Therefore, we must do our best to prevent it. I am saying this in public,” the President said.

“We should learn to maintain a dialogue with people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

“We are not against rallies, demonstrations. We have recently held a mass event at the national level to mark Police Day. There should be places where people could express their opinions. The western countries have such venues. They can come and speak up there,” the head of state remarked. “If they invite a local official, he or she should be there. No one should insult him. Police should record such insults and take tough measures.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded tough responsibility for violations. “We need to prevent all such attempts. This does not concern people who want to garner attention and those who are in a difficult life situation. We must hold provocateurs accountable with all the rigor of the law,” the Belarusian leader said.

“A maidan will not happen in Belarus. There are no preconditions for this. But it is important to keep a finger on the pulse,” he added.

The President returned to the implementation of Ordinance No. 3. “The decree must be adjusted during March. The decree will not be abolished. It will stay in force, with the adjustments I have just mentioned,” the Belarusian leader said.