Meeting to discuss the state of things at the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) and matters related to land reclamation

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Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko convened a meeting to discuss the state of things at the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) and matters related to land reclamation on 19 December.

Taking part in the meeting were government members, heads of government agencies, governors, and scientists. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that such a composition of participants usually means that the most pressing, strategic matters are brought for consideration.

“We need to discuss two very important topics today - the development of the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation and progress to implement the land reclamation program on the ground. It’s already been a year since the unique large-scale production was solemnly launched at BNBC. We are still proud of this kind of production. All conditions were created to launch these operations. And we agreed that we would support the project in every possible way,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

At the same time, according to the head of state, things at the enterprise are proceeding not exactly as planned.

“The State Control Committee that was instructed to carefully examine the situation at BNBC reports that there are significant shortcomings and problems with the utilization of the facility’s capacity and the sale of finished products. All this negatively affects the financial performance of BNBC (sure thing!). I would like the government to put forward a clear algorithm for eliminating all existing shortcomings and maintaining financial stability at the enterprise,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko first of all asked about progress to fulfill production plans and implement the export strategy. He also asked what needs to be done (if anything) to maintain the balanced development of the corporation.

“I want you to understand: this project is vital for our reputation, it is a very important technological project for our country. You know how much it cost not only me, but also the state,” said the Belarusian leader.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the situation with the implementation of land reclamation measures in some regions leaves much to be desired.

According to the head of state, a year ago clear-cut tasks were set at the nationwide seminar-meeting on the restoration and use of reclamation lands.

“We have agreed on the need to triple the volume of land reclamation activities from 2023 to 2025 in comparison with 2021. Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Zayats reports to me that the volume of works have been tripled this year. Is it true?” the President said.

Leonid Zayats confirmed the information.

“What surprises me in your reports is that everything is broken down, with only one out of hundreds of trenchers operating. There is an urgent need to save land reclamation as an industry. How did you manage to triple the amount of land reclamation works this year? Have you dug these trenches with shovels? Do you want to substitute the wish for the reality? It will not work,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

The head of state said that he was alarmed by the work of the government in some areas, with some principal instructions of the President remaining unfulfilled. “Is this becoming kind of a habit for the government? This is unacceptable. This will not work here,” he warned.

Returning to the topic of land reclamation, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that governors pledged to put 110,000 hectares of land into agricultural use in 2023. Necessary decisions at the level of the head of state on financing land reclamation works and the purchase of equipment were taken in the middle of the year. “We have collected money resources from all sectors and industries for land reclamation efforts. I receive reports, however, that the situation with the implementation of these plans in some regions is far from being ideal,” the President said.

The government and oblast executive committees are initiating changes in the structure of works to concentrate resources on land clearance operations. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, although being similar, these are still different things. Land clearance operations simply mean tidying up agricultural lands - for example, cutting down hogweed. The President expressed bewilderment of how land reclamation could be substituted for this type of work.

“You have failed to dig trenches and lay drains, save agricultural lands, and now you are putting forward an initiative to turn all this into land clearance operations. Tomorrow you will propose to transfer the money allocated for land reclamation to cutting shrubs. Here is my decision: [Belarusian Prime Minister] Roman Aleksandrovich [Golovchenko], you will cut down bushes with axes and shovels. This should be done by agricultural enterprises – all these cultural and technical measures. We will carry out land reclamation as it should be done according to science,” the head of state said.

The President said that he was amazed at the attitude of responsible officials towards these issues. “I made a decision to finance these works. I warned you that we were taking away, as I often say, from medical and other sectors in order to save agricultural lands. Why? Because we earn $8 billion in agricultural exports. What do we lack? Land resources? We have at least half a million hectares (even more) standing idle, the ones we have planned for land reclamation. We need to save what can and should be saved today,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state also expressed dissatisfaction with the land reclamation works in some regions. According to him, a lot of money has been invested in it, but the necessary results have not been achieved: the water is still standing.

“Instead of land reclamation works on more than 10,000 hectares (2,200 hectares in Grodno Oblast, almost 5,000 hectares in Vitebsk Oblast and Mogilev Oblast each) you offer to remove shrubs, clean canals, conduct excavation and other works. So do it. You need no money for this!” the President said.

In his words, it is the duty of the owner (reclamation system enterprises and agricultural organizations) to keep reclamation canals clean and in order, to maintain them so that every piece of land was in agricultural use. “For what reason has not it been done? I do not need any facts, Vasily Nikolayevich [Gerasimov]. You know what should be done,” the head of state said addressing Chairman of the State Control Committee Vasily Gerasimov.

The Council of Ministers complains about the high degree of deterioration of trenchers and the lack of project documentation for the entire area of land reclamation systems.

“Is it a problem to take the old documentation? I am not pushing you to develop new reclamation systems. We need to restore the ones that were developed in Soviet times. That is it. There is no need to go deep into forests and swamps! Restore these half a million hectares, and then we will decide what to do next. They do not have enough project documentation to clear a canal overgrown with bushes, and lay a drainpipe from the field into the canal. This should be done to be able to plow these areas. We need to take a wise approach,”  Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

According to the government, there are 101 trenchers in the country, and 99 of them are out of order.

“Tell me honestly, did you sign what they gave you, or did you count them yourself?” the President asked the prime minister.

“We did not check every one of them,” Roman Golovchenko replied.

“Then do not sign what you have not checked. Call them up and ask them how the volume of works can be tripled with a hundred devices that are out of order,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying that he had repeatedly set tasks to restore agricultural machinery. As practice shows, it costs two to three times cheaper to repair equipment than to buy new one. When it comes to hundreds of thousands of US dollars, the savings are significant. For example, a new harvester costs about $520,000, while repair works can cost some $200,000.

“Everything must be restored and put in operation!" the President demanded. “A year ago I instructed to make an inventory of land reclamation equipment, take all necessary measures to restore, repair and preserve it. When will there be results?”

“If in April these trenchers do not start working, all responsible will go to prison. I warn you in public,” the head of state set a task to the chairman of the State Control Committee. “Great amount of money has been buried, divided! I reiterate: it is easier to restore and repair this equipment (it will be cheaper) than produce new one. If it is necessary to produce a dozen and a half trenchers, do it.”

In January 2023 the President was briefed that following requests from land reclamation organizations a plan to produce special-purpose Amkodor equipment and establish service centers for its warranty maintenance was approved. “Where is it?” Aleksandr Lukashenko asked. “You together with Golovchenko came to me asking for Amkodor: for help, for money. Where do we allocate money? There is a lot of talk and little action!”

According to Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Parkhomchik, six trenchers are left to be delivered this year. All of them will be handed over to the farms before the end of the year, he said.

The President, however, mentioned absolutely different information. “Out of 188 Amkodor vehicles planned for the delivery 2023, only 64 - one third - were delivered as of 12 December. What are you talking about? Only one out of 14 multi-bucket trenchers from the same plan has been delivered. One! I am warning you for the last time,” he said.

“How well-founded are your approaches to changing the structure of land reclamation works in the context of the large-scale land reclamation program until 2025? This is the main question we have to answer,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The President asked the prime minister about his vision of the state of affairs in land reclamation. The head of state added that he often gets familiar with the pace of work on the ground from his helicopter. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, if everything has been put in order around his small homeland, Shklov District, there were still many problems in other regions.

“I have already warned you. It kills me that you are engaged in window dressing. I fly all over the country and see where you work and where you do nothing. This is where the need for land reclamation came from, this is where I have realized that these lands must be saved. We need to save them and make a foundation for our children to understand how to work further,” the Belarusian leader said. “But you work as if you were timeservers.”

Roman Golovchenko stated that he had a heavy impression of the situation in the sector. In his words, for the past ten years land reclamation has not been given due attention, and as a result the subdivision in the Agriculture and Food Ministry, which supervised these issues, was disbanded, and the regional land reclamation organizations were left alone. Now the government is in the process of restoring this entire system.

“The first thing we faced was strengthening the material and technical base of the organizations. In some of them everything was ruined. There was no work, and workers left,” the head of government said.

“Who was held responsible for this?” the President asked.

According to the prime minister, about 100 officials were brought to disciplinary responsibility, ten people were dismissed for discreditable circumstances, and criminal cases were opened against 13 people.

“You fired them – that was your punishment. They have already found jobs in private structures, earn three times as much and laugh at you. Is this possible?” Aleksandr Lukashenko asked.

“It is,” Roman Golovchenko agreed.

"This is the style of your work. We have made a decision here and what is done there? This is called ‘temporary workers’," the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko was also interested in the opinion of the State Control Committee. According to Vasily Gerasimov, falsification of figures remained the main problem, and this problem was typical for every region. “The worst thing is (you have talked about it and the relevant criminal cases were opened) that land reclamation works were conducted in some places and everything overgrew there with time. We simply buried our investment. Both we and the prosecutor's office are taking the toughest measures here,” the chairman of the State Control Committee said.