Meeting with senior officials of Council of Ministers

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Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko hosted a meeting with the Council of Ministers’ members in the Palace of Independence on 9 September.

There is a proposal to improve the legislation on business activity in Belarus. The Council of Ministers suggests upgrading the format of this segment of the economy, placing the focus on two fundamental principles which are simplicity and fairness. “Any legal document should be like this,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“My main requirement is transparency and the ability to control business activity. Business should have clear rules, and the state should have a conscientious taxpayer and a partner in the implementation of development programs. Today it is obvious that we need changes in this sector,” said the head of state.

As for the transparency and business activity monitoring, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that there is no pressure on business. “We will continue monitoring the payment of taxes,” he said.

The president added that the development of business environment should follow an evolutionary path to meet the needs of the Belarusian society.

Aleksandr Lukashenko asked to pay special attention to the work of private entrepreneurs. “We need to create an incentive for entrepreneurs to transform into a legal entity,” said the Belarusian leader.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “A private entrepreneur is a craftsperson in fact. It is a person who does something that no one else can do. And what do we have here today: everyone from the military-industrial complex to wedding and funeral services have become entrepreneurs.”

The president asked the government to establish a clearly developed system of legal forms of business organization and its fair taxation.

An updated draft decree on agro-ecotourism in Belarus was submitted for consideration at the meeting.

“I once agreed and gave a start to this wonderful process so that people living in the rural areas, in beautiful corners of our nature, could show this beauty to the people, including foreign visitors. The sector is very important in terms of modernizing rural infrastructure, creating jobs, preserving and augmenting our national cultural traditions, cherishing respect for nature,” the president said.

However, the president has been reported that some norms of the decree, which regulates the agro-ecotourism sector (Decree No.365 of 9 October 2017), remain on paper only. Specific facts are cited as examples. For instance, there are hotel and restaurant businesses operating under the guise of farm stays, especially near large cities. They do not pay taxes as hotel or restaurant operators. “The hotel business in the city is visible, transparent. It pays appropriate taxes. The same is true about restaurants. They however have built hotels in picturesque places near the city under the guise of agro-ecotourism. I do not mind this. Just pay taxes as hotel operators. They have built luxury restaurants in the countryside. I do not mind it either. Let them be. But pay taxes like the rest of the restaurant business in the country. They have registered themselves as agro-ecotourism and enjoy benefits,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed to the unfairness of the situation.

The president asked to report on the plans to regulate the activities of unfair farm stay operators who have turned their facilities exclusively into hotel complexes. “We should have noticed such developments long before. We should have done it at the very beginning,” he said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko was also interested in how the discussed proposals would affect farm stays located far from big cities: “They have survived difficult coronavirus times, work honestly and continue developing their potential year after year. One thing is to open hotels and restaurants near big cities under the guise of farm stays, and another is to operate such facilities in faraway corners of the country. As they used to say in Odessa, these are two big differences.”

“It is also crucially important to see how the proposed changes will stimulate the development of regional initiative and certain areas,” the Belarusian leader added.

The draft decree on creating a full-fledged financial counseling institution in Belarus was one of the focuses of meeting.

“As I have been told, it is high time we come to grips with various kinds of consultants. With absolute impunity, unscrupulous brokers (dubbed black and gray brokers) cash in on the elderly and even on quite progressive young people,” the head of state said.

He explained that the National Bank wants to encourage the creation of an institution of consultants. “I don’t mind it. A good idea. Yet, what they suggest is (as least, it looks so at the first glance) opening some offices where bankers will advise our people what bank to apply to, what loans to take, and so on. Who will go to these offices to get a consultation? Gerasimov? [Chairman of the State Control Committee]. No. Young people? No. Educated people, journalists? No,” the president said.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the groups of people he listed are able to find the necessary information without consultants, because this information is available on the Internet. Accordingly, the services of such institutions will primarily be used by people with low incomes, including pensioners. “They will want to get a consultation if we open such offices. Will these consultations be free of charge? They will not. Is it fair? We are building a state that serves the interests of people. Starting from the Soviet times we have been providing some of such services for free. Banks are interested in providing such services as it will help them get new borrowers. This will be one more instrument bankers will use to rip people off. Our bankers are so ‘poor’. This raises red flags with me. Therefore, I sent back this document and submitted it for discussion,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Once again: I support counseling as such. But why take money for this? Well, those people who will consult are not poor. Who do we want to give this opportunity to profiteer from our people?” the head of state asked point-blank.

He cited an example of unscrupulous consultants. Pensioners from Brest planned to take out a loan and build a country house, turned to an intermediary who convinced them that the bank would not lend money without a ‘consultant’. “This is where it will lead to. They will open an office, and a bank will send people to a consultant in order to earn on this and perhaps to divide this money later. We already know this from the healthcare system. People who needed a joint replacement were advised by doctors to get medical products from a particular buyer. As a result, 30 people went to prison,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state continued the story about pensioners from Brest. They were asked to pay a thousand rubles for a consultation, and sometimes fees are even higher. “They went to the bank and got a loan without any problems. It turned out they did not need any intermediaries. So this crook started extorting money from them for ‘a service’ that was not in fact provided. They scared the pensioners so much that they even brought the received loan back to the bank and didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore,” Aleksandr Lukashenko shared the details.

“And the police can’t help. After all, everything is in line with a contract! In other words, they take money from people, a lot of money, for printing out information from the Internet, which is available to everyone. Then they shove an unconscionable contract for their pseudo-services. Filling their pockets, they do not bear any responsibility and do not guarantee that the banking product they have selected will really be available to those who apply for it,” the head of state said.

Moreover, there are situations when a person, having paid a considerable amount for such a consultation, goes to the bank being sure that he/she will receive a loan but the loan application is rejected, because the bank has its own procedures and requirements. As a result, this person is left without the loan he/she was counting on, and even loses money. “This will not do! Therefore, if you want to open such offices, their services should be free of charge!” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

He demanded a detailed report on how this area of business should be regulated, what guarantees a person receives when turning to financial consultants, and whether banks will take money for this kind of counseling. After all, such services should be provided free of charge, the Belarusian leader is sure.

The disposal of nuclear waste was also discussed.

“The construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant heralded the emergence of a new industry in our country. Sooner or later we will need to dispose of nuclear waste - spent fuel. This substance is extremely dangerous (but very valuable). Therefore, I set the task to create a reliable radioactive waste management system and the appropriate infrastructure in Belarus,” the president recalled.

The issue was discussed last year, too. Back then it was decided that the so-called national operator would take care of this. This agency would be in charge of the construction of radioactive waste management facilities and will fully manage the process. “Firstly, by doing this we will follow the established world standards, as you say. Secondly, this is about the safety and health of the Belarusian nation and our neighbors, as you put it. However, our neighbors do not really care about the health of our people. My main demand is to place no burden on the budget; I do not want any additional ministries or departments labeled as an operator,” the head of state said.

The president set the task to find the best way to deal with this waste, choose an operator and define its functions. “Belarusians should be rest assured that they will not be exposed to any radiation on the territory of the country. This is the main thing!” he stressed.

During the government conference Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the relevant officials do not always promptly act upon the president’s instructions. As an example he referred to his recent proposal on working out measures to make wood for housing construction cheaper. The head of state mentioned it had to be done as he visited Grodno District on 18 August.

Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that a lot of timber goes to waste in Belarus, the trees are not removed and processed promptly. “And getting [timber] at the beginning of the year for housing construction, for making windows, doors, floor boards, and other things is a catastrophe. The prices are exorbitant. I mentioned it and raised the issue with the government. There is only silence one month later. Right now I want not only proposals on my desk. I wish oblast governors acted already,” he stressed.

According to the president, the possibility of using wood to build homes will allow young specialists to settle down in the countryside. “Let’s start with specialists in the countryside. Let’s build homes. We have entire lines that can make a house within 24 hours. Workers can bring it and place it on a foundation. Give it to large families. We will single out people and arrange things in a way to prevent them from reselling the house if they get this timber for free or for half the price,” he said.

“I am just giving you an example: when the president comes up with an idea and it needs to be realized fast, there is silence,” the head of state added.