Esteemed Chairmen of the National Assembly Houses,
Esteemed Deputies of the House of Representatives,
Esteemed Members of the Council of the Republic,
Contrary to the traditional structure of my annual message, I would like to begin with highlighting the pressing problems of international policy. Given an alarming atmosphere now being shaped in the world, one especially needs an objective and balanced analysis of facts and a precise choice of steps which will enable us to uphold and consolidate the position of our state.
1. International situation of the Republic of Belarus Ensuring national and homeland security
The armed attack against Iraq by the USA and Great Britain is, of course, the main event of the world policy.
The war was unleashed in contravention of the international law norms. Victims among the civilian Iraqi population, women, children; losses among the British and Americans, among nationals of other countries — this is but the first, visible, part of this war's price.
Having occupied almost the entire territory of Iraq, the troops of the USA and Great Britain have not yet submitted even indirect evidence either of the manufacture or the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq, although it served as the main official pretext for unleashing the war.
It is obvious that the main purpose of the action is not Saddam Hussein alone, nor even oil, but the formation of a new world order with special rights to a single superpower for the arbitrary use of military force.
The post–war world order, thanks to which major aggressive wars could be avoided for more than half a century, was based on inadmissibility of the use of military force without the decision by the UN Security Council.
Having attacked the sovereign state in violation of the UN Charter, the United State and Great Britain hurl the world back into the times when war was recognized as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy.
A most dangerous precedent is created — from now on, a wish to replace inconvenient leadership of a nation may serve as a sufficient motive for an armed attack against this nation.
The world is coming back to the situation when the international law can no longer protect sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation which has insufficient force to rebuff an attack.
The world community must resist this ruinous tendency, which can turn round against all of us in the long run, including the American people.
Belarus, joined by the overwhelming majority of the world's nations, makes every effort to re–establish the destroyed legal order and to preserve the system of international security based on the principles of international law.
Our country, which still remembers the horrors of the World War II, is ready to contribute what it can to the prevention of humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.
In condemning America for the war unleashed, for human victims and sufferings caused by the invasion in Iraq, we at the same time do not gloat over the losses it had.
As of today, the USA is the most powerful and influential country in the world. One can hardly argue against it. Normal relationship with America must and can be established. Existing problems must and can be resolved in a constructive way. We were saying it repeatedly.
However, not everything depends on our good will. From year to year, there are unceasing attempts in the USA to push through the Congress the notorious `Act on Democracy in Belarus,' which envisages about half a hundred million dollars for enforcing “democratization” of our country.
Bearing in mind the scantiness of our opposition and its well–established manner of “assimilating” the foreign grants, one may expect to get in our country some 50 dollar millionaires at the expense of the US taxpayers. Though it is not yet known whether Americans will in fact allocate the money (and I hope that in the long run a sober–minded approach to relationship with Belarus will prevail in Washington), the Belarusian opposition is already busy dividing it up.
Is enforcing “democratization” in Belarus indeed so important for the USA?
Hardly ever. Rather, it is only an officially stated pretext. The real target of attacks against our country is, above all else, the Belarusian–Russian integration.
With things being as they are, the strategic interest of Belarus is to further develop the Union of Belarus and Russia, to impart a new dynamism to the union relationship.
We are facing a most complicated stage of the integration development. Even while having changed approaches by the Russian leadership to our union, we should regard as major achievements of the past year the fact that we managed to preserve, to uphold the reached level of the Belarusian–Russian relations and the principles on which the Union is based.
The Belarus' leadership considers the discussion on incorporating our country into Russia to be exhausted. The sovereignty, the state independence of Belarus (Russia as well) will remain unshakeable — it is not a subject for talks. Absorption of a small state by a great state is a historical anachronism, and it makes no sense to come to it again.
The Russia's leadership has understanding of Belarus' stance and has willingness to search constructive ways of further formation of the union on the basis of sovereign equality. In this connection, the fussiness of some MPs sending out letters with moans over loss of sovereignty by Belarus is incomprehensible.
The dilemma (either incorporation into Russia or recoil from the reached level of the union relationship) is an artificial idea. For all its imperfection, the Union of Belarus and Russia is the highest level of interaction among the former Soviet republics.
Generally, its construction meets the model of interstate integration, which took shape at the beginning of the third millennium: strong interstate institutions and sovereign participating states.
The European Union is a graphic and effective example hereof, for it successfully combines sovereign equality of its member states with delegation of powers to the integration institutions.
So does the Union of Belarus and Russia: it combines independent statehood of its participating states with delegation of powers to the integration institutions. This model of relationship is the only viable one and it should be developed.
On the whole, the draft Constitutional Act submitted by the joint Belarusian–Russian commission for consideration of the Presidents meets these approaches. It can be submitted for a broad discussion and, after being finalized with due account of the observations, it will be put to referendum.
The draft Constitutional Act develops the provisions of the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State without making fundamental amendments in it.
Belarus was and is in favour of delegating (on a parity basis) serious powers to the union structures. So the draft Constitutional Act provides for a level of powers of the union structures, which the Russian Federation was ready to accept.
A question arises — is it necessary to hold a referendum if the Constitutional Act does not contain any provisions fundamentally changing the Treaty?
The positive answer is obvious if one takes into account that the existing Treaty as well is applied only to the extent that is not contradictory to the constitutions of both countries. For this reason, neither parliament nor judicial organs of the Union State have been created.
The Constitutional Act when adopted at the referendum will become an instrument of greatest juridical force, a legal foundation for the construction of full–fledged institutions of the Union State.
The Constitutional Act must be a law of direct action, which makes the rights of citizens and economic entities of both countries really equal.
The Principles of the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State must permeate all aspects of the Belarusian–Russian cooperation, including monetary and credit sphere. The introduction of a single currency will be a concluding stage in fully implementing earlier agreements on equal conditions of economic management, it will crown the whole system of joint measures on economic integration.
Just like in the political sphere, where absorption of one country by another is ruled out, the same way it is in the financial sphere, where mechanical substitution of one currency by another is inadmissible.
A scrupulously engineered mechanism of management of the monetary and financial sphere in the Union State is needed, which should stipulate the rights of our country in all the segments of money circulation.
The Republic of Belarus' National Bank equal status with the Russian Federation Central Bank, with the functions of managing the single emission center being delegated to the Interbank Currency Union, is the only acceptable option for Belarus.
Equality of the Belarusian and Russian ways of economic life within the Union State is another issue of principle. Certain members of Russia's political and economic elite are trying to hold the prospects of the Union hostage to the adoption by our country of the Russian neoliberal economic model, which is characterized by appropriation of the national wealth by a small group of the so–called “oligarchs,” and by an unacceptably wide gap between the super–rich and poorest section of society.
The model of socially oriented market economy that has taken shape in Belarus is regarded by those circles as an obstacle to the Belarusian–Russian economic integration.
Different approaches to economic regulation do exist and it would be a mistake to ignore them or hush them up.
But one has to draw the right conclusions from it. First, the assumption that different economic structures hinder creation of a single economic space does not represent the facts. China and Hong Kong, united under the principle “One Country/Two Systems, ” offer convincing evidence of it.
In setting up the rules of economic life of the Union State one must be guided by most modern and advanced international standards.
The Parliament of the Union State is called upon to play a crucial role in establishing the legal framework of the single economic space.
It's very gratifying to see that the Belarusian–Russian Union already sets an example, which allows to understand the need of integration and support this idea in the CIS countries.
At the quadrilateral summit in Moscow last February, the Presidents of Belarus, Kazakstan, Russia and Ukraine again tried to suggest a viable formula for intensifying economic ties among our countries. The Regional Cooperation Organisation is now being set up in order to meet this goal.
Let us try. There is sufficient potential. The High–Level Group and the independent Controlling Commission are assigned an explicit objective — to form a single economic space.
The four countries' commitment to this goal will be crucially tested by their ability to coordinate their positions at the WTO accession negotiations.
Practical returns of cooperation with Russia and other CIS countries will help to make our policy in other regions more efficient. However, it is only by proposing concrete projects and initiatives rather than by begging for benefits, that we are likely to succeed.
At the beginning of the year the issue of OSCE presence in Belarus was finally settled.
I would like to express my appreciation of the endeavours by our parliamentarians, which made it possible to resolve the totally fictitious conflict over the National Assembly's membership to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. This is how the logic of reason prevails, yielding sooner or later the necessary support.
It is in this very key that we should continue our work to restore the “special guest” status in the PACE. I am confident that our calls will eventually be responded.
Belarus is a major contributor to regional security and cooperation in Europe.
We are hopeful that the EU will pay due attention to this fact while developing its New Neighbourhood concept. It covers numerous domains where our interests intersect, as regards e.g. stepping up trade relations, strengthening security, cooperation on Chernobyl disaster damage control, etc.
Our political and, most importantly, economic interests make it imperative to step up relations with other countries. We should make better use of our membership to the Non–Aligned Movement in order to intensify cooperation with Asian, African, Latin American states.
In the context of our cooperation with Asian countries I would like to specially emphasize the prospects of the Belarusian–Chinese relations. China is to wield increased economic and political clout in international affairs over time.
We should also pursue dynamic and mutually advantageous relations with Turkey and the Arab world.
Belarus has to maintain its presence in all regions of the world provided it is economically justified and conformant with our interests. The efficiency of our diplomacy will be judged by the yardsticks of national economy performance and progress of peaceful initiatives.
All countries of the world currently reassess their approaches to global and national security. I believe there is no disputing the fact today that the strategic alliance with the great Russia was the right choice.
Our country is not a menace to anyone. Nor is it involved in any conflicts fraught with military confrontation. There is no feasible threat of attack facing Belarus.
However, to discourage those who may be harbouring such plans, we have to keep our powder dry.
The common Belarusian–Russian defensive space is the primary factor of our countries' security and security in the broader region.
I am highly supportive of the finalised Agreement on Joint Protection of the Union Border in the Airspace and Regional Air Defence System. We expect to sign it as soon as possible.
Belarus is today the only true and capable ally of Russia.
The Belarusian Army is growing increasingly mobile and better equipped as a result of its ongoing transformation.
I can therefore ascertain beyond any doubt that the Belarusian Army possesses adequate professional level and can deploy sufficient materiel and manpower to sustain modern combat.
At the same time the military component of the Union State and the Treaty on Collective Security should be further strengthened.
The shaping of a fully–fledged regional organization that is to emerge on the basis of the Treaty commits us to developing as soon as possible efficient mechanisms and concrete cooperation guidelines.
Active participation in international and regional cooperation frameworks remains on the very top of our political agenda.
We have to look for adequate models of cooperation with NATO, particularly given the fact that three out of five of our neighbours are in the process of acceding to the Alliance and Ukraine is seeking to join it in the future.
II. Economic Development
The past year was not easy for Belarus in terms of its economic development. The growing price on fossil fuels and other imported resources appeared a major constraint for economic progress.
However, we succeeded in maintaining positive economic dynamics, with the 2002 GDP reaching 104.7 per cent against the 2001 level.
Importantly, the GDP growth was largely accounted for by increased resource and energy efficiency. We met the target benchmarks in construction, export of goods and services, retail turnover, real income of the population.
Performance of many other branches however, was by far less satisfactory.
There exist certain positive trends but they fall well short of the high parameters fixed for the last year in keeping with the Five-Years' Programme of Economic and Social Development. This concerns first of all industrial and agricultural output rates, consumer goods manufacturing and attraction of long-term investments.
The inadequate performance in 2001 and 2002 makes it imperative to exert special effort in the current and next years. It is absolutely crucial to strictly comply with the targets we set before us and fully implement the 2001 - 2005 Programme.
We are to ensure a substantial increase of the following parameters in 2003: GDP - by 7 to 8 per cent, long term investments - by 18 per cent, consumer goods output - by 9 to 10 per cent, export of goods and services - by 8.5 per cent. Average monthly inflation rate must be kept at 1.4 to 1.8 per cent.
The task of maintaining a stable economic growth poses a number of urgent challenges.
Upgrade and modernization of equipment as a necessary prerequisite for increased competitive capacity remains a primary objective. There is however no clear-cut picture in the Government and the Ministries, of actual problems confronting various segments of our economy in this regard, nor proposals toward their settlement.
Starting from this year national enterprises must embark upon a major overhaul of the existing quality certification systems in order to dovetail them with international standards.
All our exporters must adopt and certify the new systems by 2005.
Lowering cost of production should become a national priority. The Government must by all means make sure that the relevant target figures for 2003 and 2004 are met in full.
There is a pressing issue of growing product obsolescence. New products account only for 24 per cent in the overall industrial output. The share is much less in other economic segments. The requirement however is 30 per cent.
In order to enable the necessary technological upgrade and enhanced competitiveness of the national economy, the existing science management system, first of all, in the National Academy of Sciences, was considerably streamlined. The reform concentrated on building up the capacity for solving applied tasks, development and introduction of new technologies, strengthening cooperation with ministries and enterprises.
The Higher Certifying Commission is now due to its novel status directly responsible to the Head of State, thus effectively barring the way to science to self-styled “scholars” and career-hunters.
We pay particular attention to optimizing the Laws on Scientific Activity and on the National Academy of Sciences.
Big enterprises are, and, given the existing production system, will remain for the near future, major boosters of economic growth. Their growing specialization and cooperation would be conducive to efficient production and better focussing of resources for technological advancements.
In my Address last year I stressed that privatization and attraction of foreign investments are the key tools for achieving these goals. Since then we have succeeded in privatization of our major petrochemical plants.
We make our position in this regard absolutely clear. We shall put government-owned shares of our enterprises on sale at open tenders only. Investors must be capable of providing adequate resources, raw materials, a market for the products, and ready to work for long-term objectives.
The Government will initially maintain ownership over controlling blocks of shares in any event, to ensure that denationalisation meets the interests of broad society.
Social infrastructure of the enterprises must be also preserved.
It is therefore a principal task of both the Government and the Parliament to set a more reliable legislative framework for privatization and investing. We have to, in particular, considerably modernize the Investment Code in order to enlarge the scope of economic management forms and legal guarantees for foreign investors.
There is also a long-standing issue of taxation optimisation. The 3.1 per cent receipts tax in particular have been arousing repeated complaints among enterprises.
An experiment conducted at a number of plants shows that there is a certain margin for lowering tax burden. They were permitted to keep the overall tax, which due to output growth exceeded the previous year's level, and invest the money in further development.
The Government and the Parliament are to adopt laws by next year progressively reducing tax burden.
As you know, after the General Part of the Tax Code had been passed, the issue of adopting its Specific Part grew increasingly acute for a number of reasons. The House of Representatives decided on its rejection and thereby, its fundamental revision, on 18 December 2002. Given the shortcomings and contradictions in the bill, the decision appears to be perfectly justified.
This is the reason why it is necessary to consolidate the efforts in order to speed up the adoption of the Specific Part of the Tax Code.
Over recent months the situation in automobile, pulp and paper industry, power engineering, brewing trade and other highly profitable industries has been examined by the Head of State. Following the examination the industries were instructed to eliminate the unnecessary intermediate links who have been ”siphoning out” the funds of enterprises.
Any forms of non-monetary payments are not acceptable either.
One of the most important goals of the Government nowadays is setting conditions for a fast re-orientation of private structures from commerce to production and services. We will support only the private business, primarily, connected with manufacturing of goods and catering, especially in rural areas.
A few words about agriculture. The problems in this sector have been thoroughly discussed during the recent seminar in Gomel. Our agriculture still remains very costly and ineffective.
Of course, there are no simple and fast solutions here. The central and provincial governments have to steadily work toward reorganization of agricultural enterprises as well as the rural service sector, through:
first, restructuring of unprofitable collective farms;
second, further reducing the number of managing personnel and optimization of managing structures in the center and locally, thereby cutting managerial costs;
third, encouraging specialization in plant cultivation at regional and local levels, stepping up meet production by cattle-farms and battery farms;
fourth, promoting leasing operations to replenish the stock of tractors and machinery;
fifth, upgrading the processing industry;
sixth, and most importantly, raising the wages according to output growth and increased quality of products. The schedule of wage payments will be strictly controlled as usual, in every sphere and at every level.
III. Social sphere development.
The progress achieved in resolving these and a number of other economic issues does not only determine development of the manufacturing sector, but also that of the social sphere. It involves adequate supply of industrial goods and foodstuff, the status of the national budget, scheduled wage payment. All this translates into welfare of people.
Of course, growth and output rates, performance of specific economic branches, macroeconomic data - all this is for politicians, experts. It is impossible to manage the state and economy without statistics.
Common people however, have to meet with real life every day, every hour, they see it in shops, hospitals, house management departments, in buses, at schools, etc. They are above all concerned with their wages and pensions, prices and tariffs. They wonder what they can buy with their money. They care about the way public utilities work, how warm and dry their homes are, how safe the streets are.
It is these simple and commonplace things that ultimately amount to the welfare of our people, as well as the yardsticks by which they will judge the efficiency of the President, the Government and their local authorities.
If we do have a peoples' power and a socially oriented economy, then every decision should be considered with the regard to the consequences to Belarusian citizens.
Do we always act like that? Unfortunately, we don't. Here are some examples.
For the majority of our population a jump of tariffs, first of all in housing and communal sphere, has become a problem of the year. The problem is complicated, and it would be a mistake to approach it in a simplistic way.
Let me remind you the background of the issue. In the Soviet Union the lodging was provided for free. Communal services were also provided practically for free. The population reimbursed 37 per cent of the communal services costs. Those payments totaled 2 per cent of the total revenue of the urban family in 1990.
The communal payments by the population was the first and the most important disagreement between me, as the President, and the IMF. The Fund had strictly conditioned the co-operation with Belarus and its crediting on loosening of prices for communal services.
Would the Fund have loved us if we had done this? I don't know. But one result would have been achieved for sure: the social outbreak and total destabilization of the internal political situation with the inevitable change of power. It seems like they really wanted to achieve such a result.
The pressure by IMF is not the real point. The most important was the “pressure” by the reality. We cannot leave the share of reimbursement by the population the costs of communal services at the level of the Soviet times. We do not have those resources, we do not have free lodging. Those able to work have to make their living themselves.
Understanding all that, in 1994 I offered to the IMF a step-by-step solution of the problem. It was to increase the share of communal services payment by the population with the increase of the population's income.
For example, if the wages are increased by 30 per cent then, correspondently, the share of payment for the services by the population is increased as well. Such an approach was not accepted by the IMF. Maybe it was so due to the fact that it provided the solution of the problem with the preservation of the social stability. But such an approach answered and still answers the interests of our population.
However, I was not merely pressed by the IMF, but by our home radicals as well (also not without the influence of the IMF and other foreign advisors). And by the end of 2002 the Government had to adopt radical measures in order to change the existing evolutionary approach: the tariffs for communal services were increased in the 4th quarter twice as much as with respect to the 1st quarter (the population started to reimburse 38 per cent of communal costs). At the same time the real wages were increased by 8.6 per cent within the same period.
The situation of a huge number of families (especially those with children) and pensioners has become desperate. The balance between income and the rise in tariffs on communal services has been upset.
Was there another way out?
Yes, there was and there is: reduction of the non-productive expenses in housing and communal sphere.
In the housing and communal organizations there is a surplus of administrative and managerial personnel. The transition of the housing and operational services to the self-dependant budget facilitated to that.
The Ministry of the housing and communal services does not influence positively on either the formation of tariffs, or the state of affairs in the field. Moreover, a vicious practice of the cost-is-no-obje ct approach has been created: if the reimbursement is based on the level of expenses, then the most profitable way for the department is to rise the costs rather then to save the funds.
The Council of Ministers was given instructions to introduce order here. It is not the local authorities and responsible departments who must set the tariffs on housing and communal services, but the Government.
This question should be put on an orderly scientific basis.
On my instruction the validity of existing tariffs in housing and communal and a number of other services has been examined.
We also have problems with personal services for population. In 2002 a single citizen of Belarus enjoyed personal services totaling BRB 37 569. It amounted to about 38 per cent of rational standard of personal services consumption.
In rural areas certain kinds of personal services are not provided at all. In Mogilev region, for instance, there is no service for maintenance of TV and radio equipment.
Every third enterprise of personal services, examined by the Committee of State Control, revealed facts of ungrounded overstating of the expenses, that were included in the cost of services.
Most of violations were committed, strangely enough, by new owners - private structures and individual entrepreneurs, who, by definition are supposed to be most thorough in matters concerning their business and reputation. However, as we can see, market mechanisms do not function automatically. We need a state control to protect the interests of consumers.
Transport services require a special attention. Here we have the same problem - the rise of tariffs.
The examinations by the state control revealed that the overstating of expenses and their inclusion into transport cost contribute significantly to the rise of tariffs. Only owing to illegal petrol consumption in the country we lose more that BRB 6 bn per year.
Another factor of irrational expenses is the “overinflated” administration staff. In Minsk in 1990 the administration of public transport was managed by one section with 9 employees. Now we have 4 managerial structures that very often duplicate each other. One of the structures, the department for transport and communications of the Minsk City Council, numbers 300 employees, of which 73 are administrative staff. All that, naturally, stimulates the rise of expenses.
At the same time, the number of buses, providing the transportation of passengers, has been reduced by 400 over the same period.
I charged the Council of Ministers and regional governments to reduce the ungrounded expenses and create an effective control over the quality and cost of activities in all spheres of public services.
The Council of Ministers is instructed to undertake necessary measures and ensure compliance with minimum national standards. These include adequate provision of the population with foodstuffs, heat, communal, transport and personal services, normal development of health care institutions, institutions of education and culture.
At present, in each region, and leastwise in each district, compliance with the mentioned standards is being considered and ensured, including through optimum placing and functioning of social and manufacturing infrastructures.
It is not a matter of showing off and publicity. We need to impose the necessary order in regions by rational reallocation of available funds. We need to optimize transport communications, streamline the work of medical and educational institutions, ensure the normal functioning of trade and catering. We have to restore the network of consumer services, especially in rural areas.
The current year is the year of accomplishment and order introducing. Everywhere. We have already talked about it. But it is bad that some bosses take it as a one-time, short-term action that they can wait through. It will not work. Everybody will have to report on what has been done and what has not been done. And you, dear governors and ministers, will be the first to do it.
Therefore it is not only in places where the social standards are maintained, but also in every region and town, streets and yards must be improved, residential and industrial facilities repaired, technical infrastructure upgraded and maintained.
I reiterate: the order must be introduced everywhere. In offices, enterprises and private life, cities and villages. This issue was discussed in depth during the enlarged meeting with the Head of State on 11 April 2003.
I assume that the deputies at all levels (and this is a huge army of 24 000 members) should also work in this direction in their districts.
Unfortunately, the issue of land use nowadays is totally neglected. We do not have at all an effective state system of regulation of land alienation, including the determination of clear borders of residential areas. There is no common notion for list of documents regulating these issues even in the Committee of land recourses, geodesy and cartography.
One of the main problems is the lack of “land vertical line”. In fact, the mentioned Committee does not rule over land surveyor structures of regional and district levels. Being totally under the direction of executive committees of all levels, these services are not likely to ensure the common state approach towards the issues of land tenure.
We could accept such a situation during the Soviet times. But in the conditions of market relations, when land becomes the most valuable good, the lack of common state system of administration in this sphere creates the preconditions for land squandering.
We need to quickly create an effective system of land alienation registration and common standards of drawing-up documentation on this issue, irrespective of land belonging and categories of land tenures.
During 2003-2004 one should put to the proper order the documentation on the issues of lend tenure. To ensure the setting of the borders of land occupying by various categories of land tenures based upon general plans of land building up.
To regulate the legal status of gardening communities, suburban villages and other forms of collective land tenure.
An ideal order must be placed in land tenure!
The Belarusian land belongs not only to us, but to the next generations.
It should be remembered by everybody and always!
The health of man, of our population is a necessary condition for solution of all priority goals of our country.
It is quite obvious that the Ministry of Public Health is the leader among the ministries of social block in placing order, in rational usage of every single ruble, in attracting off–budget funds and in putting into practice social standards.
I understand why some deputies saw the violation of Constitutional regulations in the standards for medical aid approved by the Government.
If we think about ordinary people we should support such approach and encourage implementation of these standards. We need to improve technical equipment of hospitals and clinics, professional skills of all medical personnel and ethics of a certain part of it.
We should develop a network of paid services in the very interest of the health care, and not at the expense of free medical aid through its reduction, but by providing additional services, creating, where possible, more comfortable conditions for those who can pay. If they want better conditions, let them pay.
At the same time one should not tolerate cases of artificial creating situations when a patient cannot have a consultation with a doctor though his schedule allows that. In some clinics they invented quite a number of ways to do it. I am aware of them.
I demand to restore order in this sphere. Neither hospitals, nor clinics can be regarded as someone's private domain.
A special word on the price of medicines. The prices for a majority of vital medicines, with respect to the purchasing capacity of the main part of the population that need them, like retired persons and handicapped, surpass any reasonable limits.
There is another problem. The medical institutions apply different unjustified approaches to determining prices for paid services. In some cases they include the cost of materials and medicines, in others — they don't. For this reason the costs of the same services in various institutions differ by 3 — 5 times.
The absence of a common pricing policy on paid medical services leads to their unjustified overestimation. This is especially characteristic of private medical institutions.
The real profitability of some types of medical services has considerably––
10 — 12 times — exceeded their standard level (30 :).
Making such a lucrative business on people's health — this is, as we, Belarusians, say, inhuman.
The order in these issues should be restored in the near future.
The social security sphere is our today's, if one can say that, "Achilles heel". This is by this heel that our opponents try to catch us by pretending that we want to take privileges from the people, cancel guarantees and so on.
We need clarity in this issue. In the course of long decades such a system of privileges has been created that no state can bear. About 7 million people enjoy privileges. The number of persons enjoying privileges is 1.2 times higher than the whole population of working age. This is no more a society of social justice, but an impasse for its productive part.
That's why the privileges will be maintained only for people who need a public support.
It will further transition to a more effective addressed social assistance.
Now its mechanism is being adjusted in Osipovichi District, Mogilev Region. The assistance is being provided with respect to the level of annual income of those applying for it as well as the employment of his or her family members.
I believe that privileges related issues should be resolved in a special law. The preparation of such a draft law will soon be finished and it will be introduced in the Parliament. This is not a simple law, but I urge you, distinguished parliamentarians, to adopt it. We will not offend retired persons and handicapped. I think we should keep a 50 per cent rebate for them for municipal and local transportation. It's not much money for the state — about 9 million US dollars. We have to find it.
The second direction is reforming the pension system. In perspective it should be based on a rational combination of public and private pension insurance and budget financing.
From this year on we began transition to individual accounting of insurance payments in the system of public social insurance. It is very important to adapt the level of pensions to the subsistence wage. Now this ratio is about 71 percent. By the end of this five–year term the minimal old age pension should be equal to the subsistence wage.
The pension system should be reformed in a very gradual and intelligent manner without brutal changes.
We should conduct more vigorously a policy of secondary redistribution of population's income. The rich should share more generously with the poor. It requires a more elaborated mechanism. Resolving these issues is one of the main functions of a modern social state.
IV. Ideology of the Belarusian State. Developing education, culture, healthy way of life
Availability of an integral system of ideas on the ways of developing our society, its spiritual values shared by the people is a necessary condition of solidity and prosperity of an independent Belarusian state.
All present here are well acquainted with the materials of the recent national seminar that gave a general outline of the main approaches to the ideology of the Belarusian state and considered in detail the state of ideological work.
A restrained reaction of the opposition media accustomed to slinging mud at everything that is done by the authorities gives us the grounds to hope for realization by our opponents of the necessity to have an ideology uniting and consolidating all Belarusian citizens for our State to become a reality.
I would like to repeat once again — ideology is the immune system protecting the society from internal and external threats, our Belarusian society.
Ideology is being created not "for the President", but "for the Belarusian people". We reviewed the initial phase of formation of the Belarusian state ideology. The basic, more meaningful, mature and systematic work in this field is still ahead. And I hope very much that our multi–thousand parliamentarians corps will make its contribution both to formation of ideology of the Belarusian State, and to the practice of ideological work.
You are creative people keeping everyday connection with your voters, and you are able to do in this sphere much more than government officials occupied with routine bureaucratic work.
A special place under modern conditions belongs to Belarusian intellectuals. Their creative potential should be used more fully and in proper time in the interests of the entire nation. We shouldn't allow the opposition to exploit the best national intellectuals by substituting real national values with false aims.
The media must play an important role in this phase. Their network is dynamically developing.
Opening of the "Second National TV Channel" became a remarkable event. The channel is gradually increasing the volumes and quality of broadcasting. TV Company "Capital–City TV" is also broadening its audience. A number of enlarged information structures have been created.
But there has not been any fundamental change in the information sphere yet. Partiality and biasness are still present here. There is enough of nihilism in news coverage. It is necessary to take specific measures, including adoption of a new edition of the law "On press and other media", honorable parliamentarians.
We must determine a clear mechanism of functioning of all information structures on our territory. Yes, Belarus is an open country. But our legislation must ban those who want to manipulate with public opinion, purposely misinform citizens on fundamental questions of public and political life.
I would like to stress that our state ideology is based on the principle of social justice and consolidation of all the people for achieving the noble goal of developing strong and prosperous Belarus.
The most significant public consumption funds are concentrated in our country social sphere. It represents a material base for realization of the social justice principle.
Our consolidated state budget envisages allocation of the biggest expenses for education and other social and cultural activities.
We also task them with careful and rational spending of national resources, attracting additional extra–budgetary resources.
The education system plays an outstanding role in upbringing citizens.
A number of important governmental decisions on education development have been recently taken. Corrections to the ongoing reform of secondary school are being made.
First of all, it concerns reduction of educational load, preparation of new textbooks, wide development of computer skills. Reorganization of the educational process is especially important.
In order to fulfill these tasks the Ministry of education should more fully use the opportunities provided through the reduction of the educational load and disengagement of a part of the teaching staff.
It is necessary to improve the system of staff training for higher and secondary specialized education institutions. Specialists in various areas are not duly trained today. "Overproduction" of some specialists (like lawyers, economists) who can hardly find a job is also a negative factor.
The examination and accreditation of education institutions, especially private ones, is held in fact extremely unsatisfactory. Many of them, including branches of Russia's higher education institutions (and their number is not smaller than the number of Belarusian private education institutions), became just a money forge for their owners.
This situation is intolerable. Necessary measures should be taken.
I am sure that the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, other state institutions will approach very seriously the development and adoption of the laws "On higher education" and "On specialized education".
Creating conditions for discovering talents of the Belarusian land and culture developing I regard as the most important state task.
The construction of the new National library building is speeding up. The reconstruction of the Mir castle and the Nesvizh palace will be continued. The Belarusian state philharmonic building has been substantially renovated.
Serious changes are taking place in the Belarusian cinema.
The ideas of our national identity, our historic victories and heroes must root firmly in the consciousness of people, especially young ones. First of all, it concerns the Great Patriotic War, the memory of which is unforgettable.
Preparation and carrying out of the events commemorating the 60th anniversary of Belarus' liberation from the German fascist aggressors and the 60th anniversary of the Great Victory is the most important task, assigned among others to the National organizational committee specially created by the President's Decree. It is necessary to pay tribute of the deepest gratitude to the generation that won over fascism.
The Ministry of Culture should pay more attention to acquisitions for the libraries. Their funds should contain new books, major Belarusian state newspapers, magazines on literature and arts, children's editions. Belarus is a country creating an information society. This task cannot be accomplished without state support.
The Government needs to create a new model of culture financing that would combine state support with wide using of market mechanisms of self–financing and attracting extra–budgetary resources to the culture.
Dynamic development of physical training and sports in the country should fully serve the goal of bringing the nation into the healthy state, developing a physically strong generation.
The existing conditions, I believe, are not sufficient for this goal. It is necessary to ameliorate the material and technical basis, as well as the manpower, radically change approaches to organization of physical training, recreation and mass sports activities.
The results of performances of Belarusian athletes in Olympic games, world championships have proven the existence of a pressing demand for solving a range of problems in improving the national teams' preparation.
I direct the Government:
1. To take measures for creating conditions for physical training and sports exercising in educational institutions, places of residence, providing them with modern sports equipment.
2. To resolve, together with the Belarus Trade Union Federation, the problem of maintaining and further developing trade union youth sports schools.
3. To envisage adequate measures of responsibility for inexpedient usage of sport facilities and allocated funds.
In its turn the Parliament needs to speed up enacting the new edition of the law "On physical culture and sports".
V. Social and political situation in the country
The democratic character of the modern Belarusian society presupposes citizens' freedom in joining public organizations and political parties.
A number of them cooperate constructively with the authorities, making an important contribution to the development of democracy, creation of economic and spiritual potential of our state.
However it is too early to talk about maturity of these public institutions. The program documents of some parties are vague, they do not reflect real social interests of the majority of the population. For this reason, the people are not interested in them.
According to sociological data more than 60 percent of the respondents do not support any of the parties existing in the country. So, maybe, we can consider them to be one of the visible components of the Belarusian society only in perspective, and only if they will work for the benefit of the people.
The authorities cooperate with all political and civil forces that support the state policy and participate actively in state affairs.
First of all, I mean those structures of the national political system that form its basis.
They are strong Councils of deputies as people representatives.
They are strong trade unions — the most numerous non–governmental organization (I mean the Trade Union Federation).
They are strong constructive youth organizations.
The recent local elections clearly demonstrated the role and significance of the Councils of deputies in political and socio–economic life, and in carrying out of the functions of local self–governance.
The results of these elections demonstrate the Belarusian people's highest responsibility for organizing the life in their own country.
The number of seats taken by the opposition in the new Councils is insignificant. And it is logical. They are hardly capable of working constructively in local self–governing organs. They lack knowledge, experience, understanding of our policy.
The local Councils face very serious tasks. It is necessary to organize systematic work at all levels, transform gradually the whole sphere of local self–governance without breaking the existing basis, its core.
This should not lead to reduction of the role and responsibility of the acting 'vertical' structure of authority in the system of local governance. I believe it fully proves itself.
I ask you to take it into account when revising the Concept of reforming local governance and self–governance carried out by the Academy of sciences. It should become a subject for a wide discussion.
Trade unions. Their role in defending workers' rights, especially at private enterprises that is highly relevant, providing safe and healthy working conditions, just distributing of rewards for work, rendering trade unions members healthy will not only be restored, but it will grow. At the same time they should act constructively in favor of a worker, as well as in the interest of the state. With respect to recent experience I would like to say — political struggle is not a function of trade unions.
The youth — our major pillar — is at the heart of our plans and targets. We have hardly used its powerful potential yet. We often "brush aside" youth's initiatives. Many managers avoid direct contact with the youth, they are afraid of acute questions. They are incapable of involving young people into useful public activities. We should work in this direction. It will help avoid a number of negative phenomena in the youth environment.
This situation calls for a greater role of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union. It should demonstrate its abilities as an organizer, a leader of the national youth movement.
The demand for a moral foundation, development of spirituality have stipulated for increasing the role of church in the society.
Many religious organizations make significant contribution to preservation of the civil peace and public concord in the country, increasing the level of people's morality. All confessions are equal before law in our country. The religious situation should henceforth stay stable and predictable.
Signing an agreement on cooperation with our leading religious confession — Orthodox church — is relevant. Such an agreement requires a comprehensive preparation.
VI. The Parliament activities
Being Head of the State, I believe that on the whole the National Assembly, i.e. the House of Representatives, the Council of the Republic, and their structures fulfill the functions they are charged with.
We did not make any mistake in 1996 by suggesting this model of the Parliament.
The National Assembly adopts laws that as a whole improve people's life. Fulfilling its law making function, it facilitates further development of the legal basis of our statehood and perfection of relations in the society.
Last year, 95 laws were enacted. They provide efficient regulation of vital problems.
Nevertheless, honorable deputies, the tasks of social and economic development require more intensive legal transformations of a better quality.
This year the National Assembly together with the Government, other state organs awaits implementation of an intensive law–making program.
I stress particularly their great social–economic and political significance. The Parliament needs to consider draft laws "On Basic Guidelines of Interior and Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus", "On the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus", "On Public Service in the Republic of Belarus". It is necessary to speed up enacting these laws.
We put a special importance on legal fixation of the new conditions of needy citizens' social protection and increasing the level of the population's social protection as a whole. And it is natural. Our public laws meeting the public needs must be a model of social justice.
The Government, other organs responsible for preparation and introduction of draft laws have to provide constant control over the timeliness of their presentation for consideration by the Head of State and the Parliament.
The quality of draft laws is another important question. We have shortages in it. Their first reason is an insufficient theoretical elaboration of the problems targeted in a draft law. Therefore we should increasingly involve our scientists — lawyers, the personnel of the National Academy of Sciences, the leading national universities and institutes.
The second reason is a conceptual non–readiness of a question for its solving at the law–making level. In other words, lawmakers do not know exactly what they want from a law. What and in what direction should it regulate? What consequences will it have in practice?
Nevertheless the draft law is worked out and introduced to the House of Representatives. What kind of method is this? Before regulating something it is necessary to know what you want, and predict what the state will get in reality. This is a basic requirement for those who "order" the draft law, i.e. concrete ministries and organs.
In some cases draft laws do not correspond to Head of State's decrees and edicts. Sometimes it leads to their full or partial refusing by the Parliament.
I think we should proceed from the following: if a draft law is introduced by the President, such different readings are sometimes possible in cases when there is a necessity to take decisions that differ from the ones envisaged in the Head of State's legal acts published earlier.
However such facts are unique. This is not a tendency.
A separate word — on the practice of realization of legislative measures at the level of decrees. They have a special necessity character.
This is by decrees that are legislatively solved the urgent problems of a proper use of means allocated for coping with the Chernobyl disaster consequences, providing of timeliness and completeness of income tax and compulsory insurance deposit payments to the Population Social Protection Fund, regulating of a minimum salary level, state management in the sphere of science and transformation of the Academy of Sciences, improvement of insurance activities, and a whole number of others. So we cannot talk about a necessity to curtail the practice of adopting temporary decrees. They are necessary.
The effectiveness of legal regulating increases significantly through implementation of a "package" principle of normative legal acts preparation. Such an approach has not yet become a rule. But it can provide completeness, unity and systematic character of legal regulating. That is why it needs to be practiced more widely.
Further development of the legal information system, including creation of databases of local legislative and executive bodies legal information is an important direction of work.
The National Center of Law Making Activities has been assigned to organize the work connected with publication of the Code of Laws of the Republic of Belarus. The necessary resources are allocated for this purpose. We have the right to expect concrete results.
The Parliament members have a positive impact on other directions of the state and society life.
This is why I, as Head of the State, regard communication with you as useful and necessary. I am trying to do it as far as possible.
I am also aware of and appreciate the great managers' potential accumulated by many of you. It will be demanded. We will make serious adjustments in this regard. I am sure the parliamentarian environment will produce a great deal of talented leaders.
Coordination of the legislative and the executive powers is crucial for stability and sustainable development of the Belarusian society.
We have long practiced participation of parliamentarians in sessions of the Council of Ministers. That is right.
But it would also be desirable that the most important decisions of the Government be preliminarily discussed in the permanent commissions of the Parliament Houses.
Some ministers should oftener visit the National Assembly, work closer with deputies on general issues.
Such forms of relations will create a basis for more effective cooperation between the National Assembly and the Government.
I believe it is time to make a decision on a plenipotentiary representative of the President to the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. On one hand, it would allow me to consider more fully the specific character of your work, and on the other hand, to more efficiently deliver the policy of the President to the parliamentarians.
Some words about deputies' groups. Most of them were created with the purpose to facilitate solving complicated economic and social problems, participate in inter–parliamentary relations. These groups have a constructive position.
Nevertheless, several deputies are not satisfied with such a working style. Thus, the deputies' group "Republic" has drawn itself into political games aimed at destabilizing the situation in the society.
I have already stated several times that people trying to excite the political situation in the country are neither democrats, nor reformers. Most frequently they are just demagogues.
The society is changing. These changes are inevitable because they are objective. They are the result of real processes that nobody can break, no matter how hard they try.
What's more, I declare with all responsibility: Belarus is a country of deepest changes, changes for the best.
In the context of our official ideology, our strategic course, we are not just changing the form of political and economic relations. We are comprehensively transforming the society. We are changing the very foundations of the former life though keeping and developing all the best.
We are introducing thoroughly and responsibly into all spheres of social life what will give the people an opportunity to confidently enter a new, higher phase of the modern civilization development.
We follow a well–thought out way based on creative endeavours, evolutionary development, not on bloody revolutions and criminal redistributions.
I want the Parliament to realize it clearly and be in the vanguard of the transformations under way.
Creative endeavours and development must become a solid basis for the well–being of our people and our country.
2003 will be a year of further economic upturn, of improvement of the people's welfare.
We need coordinated and effective work, initiative and knowledge, patience and persistency, skills and responsibility of every citizen of our country.
National accord, cohesion, common historical responsibility will be a pledge of effective realization of the powerful potential of the Belarusian society, of attainment of our goal — to develop our native homeland, to build up a strong and prosperous Belarus.