Alyaksandr Lukashenka reiterated his optimism about Belarus’ economic situation while speaking at a government conference held on Thursday to discuss it.
He expressed confidence that the population’s wages would soon reach their pre-crisis level. "There is no doubt", he said, according to government-controlled news agency BelTA.
Commenting on the pay of workers employed by leading export-oriented companies, Mr. Lukashenka said that he was concerned about its disparity.
The average figures vary from $800 a month on the average at the Belarusian Steel Works to $480 at the Keramin sanitary ware company, he said. "But they do earn their money. If enterprises meet their development plans, not only consumption limits, let them pay any money, even $1000 or $2,000. But if a company does not have an adequate profitability rate and depends on loans, this is no well-earned pay".
Mr. Lukashenka said that pay rates should be raised across the country, especially in the public sector where he noted workers were not paid much. But any increases should be justified, he said, pointing to "the lessons of the recent financial crisis".
As for the country’s inflation, he expressed concern that food prices had increased by between two and 2.2 percent in January, downplaying at the same time a sharp increase in alcohol and tobacco prices. "Our [tobacco and alcohol] prices are below average levels in the CIS. So, there is nothing terrible in the increase", he said.
A disparity between food prices in provinces also causes concern, he said. For instance, he said, milk prices rose by five percent in the Homyel region while decreasing by 0.3 percent in the Brest region, and potato prices jumped by almost six percent in the Mahilyow region compared with an average increase of 3.5 percent across the country this past month.
"If prices continue to increase at this pace, we may fail to meet our 19-percent inflation target", warned Mr. Lukashenka. "We have set the inflation target at 19 to 20 percent while thinking that 13 to 15 percent would be better. So, let’s keep a close eye on the matter".
Mr. Lukashenka recalled that food prices had soared by almost 150 percent last year, with average pay in the country dropping by "almost a fourth".