Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Fighting corruption in Belarus: barking up the wrong tree?

Ryhor Astapenia, BelarusDigest

20 years ago, Alexander Lukashenka won the presidential elections thanks to the anti-corruption slogans. Today he returns the issue to the public discourse - last month Lukashenka proclaimed that Ukraine had a revolution because of corruption.

Over the last months the Belarusian authorities committed a dozen of high-profile arrests including Deputy Minister of Forestry. Although the situation in Belarus looks better than in Russia or Ukraine Belarus still remains a fairly corrupt country.

Despite several highly publicised anti-corruption cases highly centralised and non-transparent political system of Belarus itself encourages corruption. The authorities also removed any opposition-minded or even independent discourse from television and radio. Media in Belarus fail to play the role of a watchdog.


New Wave against Corruption

On 31 March, Alexander Lukashenka announced the preparation of the report on corruption. he Presidential Administration will publish it the near future. This document will become another step to indicate authorities will to fight against venal practices.

During 2013, the authorities showed up to 29.3% more cases of such crimes than in 2012. The law enforcement authorities launch criminal proceedings against an increasingly significant state enterprises leaders. On April 14, Minsk court host first session of the case against the deputy head of Belnaftakhim, energy concern of Belarus.

Corruption remains an integral part of the Belarusian system. Although no secrotal studies exist, Construction industry look most vulnerable for corruption. Moreover, corruption takes place even in the projects supervised by Lukashenka personally. Last year, the authorities arrested an official responsible for the construction of "Chyzhouka Arena", the second arena of the World Ice Hockey Championship.

The new anti-corruption wave came in response to the deteriorating economic situation in the country. Today's government cannot fulfil its promises given before the previous presidential election, so Lukashenka`s regime has decided to find a whipping boy.

On 14 April, Minister of Interior Affiairs infrormed that Fiodar Lisica, formerly Deputy Minister of Forestry, accused of illegal acquisition of land, construction and privatisation of the residential house and misuse of budgetary funds. It seems that he will spend from three to ten years in prison. Such cases can help authorities to gain some support before the next presidential elections in 2015.


Better than Russia and Ukraine, Worse than Poland and Lithuania

Corruption permeates the Belarusian society, although few Belarusians think so. People often make the officials or doctors gifts to make them doing their job faster and better. These gifts are usually in the form of alcohol or chocolate. Belarusians call it gratitude, not a bribe.

According to The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, Belarus occupies 123th place with Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Togo. At the same time, Belarus looks better than some of its neighbours.

Fighting corruption in Belarus: barking up the wrong tree?The index is primarily based on a survey of people who are doing business in Belarus. It seems, if such surveys cover the ordinary people of Belarus, the Belarusian position would be better.

In ordinary life, the level of corruption in Belarus remains lower than in Ukraine or Russia. For example, the Belarusian police rarely ask for bribes while their Ukrainian colleagues have even set plans how much money they should collect as bribes.

Belarus Digest author Andrei Parotnikau explains that in Ukraine, "the policeman must collect a certain amount per week and pass some amount to the head of the police department, while he must also pass some money to his boss." Such things look unreal in Belarus. The European Radio for Belarus brings figures that in Russia there are about 42 corruption crimes per 100 thousand people, while in Belarus only 24.

The Belarusian state leader has built a more reasonable political system than its counterparts in Russia and Ukraine. None of the Lukashenka`s sons are engaged in private business, as it was in the case of Yanukovych. Also the head of Belarus has no friends among oligarchs while Putin made his friend Arkady Rothenberg a billionaire. Alexander Lukashenka considers the mood of the society and, at least in public, tries to meet it.


Why Belarus Remains a Corrupt Country

The Belarusian authorities actually fight against corruption not so aggressively as they show. Even Lukashenka`s anticorruption report in 1994 did not cause significant damage to corruption, and only allowed at that time member of parliament to become famous all over the country. Nobody found himself behind bars because of the report. That is why some speculate that the Belarusian state leader uses folders with compromising files to blackmail corruptive officials, not for criminal prosecution.

It can be true as many anti-corruption arrests appeared to be nonsense. Although journalists knew about the arrest, police spokesman declined to comment on the situation. According to many media reports, last year police detained Uladzimir Kanapliou, former close associate of Lukashenka, but soon released.

However, he and the police deny the fact of detention. It seems that ​detention can be used to put pressure on people. Major corruption incidents remain hidden, as the authorities rarely voice details in such cases.

Lukashenka`s regime damages independent media and they can not play a role of watchdog. According to 2014 Press Freedom Index Belarus sits on 157th place among 180 countries. It seems that no media in the country have the courage to investigate corruption cases.

An economic model with the dominance of the public sector also encourages corruption. Many Belarusian companies have monopoly position, allowing their leaders to demand a bribe or conduct frauds.

On 14 April, the Belarusian television reported about arrests of Slutsk Meat Plant`s managers. Company leaders sold some clients meat at low prices, pay contractors at high prices and got some money from them. Losses of the enterprise for 2013 and the first two months of 2014 turned out to be $ 17 mln. However, company's management did not care about it, as enterprise remains state-controlled.

These reasons show why new anticorruption wave may not succeed. The Belarusian state needs real changes, not just a report, to decrease the level of corruption.