Lukashenka orders to handcuff officials over rise in utility rates. Who is really to blame?

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On February 23, Belarus president Alyaksandr Lukashenka lambasted the officials who are allegedly responsible for increasing tariffs on housing and public utility services.

“Put the handcuffs on those who failed to fulfil my and government’s instruction on tariffs! Is it clear?”

The State Control Committee (SCC) and the General Prosecutor’s Office launched investigations all across the country, which has already delivered the first benefits.

“13 criminal cases have been opened against officials of the housing and utility sector,” state-run television STV reports.

According to the SCC, these persons’ activity hurt the state interest in the housing sector. However, Belarusians believe that one needs to look for perpetrators on a starkly different level…

“How do these housing and utility sector officials come into the picture?! They were given the nod and they fulfilled the order. And now the president has made another go-ahead, and they will re-count again,” a passer-by told Belsat.

“They are low rankers, they will do everything they are ordered,” a woman said.

“All orders are developed by the Ministry of Economy. Thus, who is to blame? The Ministry of Economy!” a man sums up.

Experts keep wondering why law enforcement agencies and other inspection authorities failed to notice signs of suspicious activity before.

“What were the SCC and the Ministry of Interior doing when these decisions were made? Where was Council of Ministers? I believe they [accused officials] are nothing but scapegoats,” Aleh Vouchak, a former investigator, says.

What is more, it is not the first time when Lukashenka has made a parade of slamming unscrupulous officials.

But as real ‘hero’, he not only exposed a ‘crime network’, but also offered a solution to the problem. In accordance with Lukashenka’s new order, Br 8 trn ($363 mln) will be directed to the President’s reserve fund so that later they could be used to support needy Belarusians and socially disadvantaged groups. Among other things, the money will be allocated to their covering housing costs.

“I cannot make head or tail of this move. If it is necessary to fill a gap in the housing and utility sector, one can use public funds. Why should one ‘throw’ money into some fund, and then redistribute it?” Vouchak wonders.

But any ‘aid from a presidential fund’ is always a much better show for the voters despite the fact that all the money it this ‘reserve fund’ does belong to Belarusian taxpayers.

“Now he is trying to divide public money. He wants to be a Robin Hood, wants to show that he cares about people,” Ryhor Kastusiou, a former presidential candidate and housing and utility sector official, says.

“Imagine, today I have taken 5 rubles from you, tomorrow I will give 3 rubles back. And I want you to be happy about these three rubles. But you will know that earlier I took 5 rubles! That’s what is going on in Belarus these days,” Mr Kastusiou added.

Volha Zharnasek, belsat.eu

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