Belarus may change its administrative-territorial division from 6 regions to 18 districts in the future. The administrative-territorial division can be revised after the census, that will be held in October 2019.
Why does the country need this reform? TUT.BY reviews the situation.
Current division and its flows
The current administrative-territorial division of Belarus – six regions (oblasts) and the city of Minsk – was developed when the country was still part of the Soviet Union, over 50 years ago.
Back then, the planned economy ruled and strong centers were needed to make it work and establish connections of enterprises, population, infrastructure. With the market economy, enterprises choose there own suppliers, and the logic of such relations is changing.
Why is the reform needed in Belarus?
First, with the existing division, the principle of uniformity is violated. Four of the six regional centers (Vitebsk, Grodno, Gomel, Brest) are border cities. 14 cities that are regional centers (centers of raions) are located over 200 km from the capital of the respective region (oblast), and 16 towns that are district centers are located closer to Minsk than to their regional centers.
Secondly, production facilities are scattered around regions, often being rather remote from the regional center. This results in the uneven development of the regions as people move to cities with better employment opportunities or emigrate.
Two ways the reform can go
There are two ways to update the existing system, experts say, – a radical one and a mild one.
A radical scenario involves the abolition of the existing three-stage division (village – raion – oblast) and replacing it with a two-stage division (raion – district). Thus, six regions and Minsk as a separate region will be replaced by 18 districts (district is a draft term).
This goes along with the changes in the development of medium-sized cities like Orsha, Baranovichi, Molodechno, and others. The introduction of districts will help to raise the standard of living outside big cities as the construction of hospitals, universities, science centers, culture and sports facilities will follow.
The division will be done within the existing regional borders and is aimed at the development of new centers, not the growth of the existing ones. Minsk will the capital with the status of a city of European importance.
A milder reform concept suggests uniting raions with the population under 20,000 people to the bigger ones. It will also unite cities and corresponding raions in new administrative-territorial units – for example, Bobruisk, Pinsk and Baranovichi will form one. In rural areas, only local administration will be preserved while elections of local deputies will be abolished.
Cost and referendum
The cost of the reform is yet unknown. In any case, before the introduction of the new administrative-territorial division authorities should study public opinion and work out a road map. It may take up to ten years to introduce the changes, experts estimate.
The reform will cut down the number of civil servants. But obviously, all of the ideas suggested by scientists are still a theory – any citizen can suggest their own ideas to the working group in the Council of the Republic.
The reform may be conducted without a referendum if the suggested changes fit the existing provisions of the Constitution.
More money and power to the regions
Changes of the administrative-territorial division of Belarus will make little sense unless regions receive more money and power, experts point out. The reform should start or go along with the changes in fiscal policy and the strengthening of local self-government.
At present, 60-65% of local budgets are local money, whereas the rest comes from the republican budget. This is done to equalize the standard of living – richer regions pay for the poorer ones.
According to experts, what is needed is decentralization – at least 90% of local taxes should remain in the regions, and only 10% should be redistributed.
This is not possible in the current political system of Belarus, because political decisions on regions are made in Minsk, and that’s where the money is as well. Local authorities are de facto the branches of republican authorities. Decentralization of the budget should go along with political reform, experts say.
Also, problems should be solved at the level of local authorities, not at the level of regions or the president, as it happens now.
Full text (in Russian) on TUT.BY.