Belarus prime minister sacked over corruption scandal

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Belarussian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov speaks during an interview with Reuters in Minsk, Belarus, December 19, 2016. Picture taken December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Belarus’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday sacked his prime minister and other key members of government following a corruption scandal that saw top officials arrested.

Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov will be replaced by former development bank head Sergei Rumas, the president’s press office said in a statement.

Several vice-premiers as well as the ministers for economy and industry will also lose their posts.

“I won’t name names, but in our government we had the following situation — one programme would be announced and then another programme would be carried out,” Lukashenko said in comments released by his press office.

“I’ve never allowed this and I never will! What we have promised the people — with a government formed precisely with this programme in mind — we must follow this programme,” he added.

Over the summer a corruption scandal rocked the health service of the ex-Soviet nation.

Authorities arrested dozens of top health officials, medics and drug company representatives on suspicion of siphoning off millions of dollars in state funding.

Even the head of the security services in the country dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” called for an overhaul of the system in the wake of the arrests.

Other smaller instances of corruption and administrative failures have hit local and national governments in recent months.

Independent economist and director of the Scientific Research Mises Center, Yaroslav Romanchuk welcomed the government shake-up.

“It is good to replace these people, pillars of the old socialist economy,” he told AFP, adding that the new team were not “bogged down in corruption”.

“Sergei Rumas knows what the economy and finance are about, he’s an intelligent economist…we can hope for the start of economic reforms, as long as Lukashenko gives a mandate to carry them out,” Romanchuk said.

Political analyst Valeriy Karbalevich said: “Lukashenko has discovered the government wasn’t afraid of him, it clearly wasn’t carrying out his orders”.

The president “hopes the new people will be too scared to steal or sabotage his directives,” he added.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, wedged between Russia and Poland, with an iron fist since 1994.