Tax ministry orders about 50,000 people to pay “parasite” tax
The Ministry of Taxes and Duties has so far sent letters to about 50,000 people, ordering them to pay non-worker tax, Deputy Minister Svyatlana Shawchenka told reporters in Minsk on Wednesday.
According to Ms. Shawchenka, the ministry continues drawing up the list of people subject to the tax in 2015.
She said that the ministry aimed to collect information about such people on its own.
“We tell our officers not to distract taxpayers from their activities and only ask them to clarify things if there is no other way of getting the information,” she noted.
Ms. Shawchenka pointed out that the introduction of the tax in April 2015 led to a 50-percent increase in the number of officially registered unemployed persons last year. There was also a rise in the number of craftspeople, people registered as self-employed and those providing ecotourism services.
On April 2, 2015, Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed Decree No. 3 titled "On Preventing Social Parasitism" for the declared purpose of "prompting able-bodied people to work and ensuring that they carry out their constitutional duty of participating in financing public expenses."
Under the decree, people who officially worked for less than 183 calendar days in the year of assessment must pay an annual tax equal to 20 times the Base Rate, or some $210 at present.
People may be fined two to four times the Base Rate or jailed for failure to pay the tax.
Those who had voluntarily notified tax authorities that they were subject to non-worker tax because they did not participate in financing public expenses in 2015, and paid the tax before July 1, 2016 were eligible for a 10-percent discount.
In November last year the Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party (BSDP) sent a letter to Miklos Haraszti, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Belarus, pointing out that Mr. Lukashenka’s Decree No. 3 ran counter to the constitution.
The BSDP compared the decree to a 1961 USSR government directive under which those who did not work were criminally charged with “social parasitism.”
“In fact Belarus has introduced compulsory labor for non-working people,” the party said in its letter. “The government decided to shore up its falling revenue by imposing a tax on this category of people. This testifies to the helplessness of Belarus’ system of state governance.”
The party stressed that the decree ran counter to the constitution and a number of international agreements to which Belarus is a party, including the Forced Labor Convention, the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, the government did not notify the International Labor Organization that Belarus was going to ignore some of the Organization’s provisions.
According to the BSDP, the preamble to the decree reads that the decree is being issued with a view to ensuring compliance with Article 56 of the constitution, which says that “citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall contribute to funding public expenditure by means of state taxes, duties and other payments.”
“This argument of the government cannot be considered to be reasonable because each citizen has a duty to pay taxes after receiving income or making a profit,” the letter said. “This provision of the constitution cannot apply to people who have no income. We have never heard of such tax practices in other countries.”
The party noted that the constitution guarantees the right to free education and free medical care, but this does not mean that if citizens exercise these rights, they have to fulfill some obligations in return.
According to the letter, Article 101 of the constitution says that presidential decrees may only be issued “in case of special need,” but Decree No. 3 says nothing about such a need.
In addition, the party criticized the decree for being retroactive because it applies to situations taking place since January 1, 2015, although the decree was issued on April 2.
According to the BSDP, the decree also runs counter to Article 58 of the constitution, which says that “no one may be compelled to perform duties that are not specified in the constitution of the Republic of Belarus and its laws or to renounce his rights.” This means that neither government agencies nor government officials nor any other people have the right to interfere in individuals’ private life and restrict their rights and liberties and, in particular, to force individuals to work, the letter said.