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Diplomacy in Action

FY 2007 U.S. Assistance to Eurasia


Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
FY 2007 U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia
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Country Overview

U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND FOREIGN ASSISTANCE OBJECTIVES & PRIORITIES

It is in the United States’ (U.S.) interest to promote the transformation of Belarus from one of the world’s “outposts of tyranny” into a democratic, peaceful and prosperous state. Considered to be the "last dictatorship in Europe," Belarus lacks the basic freedoms in public and political life and in the market place. This keeps it from fulfilling the potential of its educated population and its strategic importance as a transit route between Russia and an expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU). Belarus could contribute to and benefit from regional economic development and stability. However, the Government of Belarus’ (GOB) policies hinder progress and isolate the country from Europe and the international community. The U.S. Government (USG) actively promotes the development of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and a market economy in Belarus. The USG’s foreign policy priority is robust democracy promotion with the goal of empowering the Belarusian people so that they may determine their own future. The USG works towards this goal in coordination with the EU, Belarus’s neighbors, individual donor states, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and other international organizations.

The Belarusian regime’s oppression has inspired many Belarusians to work for fundamental rights, freedoms, and opportunities. USG foreign assistance priorities are directed towards engaging and empowering those Belarusians who are working to: develop democracy and the rule of law through political and non-governmental institutions; strengthen and support the independent media, as a free flow of information is essential to educate the wider population; build stronger economic institutions and set the stage for long-term economic reform by better educating entrepreneurs and others on free-market business practices; and help relieve the pressure on Belarusian society caused by high national incidence of tuberculosis, trafficking in persons, and the lingering effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

USG foreign assistance is focused on advancing these foreign policy objectives. In FY 2007 the USG directed its assistance in the Governing Justly and Democratically (GJD) sector towards promoting democratic political processes, strengthening civil society, and increasing access to independent media. Political process assistance continued to support a three-and-a-half-year effort to help build a stronger democratic political base in the regions and strengthen the infrastructure of the opposition parties in advance of the Fall 2008 parliamentary elections. Continuing activities will assist the opposition to develop and carry out its presidential election strategy in preparation for the next presidential election, expected in late 2010 or early 2011. In addition, USG assistance to civil society is designed to strengthen indigenous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent trade unions, legal assistance, and domestic independent media. Belarusian civil society hopes to play a larger role in the next election cycle.

The USG continued to give priority to its work with independent media outlets. Despite government restrictions on independent domestic publications, USG assistance is designed to increase production and distribution via alternative distribution methods and promote creative ways for circulating independent news. In FY 2007 the USG directed its assistance in the Investing in People (IIP) sector towards higher education, health, and assistance to vulnerable groups.

OPERATING ENVIRONMENT

In 2007 the regime in Belarus continued to demonstrate its undemocratic nature as the January 2007 local elections failed to meet even basic pre-conditions to be considered free and fair. The GOB used intimidation to suppress participation of all but the most dedicated of democratic activists. Independent media operated under difficult conditions, with the state monopoly on printing and distribution – as well as on all domestic broadcasting – leaving little room for legal operation of independent venues. The regime seized some print runs the independent newspapers managed to publish. With more people turning to electronic media, the state attempted to ban the mounting of private satellite dishes and introduced regulation of the Internet. The GOB harassed civil society unrelentingly and forcibly closed NGOs and human rights organizations, prosecuted or arrested many civil society activists, and kept six political prisoners in custody. The GOB continued to use the criminal justice system to silence critics, initiating politically motivated criminal cases against opposition activists. Laws and regulations limited NGOs’ and political parties’ right to assemble. Despite many operational difficulties, USG assistance continued to support active elements of civil society, simultaneously diversifying into previously unengaged groups, such as professional associations and community groups.

2007 was a turning point for the economy of Belarus. In January, Russia raised the price of its subsidized natural gas and crude oil, thus forcing Belarus to sell part of its natural gas transit pipeline to raise capital. Even with some strategic selling of state shares of productive enterprises, like the pipeline and the major mobile communications provider, the energy price increase is predicted to have significant consequences for Belarus. Belarus’s balance of payments deficit is projected to reach between eight to eleven percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007-2010. For the past decade, the absence of reforms in the economy and social sector was part of the foundation of the “social contract” between the state and the people. The energy price hike put an end to non-reform. In 2007 the GOB began cutting social benefits and curtailed salary increases for the first time in several years. Further changes appeared inevitable despite the regime’s opposition to reforms.

The operational environment is difficult and critical needs remain in the areas of democratization, economic reform, and the social sphere. The USG has used its close working relationships with the EU and other bilateral donors to strengthen coordination of foreign assistance. Despite the country’s needs, the GOB obstructs donors from providing assistance. The regime continued to target USG-funded partners, especially those focusing on democracy promotion. The GOB was more open to international expertise and cooperation in the economic sector, health, and social services. The USG found it most efficient to implement USG-funded activities in the social and health sectors through international organizations, largely because multilateral organizations found it easier to get registered than local or U.S.-based NGOs. In addition, international organizations enjoyed well-established relations with local civil society and the expert community.

FY 2007 Country Program Performance

PEACE AND SECURITY

In FY 2007 the objectives of the USG Peace and Security assistance programs were to build the capacity of the GOB to ensure the physical protection of nuclear material and support eventual defense reform. Due to continued concerns about the human rights record in Belarus, the USG did not provide bilateral assistance to law enforcement or security bodies in Belarus in FY 2007. The USG also did not fund assistance projects for former WMD scientists in Belarus. The USG and GOB continued cooperation on projects to improve security for nuclear materials. Several rounds of talks were held on joint projects to improve the physical security for nuclear material at the Joint Institute of Power and Nuclear Research in Sosny and talks began on a project to develop a nuclear regulatory framework for Belarus. The USG also continued to cooperate with the Russian Government and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative in an effort to exchange Belarus' Soviet-legacy stockpiles of highly enriched uranium for an equivalent amount of low enriched uranium. There were few discernable outcomes in FY 2007 but these talks are expected to continue and expand in FY 2008.

In addition to these efforts, USG assistance continued limited efforts toward defense reform. Seven Belarusian officers, at the rank of colonel or below, took part in programs at the Marshall Center on topics such as military reform and civilian control of the military. Belarus also participated in some NATO "In the Spirit of Partnership for Peace" programs.

GOVERNING JUSTLY AND DEMOCRATICALLY

In FY 2007 the objectives of the USG GJD assistance programs were to build the capacity of civil society organizations to act as agents for reform, strengthen the pro-democratic political process, and develop the institutional capacity and sustainability of the independent media.

Political Competition and Consensus Building - In the run-up to the January 2007 local elections, the USG directed its assistance in support of democratic processes toward capacity building among regional branches of democratic parties and the equipping of political and civic activists with the skills and knowledge to monitor election campaigns. USG funds also supported regional and local non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts. Local polls failed to meet even the most basic preconditions to be considered free or fair. Following the rigged local election, USG assistance focused on fostering the cohesion of the democratic movement in a non-electoral period. In April 2007 a breakthrough strategic dialogue session brought the Political Council of the United Democratic Forces together with more than 50 activists. In May 2007 the United Democratic Forces held its second national congress in Minsk, with 568 delegates in attendance. The group agreed on a collective leadership with five co-chairs as well as a united plan of action to present a positive alternative to the Lukashenko regime that engages society in a dialogue on the future of Belarus.

Civil Society - With independent NGOs under constant GOB scrutiny, USG efforts helped sustain local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), independent trade unions, associations of small entrepreneurs, and legal assistance providers. The USG supported training to over 60 Belarusian NGOs and their leaders in organizational development, advocacy, rights education, and protection. Over 50 grants were awarded to local NGOs to support their initiatives. USG assistance supported five regional resource centers, which in turn were able to conduct 30 training workshops, publish more than 50 bulletins, and make 150 small grants to local civic initiatives. As part of an effort to increase the capacity of Belarusian civil society organizations, in particular media, the USG funded 45 projects with small grants. With this support, four regional and eight district human rights centers were able to expand their services, including providing free legal aid to victims of human rights violations and conducting awareness-raising events for the general public. USG resources were also used to fund four grants to NGOs to provide humanitarian and legal support to activists, whose rights were violated, benefiting more than 300 persons.

USG assistance to ten university-based legal clinics supported the provision of legal services to the most vulnerable citizens, including prisoners and their families. This program strove to engage young legal professionals. In FY 2007 activities included opportunities for student clinic representatives to meet and plan future activities such as training workshops, professional meetings, the launch of an Internet resource on legal clinics, and the production of a textbook for clinical education in Belarus (with a corresponding course syllabus). Six clinic leaders participated in a study tour to Russia to the St. Petersburg Center for Legal Clinical Education. Over 50 students from three Minsk-based and seven regional clinics took part in workshops and clinic activities.

In order to increase access to independent information in the face of GOB restrictions, USG assistance continued to support independent print and Internet-based domestic publications. USG funding supported regional publishers to produce 75 independent newspapers and bulletins, two key independent websites, and Belarus' only e-mail daily newspaper. Trainings for journalists and media managers helped sustain the local media’s capacity to publish and distribute. In addition, eight registered independent newspapers received funding from the USG, as did two new unregistered regional bi-monthly publications with circulations of 50,000 each. Although projects had not been completed at year end, interim reports indicated that USG assistance enabled many of these newspapers to increase their readership by an average of 10-16%. Support to upgrade these publications increased volume, allowing space for regional, analytical, and interactive reporting, thereby attracting more professional journalists. In some cases, the addition of color copy enhanced the quality of the publications, making them more competitive. Successful distribution, given the lack of commercial and legal means, varied from region to region, and utilized a variety of methods to maximize readership. While distribution of independent newspapers was a challenge, there was some evidence of improvement. One representative of the independent press established a regional network to distribute periodicals at 156 new sites.

The United States, EU, and other bilateral donors provided funding for European Radio for Belarus (ERB), based in Warsaw, which provides independent news via the internet and radio. ERB began broadcasting in 2006 and has moved steadily to increase its listeners both on the radio and the Internet. During 2007 ERB steadily increased its audience and programming. The results of independent polls showed significant growth of the radio audience, reaching 1.9% nationally and 12% in the Brest region. A web counter has confirmed over 16,000 hits per month, a four-fold increase from the end of 2006. ERB’s development into a truly multi-media platform was a major achievement of the year.

The USG also hosted American experts on elections processes, library management, business education, intellectual property rights protection, and women’s entrepreneurship. Speakers visiting Belarus participated in roundtable events conducted at the U.S. Embassy as well as speaking events at universities, schools, professional organizations, and the USG-created American Corners, with one speaking engagement in a regional city. In several cases in FY 2007 the speaker program built on relationships between the speaker and the inviting host institution. For example, one speaker provided a mini-course for university students on business practices. Speakers met with independent and state media outlets, resulting in articles or television coverage that reached thousands of Belarusians. Since it is a relatively rare opportunity in Belarus for a scholar, student, or professional to be able to communicate directly with an American expert in their field, these programs contributed significantly to broader USG goals – such as improving business education or awareness of intellectual property rights – as well as longer term aims of enhancing the general image of Americans among a growing number of Belarusians.

In order to build upon past efforts, the USG supported networking and other activities for the alumni of its programs. Activities ranged from discussions about child abuse, rehabilitation for disabilities, agro-tourism, human rights education, digital information reference, and violence among youth. Additionally, alumni organized or participated in a variety of events, including an art exhibition, sports activities, conferences, nationwide competitions, publications, workshops, and training of trainers. These activities strengthened relationships between the USG and alumni, many of whom are leaders in Belarus capable of influencing its future development.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

Economic growth objectives were not part of the USG's assistance priorities for Belarus, as the USG and EU agreed during the assistance coordination process that the EU and EU member states would support private entrepreneurship. However, some USG activities were cross-cutting in nature, advancing the following Economic Growth objectives: support effective entrepreneurship in Belarus, particularly among disadvantaged groups; achieve the dissemination and adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies and management practices in private agricultural concerns; and enhance the professional capacity of the business community.

In FY 2007 USG assistance activities contributed to the creation and sustainability of private micro-enterprises in Belarus. In the framework of anti-trafficking activities, economic empowerment training provided people from a potential risk group with basic information on how to start a business, guidance on writing a business plan, and grant competition. As a result, 33 participants’ business plans were selected on merit-based principles, and were supported through non-cash start-up grants.

During FY 2007 the USG conducted a number of business education activities to support private entrepreneurs. Thirty-six business education professionals participated in a summer school program consisting of six sessions, learning new teaching methods as well as new skills in teaching strategic management, marketing, and human resource management. Four master classes provided 80 business school professors and trainers with opportunities to learn about various modern business education practices. Most individual participants developed or updated their own business education courses. A second business forum, “Belarus’ Innovative Economy: Challenges, Management Technologies and Effectiveness,” brought together over 300 business leaders, education professionals, and students to discuss the current state and needs of business education and training.

USG assistance activities targeted the stimulation of economic development in rural areas. USG partners completed a project to build NGO capacity. In April, the NGO organized a fair promoting traditional crafts. The fair attracted around 600 participants, and included a roundtable discussion during which participants were able to pose questions to regional authorities about the legal aspects of small-scale entrepreneurship in rural villages. The NGO conducted 13 seminars for local entrepreneurs on such issues as registering a business, tax procedures, and financial management; organized two study tours to Ukraine; designed six local business models to distribute to start-up entrepreneurs; and offered on-going consultation and assistance to small businesses. The number of private entrepreneurs in Khoiniki region increased by 25%, and the number of tax violations decreased. Another local NGO designed a certification system for rural farmsteads. After providing a series of training on the new certification system, the expert group certified 77 Belarusian farmsteads. The project trained and motivated the rural entrepreneur community and increased incentives for providing quality services in rural tourism.

A farmer-to-farmer program continued to provide volunteer technical assistance to strengthen the performance of privatized collective farms in Belarus, increase the incomes of private farms and employees, and establish models of successful private enterprise. In FY 2007 16 U.S. volunteers conducted trainings in livestock and crop production at six privatized collective farms aimed at increasing income-generation by promoting modern production practices and transferring technical knowledge and skills necessary to make educated and timely business decisions. Over the past three-and-a-half years, U.S. volunteers impacted over 3,300 private farmers and farm employees and contributed to the sale of more than $14 million worth of agricultural produce.

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

In FY 2007 the objectives of the USG funded IIP programs were to improve the management of TB and HIV through capacity building for planning, monitoring, testing, and care; increase the capacity of private higher education institutions to contribute to social and economic development and to promote independent thinking based on democratic values; and assist at-risk populations, such as victims of trafficking and vulnerable children.

Health Care - USG assistance in health care in Belarus addressed such needs as fighting HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). This year HIV/AIDS prevention activities continued, and the USG introduced a team-based approach to HIV/AIDS care, providing training to 13 teams in general health care and penitentiary systems. The program also created a team of local trainers. Capacity building of AIDS-service NGOs helped enhance their role in the social sphere and HIV/AIDS response in Belarus. USG assistance activities created a national trainers' team, continued professional development, and reached out to 1,100 specialists through 70 workshops in 23 local communities. USG assistance projects established 51 innovative community-based services for difficult-to-reach groups or settings (e.g., informal education on HIV/AIDS and interactive theatrical performances for institutionalized children, an educational mini-van for rural youth, services for HIV-positive pregnant women, and home-based palliative care for HIV-positive children and their family members). The total number of the beneficiaries was 22,155 people; indirect beneficiaries reached through information campaigns total more than 60,000 people.

In FY 2007 TB became the focus of USG assistance worldwide as the TB epidemic continued, exacerbated by HIV/TB co-infection and multi-drug resistant TB which is known to be in the general population of Belarus. Over the past year, USG assistance concentrated on identifying the assistance needs in this area, developing strategies to tackle the problem, coordinating with other donor organizations, and designing a new project to engage the professional medical community in revising national TB policies and guidelines according to the most recent internationally recommended standards.

Higher Education - The USG assistance priority in higher education aimed to ensure that Belarusian youth have access to forms of learning that promote independent research and thinking based on democratic values. In FY 2007 the USG continued to support distance learning and in-class undergraduate and graduate studies at the European Humanities University (EHU) located in Lithuania. USG assistance focused on improving the EHU academic and managerial capacity to deliver undergraduate and graduate degree programs in European studies. USG funding also ensured that 900 Belarusian youths seeking an alternative to the state-sponsored higher education received free tuition for the distance learning program. USG assistance established and added new courses to the on-line university, which currently encompasses over a hundred social science and liberal arts courses. The European Community, in collaboration with the USG, created an EHU fund to cover the four-year tuition and housing costs of 80 new students each year.

Social Services - USG IIP priorities also included social services and protection to other vulnerable groups, such as victims of trafficking and orphans and vulnerable children. In FY 2007 the USG supported efforts to raise public awareness of the danger of trafficking and preventing its root causes, such as unemployment, through basic job skills and entrepreneurship training. The USG supported numerous micro-projects initiated by partner NGOs throughout Belarus. With technical assistance to NGOs, capacity building training, training of trainers, and equipment supplements, the USG enabled indigenous organizations to implement their wide-scale anti-trafficking activities. An economic empowerment training program for victims and risk groups conducted 91 training sessions in the regions for over 1,000 participants, with the help of 17 local trainers. Despite delays with project registration, assistance engaged over a 1,000 beneficiaries in empowering activities and reached 38,000 people through a nation-wide awareness campaign, including the dissemination of printed materials, posting of billboards, broadcasting a PSA on national TV, and lectures. Activities resulted in an increased awareness of the risks of trafficking and opportunities for legal employment. Vulnerable children continued to be a focus of the USG assistance in FY 2007. USG-funded activities engaged community-based services, such as socio-pedagogical centers, centers for social protection, schools and orphanages, child protection bodies of local administrations, and national and local NGOs in three target communities of Belarus. Activities to prevent institutionalization of children in Belarus engaged 1,500 children, trained 231 local specialists and strengthened the service delivery capacity of 73 organizations assisting vulnerable children.

HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE

In FY 2007 the USG funded programs sought to provide basic humanitarian assistance to vulnerable at-risk populations. In the past year the USG provided donated humanitarian commodities such as food, clothing, medicines, and medical supplies through airlifts and ground transportation. In FY 2007 USG assistance provided $11.4 million worth of medicines, medical supplies, clothing and other humanitarian supplies.

Belarus, similar to other countries in transition, struggles to provide adequate health services to its citizens. Often it is the children who suffer the most from this lack of service. In FY 2007 the USG provided a grant to an NGO that performs heart surgeries and provides training in pediatric cardiovascular surgery for patients as young as three weeks old. In FY 2007 twenty-three children received life-saving operations and 57 children received medical evaluations. As a result of USG assistance, the NGO also distributed essential medical equipment and supplies and trained several Belarusian doctors and medical staff in advanced children’s cardiac surgery, enabling them to perform such surgeries in the future.

FY 2007 Measures of Country Performance

The following data are based on the Monitoring Country Progress in Europe and Eurasia system developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to measure and track progress in the region. The system uses four different indices to monitor progress, drawing on readily available standardized country-level data on economic reform, economic structure and performance, democratic reform, and human capital. The primary data sources are the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the World Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Freedom House. The data for each of the four indices are converted and standardized to a 1-to-5 scale, with a “5” representing the best performance of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia region, and a “1 the least advancement of the region.

Belarus’s Democratic Reform* Scores in 2006 compared to Romania and Bulgaria in 2002

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss democratic reform scores in 2006* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romanias and Bulgarias democratic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership. State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s democratic reform scores in 2006* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s democratic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership.

*Actual 2007 scores not yet available


Belarus’s Democratic Reform Scores in 2006 compared to its Reform Scores in 1999

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss democratic reform scores in 2006* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its democratic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line). State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s democratic reform scores in 2006* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its democratic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line).

*Actual 2007 scores not yet available

* Democratic reforms include the electoral process (the extent to which elections are free, fair and competitive), civil society (primarily NGO development), the independence of media, public governance and administration, rule of law (primarily judicial reform) and the scope of corruption as well as anti-corruption income.

Belarus’s 1st Stage Economic Reform* 2007 Scores Compared to Bulgaria and Romania in 2002

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss stage one economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romanias and Bulgarias economic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership. State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s stage one economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s economic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership.

Belarus’s 1st Stage Economic Reform 2007 Scores Compared to its Scores in 1999

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss stage one economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its economic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line). State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s stage one economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its economic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line).

Belarus’s 2nd Stage Economic Reform 2007 Scores Compared to Bulgaria and Romania in 2002

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss stage two economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romanias and Bulgarias economic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership. State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s stage two economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to the average of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s economic reform scores in 2002 (the bold line) when they were invited to join NATO and received favorable indications of future EU membership.

Belarus’s 2nd Stage Economic Reform 2007 Scores Compared to its Scores in 1999

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: The graph to the left shows Belaruss stage two economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its democratic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line). State Dept PhotoThe graph to the left shows Belarus’s stage two economic reform scores in 2007* (the grey shaded area) as compared to its democratic reform scores in 1999 (the bold line).

*Economic reforms include “first stage” reforms of privatization, stabilization, and liberalization (domestic price liberalization and trade liberalization), and “second stage” reforms in the financial sector, infrastructure (physical and energy), corporate governance and competition policy.

Belarus’s Progress on the USAID Country Progress Indices between 1998 and 2007

Date: 01/01/2008 Description: Belaruss Progress on the USAID Country Progress Indices between 1998 and 2007. State Dept Photo

(1) Economic reforms index include “first stage” reforms of privatization, stabilization, and liberalization (domestic price liberalization and trade liberalization), and second stage reforms in the financial sector, infrastructure (physical and energy), corporate governance and competition policy.

(2) The economic structure and performance index tracks indicators such as the size of the private sector as % of GDP, export share of GDP, and the size of the small and medium enterprise sector as % of GDP, economic growth, inflation, debt, and foreign direct investment.

(3) The Democratic reforms index include the electoral process (the extent to which elections are free, fair, and competitive), civil society (primarily NGO development), the independence of media, public governance and administration, rule of law (primarily judicial reform), and the scope of corruption as well as anti-corruption efforts.

(4) USAID tracks progress on the Human capital index by analyzing trends in health (life expectancy, under five mortality rates, and public expenditures on health), education (secondary school enrollment rates and public expenditures on education) and per capita income.



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