Monday, September 17, 2007

Autumn is approaching

The time has flown by rather quickly and the changes in the personal life as well as ongoing duties at the university did not allow to add any new blog entries. It is a beautiful sunshine outside today, and we had a guest lecturer from Telaviv University, Prof. Eyal Zisser at the RSU . The reception would follow later today and discussions about the gloomy prospects of the Middle East, especially considering today's unequivocal announcement of the French Foreign Minister, would be rich indeed.

In the meantime Latvian political culture does not add anything substantial in this post-vacation time. Latvian PM just returned from his vacation, and to be honest, the time while the Minister of Regional Affairs, Aigars Štokenbergs was the acting PM the government in Latvia finally regained its coherence. The reform of the local municipalities administrative system has finally come to an end, and the government is ready to give up its Minister of Economics. Rumours about possible replacement of an incumbent Minister of Economics came to fruitition today. Jurijs Strods (TB/LNNK) announced that he quits his job due to concerns about his family life. OK, whatever excuses he brings the fact was that the minister was not up to his duties. It is a tricky business to retain ministerial position in a coalition government, and even more so in the cynical playfield of Latvian politics. Nevertheless, even civil servants at the ministry (and about seven graduates of the RSU work now at the Ministry of Economics) have uttered me, that the parting minister simply could not digest the collective governance style at the ministry.

In the meantime there are ministers of Education, Welfare, as well as, the speaker of the parliament, who's ratings have sunk extra low. The problem of these persons is that they do not know how to resign with dignity. Listening to the public opinion is a novel task for most of post-Soviet political elite in Latvia. It happens so that all previosly mentioned public figures represent the union of Greens & Farmers (ZZS). It is the political party that was sponsored by the still acting (!) maire of Ventspils. Those of you who follow my blog entries probably remember that the maire of Ventspils was arrested on money laundering and embezzlement charges, and that he is still sitting under house arrest and waiting for his trial.

The speaker of the parliament has come up with a row of conflicting and outright stupid prouncements. Two weeks ago he announced that he wants to step down from his post and stopped his planned foreign visits. While I was in Istanbul he managed to revoke his earlier statement, and is now waiting till prosecutor's office shall come out with news concerning his involvement in bribing or Lembergs stipend receivers case. Ridiculous as it sounds, but both PM and the president of the republic have stated that it is up to the speaker himself to decide his future moves. Thus, the rest of the society shall eagerly wait now till members of the political nomenklatura shall scheme out what shall be the best face saving strategy for the ZZS party.

Face saving or not, but the ZZS ministers of Welfare and Education are rather big stains on the more or less virgin carpet of the ZZS. The Reģi trategy last winter did not affect the Minister Dagnija Staķe. Experts clearly stated that the ministry follows the Soviet tradition of very centrallized system of social welfare, and the minister has no wish to have her vision of implementing the best practices of Scandinaviaan countries that Estonia emulates for example, because she simply lacks the vision, unfortunately... The minister of Education is in no better position. The good news from Madam Rivža, however, is her recognition of the problematic Council of Science. She has agreed to implement the practice of involving external experts in the committee who would actually decide, which scientific research is credible enough to receive EU money and which not. Good, something positive in this field and less old boys network influence at least:)

Last, but no least, Latvian annual inflation has spiralled to the two digit 10.5%, and which makes Latvia to have the highes inflation in the EU (twice as big as in Estonia and Lithuania). Continuous rings of warning bells have FINALLY had their effect, and today even prime minister considers situation in the Latvian economy as serious. The problem is that even if PM considers the problem as serious there is not a slightest hint, that the ever burgeoning size of public servants must be cut and principles of meritocracy introduced. Until there is no such system envisaged, the prospect of the very heavy landing of the Latvian economy is still on agenda. In the meantime, government has an option to simply privatize state owned shares in the Lattelecom company, and make the books look good. However, how long the government shall be able to lie to itelf that the whole Latvian governance mechanism is not simply built for satisfaction of short-term needs of particular groups? Balancing different coalition partners against each other and having the smoke screen of continuous number crunching before the public is the strategy that goes well with the economy galloping at 11% annual growth, but what shall the helmsman of the delapidated Ms Latvia do, when the external pressure of international money markets shall start its real effect??

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