Monday, October 13, 2008

Traditional authority still prevails

Diena reports that apparently the present Maire of Ventspils (he faces charges about money laundering and embezzlement) and Riga City Council bureaucrat Mr Kavacs were able to change their 2001-2007 annual tax declarations post factum! The authority who permitted them to do it was the Latvian Internal Revenue Service (VID), and the Latvian conflict of interest prevention law allows to do it to some members of the Latvian society.

Lately VID and Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) have exchanged insulting news, and from outside it looked to me like a war of words between two bureaucratic institutions. While KNAB´s task is to oversee the politicians, it is the VID´s task to meticulously search for inconsistencies in tax declarations of VID members. Thus, the mutual search for `the bad and good cop` takes place right at this moment between two institutions.

Apparently, the Art. 29 of the Latvian conflict of interests prevention law is dubious to say the least. Subsection (2) of the law specifies the fact that any Latvian public servant must prove (without mentioning the time limit) the state that his revenues are legitimate (Valsts amatpersonai ir pienākums pamatot ar likumu pilnvarotajai institūcijai vai valsts amatpersonai faktu, ka tās izdevumi ir segti un mantiskais stāvoklis uzlabojies no tiesiskiem ienākumu avotiem). The subsection (3) of the same law states that the public servant must be able to prove legitimacy of his annual revenues, and if he fails to do so, then it is presumed that his revenues are illegal. (Ja valsts amatpersona nesniedz ar likumu pilnvarotās institūcijas vai valsts amatpersonas pieprasītās ziņas par mantas, tai skaitā finanšu līdzekļu, gūšanas avotiem vai nevar pamatot ienākumu vai mantisko labumu gūšanu no tiesiska avota, tiek prezumēts, ka valsts amatpersona ir guvusi ar šo likumu aizliegtu mantu, tai skaitā finanšu līdzekļus, un šo faktu slēpj no valsts.) .

It means that if you are politically influential enough then you are able to interpret the law even post factum about your annual income back in 2001, 2002 or 2007! To put it simply, the Conflict of interest prevention law was amended back in 2004, but it is still miserable! After all it is the task of 100 Latvian parliamentarians to upgrade laws, but it seems that they have no clue that serving their Godfathers does not immediately translate into serving the interests of the whole Latvian public.

Unfortunately it reminds me about the German sociologist Max Weber and his notion of traditional authority. A century ago Max Weber argued in his The Theory of Social and Economic Organization that rational legal authority or rules are basis for superior bureaucratic organization. Traditional authority or domination becomes apparent if one analyses works of Latvian minigarchs - be they Lembergs, Skele, Slesers or some of the most colourful from the multitude of the Riga City Council members. Traditional domination - is based on a belief in the legitimacy of an authority that 'has always existed'.

Such traditional belief still prevails in Latvia, unfortunately. I was reminded about such traditional authority by one of the first year students last month. When one of them failed to participate in seminar discussion he was asked to come after classes and prepare for it. Instead of preparing properly he came like a carte blanche and rather ironically was not able to answer the question about pros and cons of the plural electoral systems. Thus, I recommended him to prepare again, because the rules are, that every student must pass all the seminar discussions. Instead, he persistently asked whether ``we could somehow agree to pass this seminar any other way``? My answer was that rules apply equally to all the students, and that there cannot be any other agreement. I was able to answer so to the fist year student, and apparently it is the Latvian Internal Revenue service that is not able to answer to top notch politicians about the paramount role of the rules. And it is because Latvian governing politicians write rules that are very easy to be bent...

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