Monday, November 16, 2009

LatVasjuki boastful bluffing continues

Most of Latvian experts and politicians believe that the former transport supremo boastful pronouncements are due to his wish to create informative background for his 2010 parliamentary election campaign. Today his drive to create of the informative background continues - hyperactive Vice Major of Riga believes that Latvian economy is on the verge of collapse [deg zilās ugunīs]. As a solution to the present ills, and absolutely disregarding his own mistaken decisions as a government minister and his morally corrupt behavior [even the Cardinal of the catholic Church Mr Pujāts in his party congress had to remind him about it:)], the maverick plumber alias Lešinskis believes that everyone should rush outside Latvia and search for foreign investors. In his interview he does not specify which country exactly he plans to rush, but it is not needed, because even before he openly declared here and here that Latvia's EU and NATO membership had rid Latvia from its inferiority complex, and now Latvia should openly work with his Russian chums...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Latvian plumber ready to rule "LatVasjuki"?

Latvian former president and her supporters try to network support behind her nomination for the post of the European Council President next week. I honor Madam Freiberga and her team's efforts and would be happily surprised if she would manage to rally thus needed support behind her nomination for the post of the first president of the united Europe, even though I believe that more dynamic person should be needed for this newly created position.

While madam Freiberga continue her networking activities Latvian complacent and provincial politicians continue to play their games. Just in my last entry I used to mention about the zero sum game activities of the ill famous Latvian AAA team. While People's party (PP) "state capturers" are preparing for their congress in November 21, 2009 the junior member of the AAA team managed to bluff big style today.

There was annual congress of the Latvian Way Latvian First Party union (LWLFP), and also the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church Mr Pujāts gave his blessing for the bunch on liberoreligious bunch of the LWLFP . The Cardinal rather symbolically pleaded the conservative party folks to "abstain" from morally corrupting activities. In the meantime the former co-chairman of the party was crying foul about his correct strategy of saving Parex, and thus avoiding the Icelandic meltdown of state finances.

As if this would not be enough LETA and Apollo reports that the newly elected LWLFP party chairman and Vice Major of Riga in the party congress openly called the government of Valdis Dombrovskis to step down after the 2010 budget would be passed in the parliament. Bluffing big style is the specialty of the Vice major of Riga and rather ominously he announced that he does not want to to run for the parliament. Now, the politician with his initial surname Lešinskis, who took his wife's "europeanized" last name [Šlesere], joined other two members of the AAA team. Neither the head of the PP state capturers Šķēle nor the sponsor of the Greens and farmers Lembergs want to run for the parliament, because they deem themselves to be omnipotent PM candidates for the upcoming elections.

Latvian minigarch's spin doctors strategy is robust, but unimaginative, and now the youngest member of the AAA team wants to earn his brownies from authoritarian chums outside Latvia as well... . The political game the AAA team retinue plays is exhausting, and I still stick to the idea that this game should be left for the AAA team to immerse into. It is useless to compete with the AAA team whilst playing according to their rules, thus after the party of democratic choice would finish its consolidation it is essential to start to get our volunteers on ground and running on grass roots level as soon as possible. The October 2010 elections should turn out like "to be or not be elections" after all. Latvian civil society should avoid Latvian plumber (translation of Šlosers/Šlesers in Latvian slang) getting too snobbish in his imagined premiership of Latvasjuki, to paraphrase symbolic description of Chess capital from the Ilf & Petrov novel. Lets wait and see how the Latvian Independence Day celebrations would be held, and after them one would be able to notice whether it is mere bluffing or there is also some substance behind the verbal diarrhea of the incumbent Vice Major of Riga.

p.s. Here is access to my monthly TBT column, and the full access to it would be provided next Monday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Latvian "minigarchs" preparing for what?

Last week the Union of Greens of Farmers (UGF) announced that their PM candidate in forthcoming elections would be criminally indicted Aivars Lembergs - first A of the AAA team. Today the second A of the AAA team - odious Andris Šķēle and his gangstas [state captor's to be politically correct:)] People's Party - should reveal the messiah program for leading Latvia out from present valley of sorrow. The third A of the AAA team - the Vice Major of Riga Ainārs Šlesers - already loves to bluff in various media channels that he is definitely going to be the next PM. Regardless of all the nonsense and bluff coming from all the AAA members one theme unites them - they have no idea about the win-win sets, and the only game for them in town is the zero sum game! According to their spin doctors, whom they have entrusted their fortunes, they want rather pathetically to run for the October 2010 elections as strong leaders and the PM candidates...

Let spin doctors spend their "minigarch" resources! The democratic alternative (New Era, Society for Alternative Politics, and Civic Union) should not participate in this half crazy spin doctor imaginative dream, but provide the democratic and Europeanized alternative to the ludicrous rat race:) The democratic party union during upcoming week should come out with the new name and the consolidation process within the democratic camp is gradually evolving.

P.S. To readers who read Latvian here is just the first result of our joint research project with Axel Reetz in yesterday's CitaDiena

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Latvian internet media frenzy about the possible fall of the government?

The Latvian Minister of Finance Mr Einārs Repše in the KNL TV show yesterday explained reasons, why did he reprimand the head of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Mr Jakāns to foster structural reforms and sack civil servants with ambiguous credentials. During the TV show and in his media pronouncements today Mr Jakāns acted as if the Minister of Finance would not have been his nominal boss, and the Minister of Finance decided to temporarily sideline him from his duties today.

There have been rumours about oligarchic parties (People's Party, Union of Greens and Farmers and Latvian First and Latvian Way Party Union) engineering possible fall of the government after the 2010 budget would be passed in the parliament. These rumors materialized since the odious former PM is back in Latvian politics. Also rather uniquely the parliament did not appoint the judge Māris Vīgants as the new member of the Supreme Court (its neither caucus of judges nor the president who appoints new judges, because the parliament reigns supreme in Latvia), and several legal experts and pundits argue that the major reason for such unexpected decision was the fact that Mr Vīgants was the judge who ruled in favour of incarcerating odious Latvian minigarch Aivars Lembergs indicted in several charges ranging from corruption cases (proper explanation here should be state capture) to exceeding the power of his public office already back in 2007. The State Prosecutor's office is slowly proceeding with this massive and politically sensitive court case, thus Mr Lembergs was allowed out from the prison the same year and according to the latest information he is under house arrest, that still did not prohibit him from visiting parliament yesterday.

With all these events evolving major Latvian media channels already argue about the possible fall of the government approaching. While using the LETA as primary source, Diena, Tvnet, Apollo and Delfi discuss behind the tent discussions in the Saeima, where the gravest sin of the present government is deemed to be the minister of finance crossing the red line and sidelining a chum of the People's Party folks. The NRA is the only paper that argues the opposite, arguing "that the Minister of Finance found the best possible time to sideline the compromised head of the IRS". Neither the Latvian Radio nor LTV 1 have proven such news, and I am wondering why majority of newspaper and internet media are thus eager to spread the news about an end of the government approaching - is it cheap media frenzy or a part of whipping up the crisis expectations?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Changes brewing in Latvia

Changes are brewing in Latvia that might have implications for the stability of the existing government. Already at the end of the workday the Minister of Finance Einārs Repše announced his suspicions about the head of Latvian Internal Revenue Service (IRS) being politically influenced, which is a local euphemism for an official fallen from grace and about to be sacked. Mr Repše has alarming reports from the Prosecutor General office as well as from the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB). It was a public information for a while now about the financial police members who were convicted for illegal recordings of the journalist Iveta Jaunalksne telephone conversations continuing their work in the IRS. Also it was suspicious that Mr Vladimirs de Vaškevičs after being denied access from to the sensitive state secret information still became the deputy head of the IRS. The life of Mr de Vaškevičs was colourful enough, because he is owner of about hundreds of pairs of shoes (does it not remind you Ms Imelda Marcos:). Also he still continues to share the same house with his divorced wife Madam Vilkaste to save costs... . Never mind a fact, that Ms Vilkaste sold a real estate in the prime spot (Mežaparks) to the IRS for about EUR 5 million that she initially purchased for EUR 250 000, and KNAB is investigating her business practices. Also from my own sources I have heard rumours about Mr Vaškēvics (with a nickname Footballer/Futbols) being integral part of the drugs & arms shipments through the port of Riga.

In a vicarious way the announcements of the Minister of Finance proved long whirling rumours about the Latvian IRS serving the needs of the governing People's Party (PP). PP endorsed the present head of the IRS, and rumours about illegal trade on the Latvian Eastern border were politically hushed down with the help of the PP.

In the evening there was the weekly KNL show where also Minister of Finance and the head of the IRS were present. The dialogue between two officials was turning into a heated debate where the Minister of Finance very diplomatically explained why he cannot trust Mr Jakāns. While the moderator of the TV show asked whether the Minister should not consider simply sacking Mr Jakāns from his post, Mr Repše answered that such a decision is within a purview of the governing coalition.

At the end of the program the KNL moderator rhetorically asked that perhaps it would be a time finally to introduce the mandatory tax and property declaration system, thus the Latvian IRS could finally know what belongs to whom, and who is who in Latvia? Now the Latvian governing coalition has announced that the mandatory tax declaration is to be introduced from January 1, 2010. However, if the promise to introduce the mandatory tax and property declaration system is as baseless as the proposed real estate tax we perhaps would earlier see the disappearance of the Republic of Latvia. You may wonder why such an apocalyptic conclusion?

Because, even though, the governing coalition has reached a compromise on the 0,1% real estate tax after PP gangsters were convinced to support its introduction, the mechanism and administration of the new tax according to the Head of the IRS and senior civil servants is impossible earlier than somewhere at the end of next year....Is the possible sacking of the acting head of the IRS going to serve as the precursor of the fall of the existing government, because the former PM is eagerly waiting his retinue producing the momentum for his virtual coup d' entreprise?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't ask, don't tell

Google search engine gives most answers about the ''don't ask, don't tell'' expression in relation to sexual minorities in the US army, however, it is an old expression that allowed minority groups to survive throughout world history. I do remember hearing such expressions from my grandparents in the Soviet occupied Estonia, and now also among minority groups in Latvia. In this blog entry I do not want to delve thus much back into history as to describe the present Latvian government, because in its totality Latvian nomenclature actions perfectly reveal example of "don't ask, don't tell" governance system.
Almost everyone in Latvia would answer that major culprits of the present political and economic mess in Latvia - it is ill famous AAA team. And the same AAA team catering for their own gang of supporters have institutionalised hierarchical and corrupt governance system, that is hidden behind the facade of the Latvian constitutional democracy. However, the Latvian constitutional caucus did not take place in post - independence Latvia, because the former CPSU comrades and Diaspora members simply rolled over the 1922 Satversme. Such turn of events allowed gangsters from the AAA team not only to exert inordinate influence over decision making process, but to literally capture the state.
However, it is impossible to discuss it openly on governmental level because the Prosecutor General and Corruption Prevention bureau (KNAB) are powerless so far. To present you the latest example, I believe that almost every reasonable person in the Latvian public domain understand that the government dragging its feet while implementing structural reforms was mostly due to gross mistakes of Kalvitis (PP) and Godmanis (LWLFP) governments. The previous mistakes were never really evaluated, and today we are able to learn that nothing special minister is ready to be minister again (!). Today the major opposition to structural reforms is the whimsical PP and always changing their mind UGF "coalition partners" behavior.
Disappearance of business projects and giving up of power does not happen smoothly anywhere.
The AAA team gangsters are behaving strangely however. While they were endorsing Latvian accession to the EU and NATO it allowed them to earn handsome monies from this process. I believe that they somehow miscalculated the golden straitjacket that followed the EU membership. This probably explains why the AAA team does not legalize its activities, but fights for very survival of the Lettish crony capitalism! I also have a hunch that the AAA team are not even major play makers in their shady activities, because why the hell they would act thus irrationally and gangsta like? My hunch is that they do not really manage establishing business contacts in the West, thus staying intimately connected with authoritarian chums in undemocratically governed countries. It means that Latvian Western partners must play the "don't ask, don't tell" game because alternatively there would be an open confrontation. While the civil society members were trying to explain basic principles of democratic governance to the Latvian populace, the AAA team and their retinue with their deep pockets were rather successful in disseminating their conspiracy theories. Simply the political establishment never cared establishing europeanized democratic political and discussion culture. I do understand that my last two sentences were broad generalizations, but then how to explain flourishing of such notions as sorosīdi and liberasts in Latvian public opinion? I understand if Bedlam folks use such expressions, but those notions have entered into mainstream public discourse and also Latvian politicians ostensibly use them... . I have not heard such notions in Estonia and Lithuania for example, and would be glad if someone from Eesti or Lietuva would be able to provide me facts about such occurrences.
ECOFIN Commissioner Mr Joaquin Almunia or IMF are described in internet forums as evil forces in Latvian press, but media houses and their owners who portray IMF and EU as smth. foreign could better recall that it was the Latvian political establishment (PP, UGF, LWLFP and TBLNNK) that signed agreements with both the EU and IMF. Why the hell the EU representatives must explain that Latvian government was the one requesting the mega loan and understanding the need to implement structural reforms again and again, and that the EU did not force those reforms on its own member state? Why the hell the journalists do not understand thus simple facts and participate in this "don't ask, don't tell" game? Enough for this morning, and the president convenes the state security council today, and I leave my questions unanswered. Each and every one of you probably know the reasons for present rat hole Latvian state has painted itself in. However, the government must outsmart the corrupt AAA team players, and that game is heck of the complicated because AAA team gangsters are both in government, courts and civil service, and to pinpoint who is really who in the post Soviet Latvia is not an easy task after all.
P.S. Here is my weekly column for the Baltic Times

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shaky Latvian government coalition II (updated with A. Šķēle "comeback")

This morning the People's Party (PP) fuelled speculations about the fragility of the existing governing coalition. The Latvian Cabinet met today in emergency session and agreed on previously agreed budget cuts amounting LVL500 mlj. Now the Minister of Finance must present the 2010 budget for the special interest "hacking" in the Lettish Parliament. At the same time rumours have been circling for some time now about the PP, which still has the biggest representation in the parliament, engineering the fall of the government after the 2010 budget being passed in the Saeima. These rumours were partially supported by today's news announcing possible comeback (the fourth one!) of one of the most odious Latvian former prime ministers Andris Šķēle.

The news about the PP board begging Andris Šķēle to be their leader and prime minister candidate are bad enough for the government's stability. As if it would not be enough another "coalition partner" made laughingstock out of themselves today. The Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF), whose PM candidate for the forthcoming elections is no one else but the Maire of Ventspils, announced that UGF would vote against the projected school reform which would have made the Latvian schoolchildren to start the school from age six (it is seven now). What makes the laughingstock out of the UGF is the fact that the author of the reform is the Ministry of Education. The latter ministry is ruled by the UGF ministers since 2004 and also Tatjana Koķe represents the UGF. As if this ludicrous decision to undermine their own minister's work would not be enough also the Latvian Book Publishers Association announced that they would not manage printing books for the young pupils in due time. I do not understand something here, does the minister T. Koķe coordinate policy process with her party? If not, and this is exactly what the UGF announcement shows, why the head of the UDF faction in the parliament does not call for her resignation?


Updated

And while I finished this blog entry Apollo made it official, the former PM is back in politics! Some experts rightfully argued that his comeback is actually contradiction of terms, because he never actually left political string pulling. So Mr Šķēle is elected as the chairman of the PP board and it would make the Latvian political environment more than interesting the coming autumn.


Also the deputy head of the PP parliament faction Vents Armands Krauklis reiterated that PP does not support LVL500 million budget cuts, because ''they (PP) are not ready to sign hasty agreements Latvian government was forced to sign with the Western financial donors'', and the ECOFIN Commissioner is not the God Almighty''. I am watching the 100.pants TV show on LTV1 Channel and Mr Krauklis was presented the question, whether the PP agrees on LVL500 million budget cuts. Mr Krauklis answered, that they agree with the government policy now, but the PP believe that the level of budget cuts must be negotiated with the IMF because those budget cuts are detrimental to the IMF ıtself.


So far the PM Valdis Dombrovskis has not commented on the constantly changing PP position regarding the 2010 budget, just adding that the comeback of A. Skele might affect relations between political parties.
P.S. I could not resist using thus revelatory Gatis Šļūka cartoon again. The story behind the cartoon is the plan of the Military Police coordinated with Saeima officialdom to ensure security of the Lettish parliament building with the 25m security perimeter.
[Latvian MP giving command to another MP] Protesters approaching! Rise the bridge now!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Latvian shaky governing coalition

Today there is a session of the Latvian Cabinet where the Minister of Finance would present cuts in the 2010 budget in order to meet the LVL 500million cut and structural reforms criteria promised to the international financial donors. This morning the deputy head of the People's Party (PP) parliamentary fraction Vents Armans Krauklis was talking in the Latvian Radio where he underlined again, that PP does not trust the chief negotiators (PM and Minister of Finance) with the IMF. Mr Krauklis very conveniently forgot that they are party of this very government he was criticizing this morning, and probably he also has bad memory, because he totally forgot who was Prime Minister from 2005-2007, and who was the Minister of Finance making Latvian politicians "famous" on Bloomberg TV. Rather boastfully he repeated again that PP is against introduction of the real estate tax, and with his traditional demagoguery juxtaposed New Era party led government to the country folks, thus trying to convince that in the government there is none to help the country people except the PP. The PP behaviour is not childish anymore and even the former president Vaira Vīķe Freiberga was vicariously pointing to that. The PP is simply destructive, but for how long?

Friday, October 9, 2009

An end of an epoch

Could you imagine that the senior editor and editorial staff of either New York Times, Le Monde, Neue Züricher Zeitung, Franfurte Allgemeine Zeitung, Helsingin Sanomat, Hürriyet, or El Mundo would resign after newspaper came into hands of new owners and later be literally pushed out from premises by legal personnel? When 50% of journalists support motives of those who resigned openly with their signatures, could you imagine that your morning paper would be the same independent quality paper? If you can imagine such turn of events, then literally that is what happened in Latvia yesterday, after senior editor Nellija Ločmele and her colleagues resigned, and hang on in their webpage whilst planning to launch a new paper media channel some time in near future.
Even though "Diena" paper edition is in front of me whilst I drink my morning coffee, it is the last time I do it I am afraid. With such a massive resignation I do not believe that "Diena"could ever regain its status as a paper that proclaims liberal views of a heterogeneous world. Yesterday, they were not only quality journalists who resigned, but it was also an end of a certain post-independence epoch in Latvia. If free press is stifled, which at the present moment is only my personal hunch, then there is a short distance to the rule of "vertical of power". While following the news and seeing planned budget cuts and consequent emasculation of the Latvian public media, and now "Diena" walkout I am turning into a very, very contemplative mood about the state of democracy in Latvia... .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Present mood in Latvia through eyes of cartoonist

Feelings are rather sombre in Latvia, because the winter is approaching, but the trust between the governed and government has not been really reached. Budget cuts, mismanaged economy, retired people on the verge of bare subsistence, questionably educated politicians and their policies are all reflected in those small, but thus revealing sketches. No words can describe the present situation better than poignant cartoons of Gatis Šļūka. Enjoy them, if you can:)

PENSIONER'S PIERCING

[an official] "You must understand that we all have to tighten belts now". [pensioner with a billboard HANDS OFF FROM PENSIONS] But I cannot afford the belt...

[The Latvian Cabinet] and education, culture, health care, pensions... streams trickling out...




[former PM Godmanis] Most important thing is not to get mad! ( Diena, November 11, 2008, PM Ivars Godmanis: `` we should not exaggerate (...)annual GDP could decline this year by 1,3%``("Nevajag pārspīlēt (..) IK šogad varētu samazināties par 1,3%."))




[Chef] bon appetit! [Former PM Šķēle] I better prefer a bit devalued one (abbreviation of salmon is on the one lat coin)




Milk canisters containing social, VAT, income, despair, small and other taxes. [the tax official with the gimme fast tax] where shall I stick this sucker?






[Angry farmer] Answer me! Why isn't there money in the treasury? [an official] Look, they had the fastest pay rise, get them!



[Saeima - the Lettish parliament] and several sledges in front of it (there is a rather ill ominous story from ancient times about old parents taken with a sledge to forest to die )






[Former PM Godmanis] taken the Latvian state hostage and shouting to IMF officials: "gimme the part of the loan otherwise she is gonna die"!




[official shearer] shearing "people". [another official] "There is no time to waste here, lets get wool with all the skin!"



[One MP to another] "Since the official signature campaign started (campaign of 2008 about the amendments allowing qualified number of MP's to start dissolving the parliament), I see voters in nightmares every night with a whip clutching a cart behind me like for a horse, and whipping me through the Saeima corridors...

THE FOUR YEAR CYCLE OF A LETTISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
1. year - learns basics of Saeima rules
2. year - grabbing or in Latvian colloquial stealing
3. year - preparing for elections
4. year - pre-election fight



[the death] "So, you, old fart, did your minimum pension rise!" [pensioner] "No, no, I am gonna still survive this month"



[plaque - Latvian Saeima] Lettish MP: "I reckon I heard something about the insurmountable ravine between the rulers and the ruled..."


True nature of the Latvian governing coalition

After all the mess what the People's Party together with their coalition buddies (Greens and Farmers, Fatherland Party and Latvian First and Latvian Way Party coalition)have done they do not even have a shame to bring their sickeningly childish games out of Latvia. Just to see the extent of coverage about the PM Valdis Dombrovskis visit to Sweden in today's Swedish press is quite something. But it is not flattering when you have to excuse for or refute sometimes rather harsh statements of the Finance Minister of a neighboring state due to absolutely irresponsible behavior of some government coalition partners.

The People's Party (PP) still has the largest representation in the Latvian literally defunct parliament, but their popularity has for the last half of the year irreversibly sunk under 2% support in the polls. After all the PP is one of the major culprits behind the stalled and continuously postponed structural reforms. Today they are following manners of true gangsters and avoid keeping their promise of introducing the real estate tax, even though they signed the document with the international lenders. There is nothing else to add here and the PP fights for their very survival, but my honest wish is to see the gangsta like PP disappearing from the Latvian political scene the sooner the better.

And here are couple of poignant & appropriate cartoons from Gatis Šļūka.

1. [coalition - orange color of PP and blue color of the New Era party]







MP with the Fatherland Party bag in his hand and piece of PP party wood in his eye pointing to the Lady [New Era party] - you have a splinter in your eye...



I am going to act irrationally if you are going to slash my salary...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Latvian parliament members are too tired to perform?

Parliaments in parliamentary democracies reign supreme. Latvia is a stellar example of parliamentary democracy in its extreme form. By definition parliamentary democracy enables all parts of society to be heard, but simultaneously the system is plagued by factionalism and weak governments. Latvian situation is aggravated by the fact that after regaining independence there was no constitutional caucus, thus the Satversme of 1922 was rolled over with minor amendments into 1993. Problems of parliamentary democracy in Latvia are multiple. About the Art. 59 I already wrote in the last blog entry, but also questionable quality of MP's, who are simply not up to their tasks, aggravate problems.
Obviously, those are Latvian voters who elected such representatives, and you may ask why are voters like they are in Latvia - the most Eurosceptic (p.15-17) and amongst whom 91% (p.22) do not trust their elected representatives as Eurobarometer SPRING 2009 public opinion survey clearly outlines? First, Latvian MP's (fifth of them sit there since 1993) have disoriented Latvian voters, and it is reflected by the 30-40% of voters who traditionally do not how to vote prior elections, and also political party membership in Latvia (1% of eligible citizens) is the lowest in the whole of the EU (average 5%). Second, Latvian MP's fostered stagnation of the electoral system by keeping questionable quality of neoliberal tax policies and election law intact the last 15 years. Latvian voters trusted their elected representatives from small interest groups (they cannot be called parties in traditional sense) who either screwed their voters (People's Party, Greens and Farmers, Fatherland Party, Latvian Way and Latvian First Party Union), or who happened to be in opposition (New Era, Harmony Center, Social Democrats) and had no influence upon legislative and executive process.
The EU membership and influx of billions of euros stagnated the governance system and made MP's even more complacent. There are several actors, musicians and even the power lifting world champion who are trying to innovate the best time killing techniques possible. I do not ask Latvian President to try to resemble members of the Finnish Eduskunta who called for vote of no confidence of the existing PM due to timber used for construction of his private home, and caused calls for snap elections to the parliament, or to be as resolute as Swedish PM sacking Mona Sahlin from her post due to Toblerone chocolate and pair of stockings paid with the SAP credit card.
I do understand that for the Latvian political culture to reach the maturity of Scandinavian participatory democracy there is still some time needed. However, I am asking the president to capitalize on his raising awareness about structural problems in Latvia and use the powers entitled to him in Art. 48 of the Latvian Constitution. Legally the president of republic is the only public person who can facilitate the Latvian state exiting the present rat hole. After all, president changed his mind last week and recognized the need to overhaul the system, of how the Latvian political parties are financed. Similarly, the president could refresh his memory and think about the performance of the 9th Saeima. After all amendments into the law of security organizations that were detrimental to the very existence of the democratic republic (2006) were made for someone, the loss of confidence in the Kalvitis government (2007) & Godmanis government (2009) did not fall from empty sky, faulty amendments in criminal law allowing to continue money launderers to thrive were passed for someone, failure to bring about rational constitutional changes during the summer of 2008 were meant to guard the structure of the inefficient system intact, and inability to pass the budget in due time every year is a chronic disease of Lettish parliament already. The list is pretty long already, and if its is not enough, then a year prior the end of their tenure (!) Latvian MP's have passed the legislature entitling those MP's who would not get into the next parliament with hefty compensations. After all the Republic of Latvia is officially called neither monarchy nor oligarchic republic, with entitlements being met just because you are member of the parliament! To paraphrase the old fairytale about the king who was fond of extravagant dress the Saeima is reigning supreme in Latvia while wearing exotic garbs, and only the biggest fool would not notice that in reality the sovereign is not wearing a garb at all and it is absolutely naked... .
P.S. And for those reading Latvian, here are my first and second blog entry in "Diena", and for Estonian readers here is my opinion for ERR.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow takeoff of structural reforms in Latvia

The need to overhaul Latvia´s outdated political, administrative and economic system is long overdue. The EU membership, instead of capitalizing on reforms that could have put Latvian governance system on path of sustainability, led the Latvian political system into the abyss of corruption (head of the Anti Corruption Office announced that it is becoming more subtle) and economic stagnation. The task of PM is titanic and instead of helping to steer the broken governing machine out of the recession coalition partners continue their backstabbing games.

Yesterday, Latvian Cabinet after long wranglings finally agreed (it had to present the same plan already for the May 15, 2009 deadline!) on the universal remuneration system for all the state employees. The new remuneration system stipulates that the highest paid state official henceforth would be the president of the republic, but the governor of the Bank of Latvia (BoL) and the Head of the Financial Capital and Market Commission (FCMC) were left out of the new system due to insistence from the European Central Bank and EU Commission.

While the governor of BoL has agreed to keep solidarity with the rest of the civil servants and to lover his salary, the head of the Latvian FCMC still receives her EUR10 thousand monthly salary. And all this after her odious pronouncements, and absolute inactivity to guard taxpayers interests after crash of the Parex bank, which now undermines already shaky stability of the Latvian Cabinet. The State Audit should publish its official evaluation of the Parex Affair tomorrow, but it already has made Prime minister and prosecutor general their statements made.

While some civil servants in Latvia are busy working on structural reforms other public persons are sinking deeper in their debts. The structural reform process is one hell of a haphazard process in Latvia. Without any discussions now the kids would start attending school at the age of six. Alright, then the government discussed all summer about the plans to emulate a good example of merging Competition Council with the Major Regulator in neighboring Estonia. Latvian Cabinet motley coalition yesterday started their obstructing games, and the whole process of merging those two institutions failed, even though it is long known that the head of the Latvian Regulatory Agency Ms Andrejeva is gambling addict , even though she believes that it is her hobby, and in addition her name is found also in the ill famous list of indebted officials....

The new system of public officials remuneration is a very wise move in a right direction, even though Roberts Zile (MEP) argued that such systems exist only in autocratic countries... .The reform process is too strained and inconsistent due to Latvian constitutional shortcomings (Art. 59). The previously mentioned article makes the PM constantly worry about the stability of the coalition government, because replacement of any minister needs approval in the parliament. Thus, in the Latvian present circumstances where parliament was illegitimately elected and PM cannot devote his full time to structural reforms there is no better and democratic cure than snap elections. This question is on agenda of the president however, because according to Latvian constitution he is the only power who can call for early elections. Involvement of former and present ministers and public officials in openly shady or quasi shady deals tarnish the honest members of the Latvian government. Thus, all in all, the whole Latvian governance system makes me to recall an old Turkish proverb about a person moving one step forward and two steps back...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Latvian Potemkin village

Yesterday habitually followed election results in Japan and Germany in order to keep me up to date with political events in world's leading export led economies. Results from the three German Länder (Sachsen, Thüringen and Saarland), except somewhat unexpectedly good results of Oscar Lafontaine and his Left Alliance, were predictable and gave a signal about the possible end of the German present grand coalition after federal elections at the end of the September 2009. The crashing end of the half a century rule of liberal democrats in Japan, however, was rather significant and bears several similarities with the present political situation in Latvia. The Liberal democratic party (LibDem) was a roof organization for several political groupings that kept together the conservative party of power. It was done in rather peculiar way and corruption scandals were a constant phenomenon in the country of rising sun. The LibDem party of power could manage their affairs well during the Cold War era, when Japanese economy booming, but the end of the Cold War and the rise of Chinese rival set in new realities for the Japanese policy makers. Basically the victory of Japanese Democratic party emulates events in South Korea back in 2000. The vigilance of the S-Korean civil society resulted in the black list of corrupt politicians and pushed a way for democratic reforms in the political culture of South Korea.
The vigilance of the Latvian civil society is constantly tested by new disclosures. The magnitude and number of abuse of power is thus great that sometimes there is a feeling that the civil society has given up on prudent change in Latvia. It is ominous that new political parties are crystallising out of the present political mess. Within liberal circles and some utterly base politicians (Aivars Lembers, Mareks Seglins) show their contempt for new political formations, but I am sure that they really do not UDERSTAND, how representative democracy should work for country to stay sustainable at the end! Politicians and top notch civil servants disdain for the rule of law is omnipresent and I would write about the role and peculiarities of Latvian burgeoned civil service in one of my next blog entries.
At the same time the Latvian Potemkin village continues to survive. The name Potemkin village dates back to the end of the 18th century, when the Russian autocrat Catherine II was fooled during the Russian military campaigns in Crimea by her trusted underlings in order to boost their rankings in the royal entourage. Similar attitude of traditional rule just in a more robust way are performed in Latvia today. Just Latvian politicians and top notch civil servants do not have to build ghost villages, but have to pretend that behind the walls of nicely painted Riga ministries and agencies there is a real policy making going on while in reality they participate in the reality show.
The present system is actually very simple. Contrary to numerous World Bank, European Commission and IMF recommendations the leaders of traditional parties, agencies, local municipalities and ministries (ill famous nomenclature) traditionally keep receiving hefty sums in bonuses and other means of gratitude while keeping the rest of the civil service on "diet" while sometimes throwing some "glittery chunk" (ill famous end of the year bonuses) to some of them. This traditional system kept perpetuating itself and now with the economic bubble burst the members of the nomenclature cannot agree on traditional rules of the game because there is not enough financial means. Some critique could remind me that the present 7,5 billion euro mega loan would be also squandered among the hungry Latvian cleptocrats as my colleague Janis Berziņš calls them. Yea, possibly so and only history would tell us how the money was spent, and that history would speak pretty soon, because Latvian political landscape is being reconfigured right at this moment.
At the end there is mush to do in order to turn the Latvian Potemkin ministries and agencies (please forgive me the generalization, because I know that rather many civil servants are devoted and patriotic working bees regardless of their incompetent and morally corrupt bosses) to work like the units of public administration. The process of overhauling the work of traditional nomenclature is not easy, and I am afraid that there is know-how and counter-balancing help from Brussels corridors needed. Simply the Latvian Satversme (constitutution) is the hybrid of the Weimar defunct Konstitution and the third branch of government - the legal one does not help us much here. Yesterday, the TV3 station weekend program investigative journalists continued to search for truth of the way, how the head of the Latvian Supreme Court Ivars Bičkovičs got his Latvian citizenship. According to the TV3 and other media channels today, the administrative procedures were not followed, archival documents have miraculously perished, and granting Latvian citizenship to the present head of the Latvian Supreme Court was illegal!
After such allegations interesting political repercussions should follow. Either the present head of the Supreme Court should step down (be fired by the parliamentary vote) or the former head of the Naturalization department Madam Eiženija Aldermane must change her announcements now. It is very important, because the head of the Supreme Court is the official who would have to announce the nomination for the new Prosecutor General in couple of month time. Another political scandal is gradually being formed, huh, uhh...

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Baltic Way 20th anniversary - post factum

The 20th Anniversary is happily over. Thanks to the organizers, volunteers , and orienteering enthusiasts in all the three Baltic States this rather sporty anniversary was a success. Unusually hyperactive Latvian electronic media channels were somewhat overflown with nationalistic utterances and thus the whole anniversary reminded me of the PR campaign for certain political class/es in Latvia. Throughout the August 23 the Latvian electronic media was reminding that there are about 15 000 registered participants from Latvia, while in Estonia there are 5000 and in Lithuania 3000 only. At the end corrections of participation numbers "made" Estonians into laggards of the Baltic Way 20th anniversary participation and Latvians came out as winners with about 50 000 participation rate and leaving Lithuanians in the middle. I felt that these constant reminders about high rates of Latvian participation somehow overshadowed very good speeches of Mr Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Tallinn and Ms Dalia Gribauskaite in Vilnius.


I ran my couple of kilometers in Ķekava (411 km of the Baltic Way), and rather expected, the feeling on the Baltic Way 2009 was emotionally and qualitatively different from the one in 1989 which I had near Tallinn. Sportsmanship was there and I saw several sports teams and families with their offsprings spending their Sunday commemorating the paramount summit of the Baltic unity that rather ironically commemorates one of the nastiest secret deals of realpolitik (Ribbentrop - Molotov Pact).












However, I was missing the feeling of Baltic unity. It is a fragile concept this Baltic unity, because its existence came about more like an historic paradox. And it was not missing just because Estonia and Lithuana in Latvia sounded just as a point of reference for the event commemorating the historic event, when about 3 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined their hands in defiance of the Soviet empire of evil and so reminding the world that injustice of August 23, 1939 and subsequent June 16/18, 1940 would be undone one day. I missed the feeling also because I believe that the present governors of Latvia do not deserve neither to commemorate nor celebrate this event. First, they have miserably failed doing all the necessary homework required to enable sustainable governance of their represented nation state. Second, their complacent behaviour is far from over, because former ministers and present MP's still dare to speak out like boorish politicians from the state that just learns to coexist in the family of nation states. As a proof here you have just a quick excerpt from an interview of the worst Latvian minister of finance (Atis Slakteris) given to the July 2009 number of O KLUBS.



Q: What makes you to enjoy politics, why aren't you the simple Atis, who works on his farm?



A: (Waits for rather long time) "All in all I am still the simple Atis. (while laughing) I came to politics gradually, because I never aspired to be in politics. But I became a minister because I had mobile telephone (!transl. note), which I had because I bought a used one for 800 USD, and it had an antennae - like a big whip. You see, people could reach me, and so I became a member in the first Šķēle government."

Those are the former ministers who still kill their time shamelessly in the Latvian parliament that is habitually in recess when the worst economic crisis has hit Latvia. Politicians like the official court jester of Latvian Saeima Juris Dobelis happened to run with his family, and rather positively he did not start his filibustering diatribes on the route. Other politicians still believe that that they can continue their short term back stabbing policies and they believe that their mishaps are possible to undo with the help of some money and effective PR campaign. Probably, just like some of them did also during the 20th Anniversary of the Baltic Way celebrations. Anyway, end is good and all is good. Some 50 000 Latvian active citizens were shaken up from their daily routine and probably made to think also about how atomized the Latvian society is today. I hope that at least some of them thought about it prior the economically harsh autumn and winter sets in. Freedom, accountable political class, and rule of law does not land from heaven, those virtues must be won first and what is as important - those virtues must ensure continuation of the domestic checks and balances system that would enable the vigilant civil society to enjoy comfort of the commonwealth continuously.











P.S. Also Gatis Šļūka has added his poignant view on the Baltic Way 2009


Text in Latvian: EST & LIT talking about LAT: "She is absolutely sick! Should move farther away in order to not to get infected"

Friday, August 21, 2009

The 20th Anniversary of Baltic Way on threshold

I am about to return to the shores of the Baltic Sea tomorrow after having a very productive summer. The 20th Anniversary of the Baltic Way is under way, and I am going to participate together with my family in quite few of the events taking place throughout Eesti, Latvija and Lietuva. This entry is just a small reminder about my return from paradise into civilization. Concise updates on Baltic politics would definitely resume in September, because the coming autumn appears to be rather tough both for the Latvian people and leaders. Lithuanian and Estonian economies are surviving, and lets see how quickly the trend in the EU's biggest economies of slow coming out of the global recession would arrive to the Eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.


P.S. At the same time I am adding a piece that was commissioned by the Baltic Times and appeared in August 13, 2009 issue. For those reading Latvian there was a piece that appeared in Diena in early August.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Governing coalition and summer negotiations

I returned from the coast of Aegean for a week to do dissertation interviews and participate at the RSU entrance exams. It is summer time in the Baltic States but all the three governments must cope with the economic recession. All three governments must drastically cut government expenses and curb top notch civil servants and politician´s salaries. While Lithuanian and Estonian governments have managed doing painful education, home affairs and civil service sector reforms Latvian government must do those long overdue reforms now all at once. It is a gigantic task and in addition Latvian second biggest Parex bank requires monies for stabilizing its operations.
Travails of Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvian PM) have barely started but the governing coalition members already show their true nature. Instead of fixing problems that the very coalition ``partners`` created during their rule from 2004-2009, the same coalition members are playing traditional ``Latvian political stabbing games`` now. Instead of listening to the Western partners advice (Latvia is a member of the EU and NATO after all) some of the Latvian provincial and boorish politicans want to continue serving their special interests.
The IMF was chosen as a chief negotiator to overhaul Latvian overblown and antiquated public service sector. The statutes of the European Treaty does not allow the European Commission to meddle into the internal affairs of its member states while bypassing the European Council. That was the reason why, even though the biggest creditor of the 7,5 billion euro loan is the European Union, the structural reforms negotiations are steered by the IMF. While the first to tranches of the multi billion loan is already transferred into the Latvian treasury, now two Latvian governing coalition members (Union of Farmers and Greens (UGF), and People´s Party (PP)) are calling the government to pause or even to give up the loan from the IMF in order to avoid harsh conditionality of the IMF and EU requirements.
The situation is serious enough thus the president interrupted his vacation. While the Latvian executive is still working the Latvian lawmaker is in recess till the end of August. And the latter is the biggest cause for insurmountable problems in this tiny parliamentary republic. Also the governor of the Bank of Latvia called the announcements of some of the governing elite members as irresponsible, but its seems that it is not enough. It was announced that tomorrow there would meeting of the coalition council in Riga. Major topic? Future negotiations strategy with the IMF!
While the Ministry of Economics has structurally reformed already and serves as an example for other Latvian ministries to emulate, the rest of Latvian civil service is still in waiting mood, and irresponsible announcements of Augusts Brigmanis (UGF) and Mr Kucinskis (PP) are only prolonging the irresponsible stalemate. When the Dombrovskis took the reins of the government then it was announced that by May 15, 2009 Latvian civil service would have a comprehensive public service remuneration system, but civil servants at the ministry of Finance still have failed to deliver (and when the remunaration system would be introduced then?). While New Era party is holding the reins of power still certain ministers drag their feet and sometimes obstruct the reform process. Instead of solving the problems in a transparent way Latvian executive continues its traditional ways of secrecy. For example, the government without any discussions and listening to doctors or social workers opinion has agreed to give in to the alcohol producers lobby (the minister of Agriculture Mr Duklavs (UGF) was the manager of Piebalgas Alus brewery), and they want to start selling alcohol at night again (now all sale of alcohol is prohibited from 10pm - 10am). The former transport supremo has changed his profile and he is the vice Maire of Riga now. His political announcements are shady however, and its seems that he has left several political land mines behind him.
The fact that some of the governing coalition members want to terminate negotiations with the IMF is simply stupid and shows short - sightedness of those politicians who dare to make such announcements. Also it makes me feel that something is brewing in the governing circles. The latest ratings show that except the Harmony Center party all other Latvian parties have lost legitimacy in the eyes of Latvian voters. Probably some of the parties who have come up with controversial announcements about the termination of the negotiations with the IMF hope for some brownies and early elections. Juris Dobelis (Fatherland Party-MP) in his latest interview uttered that he does not believe the present parliament would be able to survive until the October 2010 elections. The snap elections cannot come from the clear sky, however, and need a legitimate cause for the president to use his powers entitled upon him. I would not be surprised if May 26, 2009 meeting would end in disaster, that would make the president to call for sacking the utterly inefficient parliament. According to Latvian constitution the referendum would be called then in two months where presidents might come out either as a Latvian history maker or as a loser.
Why do I think this way? Because if the early parliamentary elections would take as early as possible then PP, UGF and Fatherland parties have still something to gain. The more time goes by the more legitimacy the Harmony Center and Latvian First and Latvian Party Union (LFLWPU) would gain and more control over administrative resources acquire. Also earlier elections the better for government parties, because it would not be easy for the Harmony Center and LFLWPU to find viable candidates for the parliament, and Ainars Slesers would find it hard to justify his decision to run for the parliament again.
Early elections would also prevent the rapid consolidation of the reformist Latvian parties - New Era, Civic Union and Society for Another Politics, although that process proceeds slowly now. Anyway, I have always kept repeating that I do support early elections due to many reasons. First, the elections in October 2006 were not truly legitimate and it also created historic precedent by the decision of the Supreme Court as of November 3, 2006. Second, in the parliamentary republic the travails of lawmakers are supreme, but while Latvia experiences worst economic decline in its history parliamentarians are simply in recess now. Third, most of the MP`s are simply unqualified and are simply killing their time in order to meet their mortgage payments. Finally, I believe that legitimacy of the rulers can be restored only by punishing perpetrators who allowed Latvian state to be led into its present abyss. And even if Latvian lawmakers did not participate in shady deals, their major guilt is the fact that their incapacity to rule was a major cause for lack of oversight over Latvian regulatory agencies and outright legal loopholes that allowed chosen interest groups instead of public to reign supremely for the last eighteen years. There is no better punishment for the present MP´s than early elections.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

After elections (updated)

Life will go on after elections even though I was not elected in the European parliament this time. Many thanks to all he supporters and people who endorsed me. Its midnight and I have to catch up with certain tasks being delayed due to the elections campaign. Estonian daily asked opinion piece about the EP & municipal elections in Latvia, and tomorrow I would follow with my own reflections in English.
Updated
I did not have time to write my evaluation of election results yet. There is certain post-election blues feeling in Latvia and latest announcements of the government are not encouraging at all! First, the Prime Minister came with an announcement about budget cuts (Ls506 400 000 in 2009, and about the same sums also in 2010, 2011, 2012!!!!) day after elections, thus deservedly earning ranting of traditionally reserved former president Vaira Vike Freiberga. Second, the Minister of Finance contrary to his and his party´s earlier announcements came out with a scandalous announcement yesterday about plans to abolish the mandatory income declaration system for Latvian politicians as it exists now! This news was immediately picked up by the Diena columnist Pauls Raudseps. He concluded that if the government cannot implements the system of financial control over the expenses of officials now, when the PM overlooks the work of Corruption Prevention bureau (KNAB) and the Minister of Finance oversees the work of Latvian Revenues Service, then when would they?
The latter news make me sad but in the meantime relieved about my decision last year to leave ranks of ``New Era`` party. How unfortunate news these are, but I still hope that the proposed consultations among New Era, Civic Union and Society for Different Politics would bear some fruit, and we could be united prior upcoming parliamentary elections. Until then there will be a lot of consultations and trying to downplay unusually high self-esteems of some Latvian politicians. Political environment in Latvian could be characterized as middle class anarchy now, and Gatis Sluka had a similar view on the present situation:)

Text in Latvian: ``Everything is gonna be alright!``

Friday, June 5, 2009

Latvian traditional voters expecting their mesiah coming?

Tomorrow there are the European Parliament and municipal elections in Latvia. During the election campaign I witnessed rather many people who expected new mesiah coming. Indeed, and also Gatis Šļūka had a similar feeling for the upcoming voting:)

Text in Latvian:

There are only idiots in the goverment! When are we going to see new persons there?

I am going to run for the office! What, are you an idiot?



Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ten thousand teachers, really? (updated)

While government wants to bring about the change Latvian teachers, policemen, professors and the rest of public sector workers wait for news about the planned layoffs. From one ministry I heard confirmation about fifty employees sacked in ten minutes, but it was relatively small one. Huge layoffs should be expected in the most numerous ministries - interior, education, agriculture and finance. While civil servants wait and government work is almost frozen news just came about ten thousand teachers or one third of all Latvian teachers to be laid off by September 1, 2009. This is extreme news, and I would update on this news as soon as I would comprehend this number in comparative terms. Until then the Latvian public must simply survive the increasing rate of unemployment that ratcheted up in the first quarter to the 13,9 % annual rate, because otherwise Zemgus cartoon could turn out to be prophetic.

Text in Latvian: Lowest point of decline is being reached & got to climb up now!





Updated

Numbers I have had hold on are not reliable yet, but political developments have taken their own path. The Minister of Education and former undersecretary of the Ministry Mrs Tatjana Koke just sacked the incumbent undersecretary Mr Mareks Gruskevics.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wage cuts and economic slump

Just a small Gatis Šļūka cartoon for a weekend:-)



Text in Latvian: [Plaque on the wall -Saeima - Latvian Parliament] To save more money they all relocated to one of the closed mental asylums.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Latvian politicians only want to fill their pockets so far

The Republic of Latvia is experiencing the worst economic crisis. Almost half a year the topic of devaluation has whirled in academic circles and media. There is consensus that slimming of the burgeoning red tape and cutting wages by 50% would serve as an alternative form of devaluation. In the meantime odious former prime minister openly questioned ability of the present government and the Bank of Latvia (BoL) to contain the economic crisis, and speculated after the need to devalue the national currency - the lat.

Today the governor of BoL Mr Ilmārs Rimšēvics openly confronted the former PM and concluded that the irresponsible calls for devaluation are due to the fact that former politician wants to earn money on devaluation! It is the first time when the high ranking official in Latvia indirectly questions moral standards and wish of someone from officialdome to earn money from manipulating the state economy for his private profit. Would there be additional brave revelations similar to Mr Rimšēvics?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Latvia transforming

I have kept quiet for the most of April due to couple of projects to be finished, work at the university and forthcoming European Parliament elections. In the meantime Latvian government is trying to transform sectors of education and health care now. Last Thursday president Zatlers convened a closed government meeting and inquired about the pace of structural reforms. Presentations of the Ministers Koķe and Eglītis convinced the president Zatlers that the structural reforms have taken off from the absolute zero. By May 15 the comprehensive system of civil service remuneration system should be finally introduced in Latvia after eighteen long years.

It is hard to follow all the events because the whole state governance system is forced to transform now. In meantime there are many unknowns due to expected massive layoffs. By the end of the years there is a plan to lay off about 4000 teachers and cut the number of hospitals by half (from 56 to about 23). The reality is harsh and long postponed reforms have to be managed all at once in Latvia now. Scenarios about the future range from apocalyptic visions of Ivars Ījabs to moderate assessments of Latvia coping with the existing crisis for the next twenty years. Latvia is transforming and to paraphrase young people of the late 1980's from the Juris Podnieks movie "Is it easy to be a young person?" ("Vai viegli būt jaunam") one may conclude that it is not easy to be a Latvian citizen in 2009.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eighteen years...(updated)

The life in Latvia slowly wakes up from its "winter slumber". There should not have been time for a cozy sleep, but the previous governments lulled the state administrators and civil society into the artificial dream balloon. Now the newly formed Valdis Dombrovskis government must puncture that balloon in order to replace the engine on Latvia Inc. As a good friend after my presentation about the Latvian political and economic situation in Tallinn quite ominously uttered: "it does not really pay to replace broken parts of Latvian combustion engine anymore, it must be simply replaced with a brand new diesel..."
Latvian new engine must be created or to put it differently, Latvian education, police and health care sectors must be utterly transformed in order the Latvian State Treasury would be eligible to receive the next tranche from the IMF [in medium term it inevitably would require constitutional overhaul]. It is rather late already, and I will update this blog entry tomorrow morning. Until then enjoy another Gatis Šļūka excellent view on [Eighteen years of the Latvian economy]. For those of you not familiar with Latvian traffic signs it is a stylised version of the dead end.


Updated

It is Wednesday morning and today Saeima must pass constitutional amendments in Art. 78 and 79 in final third reading, thus giving 1/10 of the electorate a right to initiate early elections. Latvian PM Dombrovskis just gave a very concise interview on Latvian radio, where he explained that the government simply cannot afford to back off from plans to overhaul the economy. The strategy for the budget making, that should be accepted somewhere in the early June, is to bring the government expenses down to the 2006 level, good. Valdis Dombrovskis must clean up the mess of previous and very complacent "apparatchiks", and while there is some whining here and there the overall comprehension among the majority in society hopefully is - you reform or you die!

Reforms are piecemeal so far and communication between the government and IMF is secretive. While the Minister of Health Mr Eglītis (People's Party) announced that he disagrees with the proposed budget cuts in health care system PM disagreed with him, thus Mr Eglītis must figure out how to overhaul the system of health care after all. The same is expected from the Minister of Education and Science Mrs Koķe (Union of Greens & Farmers). Sending her own employees from the ministry to participate in the Teachers Trade Union organized march was not the most brilliant idea. New ideas for overhauling the relic of Soviet past, stagnant and ineffective system of education are required from Madam Koķe, does she & her party have them, if they do not even have a real candidacy for Maire's post for the upcoming municipal elections?

Required administrative reforms are very well showing other bottlenecks in Latvian governance system. Hopefully the early spring endogenous reforms will brake a way in for a new generation coming into the Latvian political field. The spring weather is promising so far.

P.S. And while Latvian government has to overhaul their economy with the means possible Estonians are recalling the role of Finnish YLE to provide the cultured elites of Estonia during the Soviet occupation. There is documentary released about the same phenomenon that is so often brought up in discussions, when Latvian and Estonian economies & societies are compared these days.

P.P.S. Those of you reading Latvian here is my piece I wrote for Diena on April 2, 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Latvian slow motion reality continues

Yes, Valdis Zatlers had his speech which he left for history to judge. As it was already predicted by the very pollster on the right side of this page and also some pundits, it was inconsequential and full of contradictions! In slow motion he reminded examples of misuse of power by "the former governing class" that led to the riots on Riga streets in January 13, 2009, but gave no personal evaluation of those events. Instead of pinpointing what kind of compromises were achieved to move on from the present fragile stability president had really nothing else to offer except, "God bless Latvia" ("Dievs svētī Latviju"). Indeed, Valdis Zatlers acknowledged that most of the requirements from the list of his January 14 speech have been met. Thus, I translated major points that were brought up by Mr Zatlers and added my own comments:
1) "new coalition government is working with the 2/3 support in the parliament [but he acknowledged earlier in his speech that the parliament is supported by 4% of the population only, thus I should ask Mr Zatlers team - where is speech writer's common sense???]. Government enjoys higher level of trust (!) compared to the previous government [reaching the same scanty 17%, common, do not turn yourselves into laughingstock]. It is very important for passing decisions that are unpopular but required;
2) Latvian electoral law is amended and the so called "electoral locomotives" would not help MP's with questionable qualities coming into the parliament. In addition legislation preventing organized crime is finally incorporated into the Criminal Code;
3) parliament finally accepted [but the procedure to choose the new head was utterly murky, although politicians agreed on following transparent and understandable rules of the game] the new head of the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB);
4) plan for stimulating economy [there are numerous plans in Latvia, but what is lacking is political will to implement them in their fullness] is accepted in the government and the state administration reform was started. Remuneration caps were established for state and municipal employees, and also most of the state company politicized boards were liquidated;
5) The parliamentary commission that oversees the use of international financial aid has also included independent financial experts, members of State Audit Office, the Bank of Latvia and other institution members. This commission must make sure that the borrowed billions in loans would be used legally and efficiently [I really would like to see that!].
6) Constitutional amendments proposed in the referendum of August 2008 which provided for a qualified number of electorate to initiate the process of early elections were finally passed in the second reading of the Parliament a week ago. The parliamentary majority plans to pass these amendments in the final third reading on April 8, 2009."
President Zatlers called for the unity and asked people to associate ourselves with "our" not "that" state. Such appeal sounded more of a cheap rhetoric, because while the problems were brewing from 2004-2008 the same politicians who elected the President Zatlers called members of civil society as mere canines [kvaukšķi]. It is ironic that now, when taxpayers monies are wasted in the former governments mismanaged casino economy, the President is forced to ask for reconciliation among the political classes in Latvia. President appealed to government and the parliament: first, that negotiations with the IMF should be finalized properly, second, structured help of Latvian businesses, third, that minimum social welfare programs should be implemented when times turn out really harsh, and finally, the political climate should be changed in Latvia.
The last appeal sounded extremely ironic, and I must repeat what I already said before: how come you may achieve the rape victim trusting her/his rapist again? For reconciliation to happen after the People's Party, First/Latvian Way Party Union & Union of Greens and Farmers massively transgressed the law, time would be needed. Early elections would have been the the most appropriate and orderly way to try to heal the wounds, that the former/present governing elite tore into the Latvian body politics, but it seems that the Latvian presidential family was not ready enough for such a development yet.
Regardless of latest political achievements the stability in Latvia is very fragile. TV3 hostess Baiba Sipeniece correctly pinpointed that the saddest part of the whole presidential memorandum saga is due to the fact, that Latvian present political "elite" endemically does not know to manage routine policy implementation process. Unless there is no stick, they are not prone to move their backs, and when there are presidential memorandums they cry out foul about president being authoritarian who delivers ultimatums.
The problem is, however, that the special breed of post-Soviet politicians was designed for such behaviour, because they are used to work under traditional authority (hence the almost 23% of Latvian electorate craving for dictatorship) only. Until traditional authority (ill famous AAA team) would continue to spread its influence I do not foresee substantial improvement in Latvian administrative capacity. Two issues should be on the top of the agenda now for the Latvian parliament - the mandatory tax declaration system, and amendments in electoral law, thus finally political parties would be financed from the state budget! Without those two laws minigarchic families would continue to have their inordinate influence and consolidation of the Latvian political society would not take place.
At the end Zemgus in today's Diena already foresaw the outcome of the speech. It is the final day of March, and the next deadline is the June 6, when municipal and European Parliament elections should take place in Latvia.

Text in Latvian: Latvian PM Dombrovskis, Minister of Finance Repše holding on & President ["I will not pull the hand brake, because..."]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quick exit from the sinking ship???

Little by little former political elite members leave their warm places. After resignation of Ivars Godmanis some politicians smoothly retired into the parliament and the two most controversial ones among them. Today Delfi reports that the former head of Latvian border guards Mr Āboliņš "handed" over his letter of resignation to the Minister of Interior. Tomorrow Latvian president must have an announcement about his self-imposed memorandum to the Latvian present political elite. Until the announcement tomorrow at CET 8 pm, and apparently even after the ominous speech, the Latvian political culture should remain puzzling. Day after tomorrow after climbing half way to Everest, tenure of the worst Latvian politician of all times should finally run out.

While some former politicians are forced to retreat, and some others plan to return or rejuvenate [there were two new parties formed last weekend in Latvia - New Latvia & Libertas Latvija], the government of Valdis Dombrovskis tries hard to keep the half sinking Latvia Ltd. afloat. While the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance are hard working and apparently with best intentions I do not believe that it is enough. Magic wands wont work here and the sluggish Latvian Saeima [parliament] serves as a drag on the country's further development. Resignation of Mr Āboliņš is only the tip of the iceberg, because the real "berg" is the multitude of mostly pre-pension age nomenclature members, who serve as shackles for the Republic of Latvia freeing itself from the stagnated and sometimes corrupt networks of closely knit cells of people.

Until the members of parliament and complacent politicians in the state company boards wont learn the lesson that transgressing the law brings punishment, there will be no substantial way out from the present economic meltdown. For civil society trusting the present government there needs to be the possibility to start punishing the People's and Latvian First/Latvian Way union parties for transgressing law, and thus to start from a clean sheet. For that, there is no better mechanism designed in most of industrially developed West than snap elections. For years Latvian politicians have tried to develop "their own bicycle", as the old proverb says in Latvian, while Latvia's Southern and Northern neighbors have relied on emulating the best examples of EU governance. If the current economic and political crisis does not ring the wake up call for the old political class and the President, especially in a time when 65% of Latvian population would happily see the present parliament being sacked, then what would??? About 63,9% of Latvian young people are ready to leave the country permanently, thus I would like to ask: Mr Zatlers do you want Latvia to turn into a home for the elderly?


Text in Latvian: [driver] Hop in! We are taking the same route! [Latvian cyclist] No! Can do it myself!
Cartoon: Gatis Šļūka