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

Friday, March 27, 2009

Adieu...water sports?

Latvian public was rather agitated when the former PM announced that he is quitting Latvian politics on a rather ominous date. He is probably the least loved politician after Latvia regained its independence in the early 1990's, and most of the folks in this Baltic State can sigh in relief now. Customarily to the special breed of the post Soviet politicians former PM does not want to get too far away from the taxpayers monies, thus he plans to land as a chairman of the Lattelecom board.

In the meantime "Diena" has started publicly discussing lifestyle of another party mate of the outgoing PM. Apparently the "nothing special minister" son's water sport activities were supported not only up to the fall of his father from grace , but through the State Company "Latvijas Meži" hefty (circa 150 000EUR) grant was disbursed under shady terms also for the 2009 season. After Transport Supremo driver's son had to "retire", now is the "special minister's" turn to give up his sporting activities, must he not? Hmmm, and how should I explain to my students that education is a must in todays globalized world, because system of meritocracy would reward their hard efforts later in their lives?:)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 31, 2009 deadline and early elections

No information is leaking out from the Riga Castle concerning the life in Latvia after the March 31 deadline. President keeps reiterating that constitutional amendments must be passed by the that ominous date, but he does not yet disclose the possible future scenarios. In the meantime the speaker of the parliament and several other members of the "elite" already reiterated the traditional mesage about the early elections destroying the republic & economy. Meanwhile another odious representative of legal profession openly craved for dictatorship.

Early elections is a normal procedure in liberal democracies, and particularly so during times of constitutional and political crisis. This is the very situation the former governing "elite" had Latvia led into. While adding the economic turmoil Latvia must go through now, the Latvian society must really pass through the purgatory of triple crisis. The major opposition New Era (NE) party acknowledged such situation already in August 2008, and their present ratings would only capitalize their upward positions prior upcoming elections. The best way out of the overwhelming nihilism in the Latvian society would be achieved with the help of referendum for sacking of the parliament (Constitutional Art. 48). It could take place on June 6, 2009 together with the municipal and the European Parliament elections. Thus money would be saved on logistics and organization costs, and it would make also actions of the president transparent and comprehensible to the public.

It would be quite contrary to the continuously circling rumours about ensuing disaster that could ensue after sacking of the parliament [it would be the first precedent of early elections in Latvia]. The government of Valdis Dombrovskis would continue to work until the new parliament would be elected and new government formed. There have been numerous early elections in several European states, and Polish and Greek examples are still fresh in memory.

The president better make up his mind, and quick! Political events in the World and Europe are increasingly bypassing traditional chains of decision making process' in the small nation state [particularly the ill governed one]. Latvian present leaders cannot afford to continue as if "nothing special" happened, with the simple government facade uplift and without constitutional and legal amendments that are long overdue [amendments in electoral law and passing the mandatory tax and property declaration system]. Simply the younger generation would hemorrhage out of the country until the "traditional elite"would even notice it. Bulgarians already asked for the EU oversight, and I assume that Latvian president's team is knowledgeable enough not to wish it happening in Latvia? The present short term and complacent stability is fragile and built on thin ice. For monies the Latvian Treasury has acquired from Western donors, but without complete overhaul of the sluggish administrative machinery Latvian government would not be able to purchase even fish [stocks are depleted in the Baltic Sea anyway:)], because soon only fish bones would be left...

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 2009 public opinion in Latvia

The last week of March started today and Latvijas Fakti in cooperation with Diena published the monthly poll. Customarily around 1000 Latvian citizens were asked: what political party you would vote for if elections would take place tomorrow?

And I just could not resist to add the Gatis Šļūka view on today's government travails:)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Final "pearls" of the hopefully outgoing political "elite" in Latvia

There was an article in Helsingin Sanomat before, and in Der Zeit last month where the same picture was used, and making the "nothing special" slogan a real Latvian trademark.


It would have been rather encouraging news unless it was not uttered by the lacklustre former minister of finance. Former banker considered that "nothing special"could be used as a new trademark for advertising Latvia internationally. While such a proposal created some laughing in neighboring Estonia, I somehow believe that to come out with negative connotations for branding countries cannot really bring anything positive out. While there were numerous warning signs about the problems mounting in Латвия, the former government continued to live in their power bubble.

Instead to assess how come Latvian politicians were able to not to listen to numerous warning signs, announce orderly and early elections, and to continue from the clean sleet onwards, there is absolute stillness from the Riga Castle so far. I wish all the courage to the new government, but amidst their tasks in overhauling the outdated Latvian administrative machinery the president has probably forgotten that the early elections are primarily needed for returning legitimacy into democratic regime among the Latvian citizenry! Whether the president still keeps this option open we should see on March 32, 2009, as it has become customary to joke in Latvia lately.

In the meantime the Prime Minister Dombrovskis is forced to acknowledge that Latvian government would probably have to borrow additional 1 billion from international creditors in order to be on the safe side before the harsh autumn. In the same time the so-called "public relations engineers" are speculating that journalist are among those culprits to be blamed for Latvia finding itself in the sorry state of economy and social turmoil today. The same so-called "public relations engineers" somehow seem to forget that the former toothless and complacent government [who's representatives still sit in the parliament and government] is directly responsible for bringing Latvia at the verge of bankruptcy, and most of economics and business experts acknowledged it in their interview.

As if there would not be enough of bad news the former PM Šķēle came out with bombastic opinion yesterday. In his interview to the Latvian TV evening news (objectivity of the public TV must be questioned if thus many former politicians appear disproportionately often on air and give their reckless remarks) former PM somehow confirmed long circling rumours about changing his own mortgage from euros into Latvian lats. He opined that Latvian currency could be devalued and created quite an uproar in the Latvian Internet forums.

Also, former PM had an opinion that the Presidential deadline of March 31 and possible initiation of referendum process calling for early elections would be shortsighted, and detrimental to the very existence of the Republic of Latvia ["Savukārt uz jautājumu par to, vai Valsts prezidentam būtu jārosina Saeimas atlaišana pēc 31.marta, jo daļa prezidenta uzdevumu nav izpildīti, A.Šķēle atbildēja: "Tā būtu absolūta tuvredzība. Tā būtu Latvijas valsts iznīcināšana."]. Indeed, the early elections would be detrimental to the Latvia Ltd. and one of its architects, but most of the citizenry would sigh in relief when such law transgressing parties as People's Party and Latvia First/Latvian Way would cease to exists and would find themselves in the waste bin of history.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Riga Southern bridge - citadel of inefficiency

State Audit office published report about the construction process of the Southern bridge yesterday. After the media started questioning expenses of the newly built Southern bridge last year the Riga City Councilors behaved as if nothing happened. The State Audit office started their investigation in June 2008, and their conclusion is simple - about LVL27mlj. (EUR38mlj) of taxpayers monies were simply squandered due to the lack of legal enforcement of existing rules, and non-existence of financial oversight over the building process! The incumbent Maire of Riga called this revelation as shocking, while the former Maire who started the building considers the whole process of building the bridge as the most transparent and effective in Latvia, and blames the Prime Minister Dombrovskis about barring him to access the EU structural fund monies for running this project!

It is simply sick and tiring to follow the childish behavior of the outgoing political "elite" in Latvia. The papers are full of smaller or bigger scams and corruption cases, thus I have a feeling as if there is a serious need after some external juror from Brussels or Washington DC! The Augean Stalls of Latvian post Soviet nomenclature must be cleaned in order to bring Latvia out from the present economically malicious situation. You may wonder why I am questioning the inability of Latvian court system and civil society to manage this process?

Because, even while the new government gives encouraging signs of improvement, the old boys networks and the president being quiet about his March 31 deadline does not decrease suspicion in the society about the ability of the "presently elected councilors" to suddenly change their behavior. Just look into today's Diena , where the former Transport supremo without any remorse openly declares, that he would continue policy of nepotism, if being elected as the new Maire of Riga! In the same paper it is announced that Transport Supremo's appointed buddy in the RIX board Rota Mūrniece is accused in felony, and Mr Šlesers driver's son must leave now the board of the Latvian Passenger Railway Co., while another of his protege's must leave the well paid job of the press secretary. In any other liberally democratic country the full fledged investigation would ensue, and such "ministers" would be barred from the public office for life!!

Cartoon: Zemgus

Transport supremo renewed his mandate in the parliament, however, and plans to carry on with misuse of taxpayers monies in the Riga City Council. His understanding about the political process ends with simple understanding - there is nothing else except the zero sum game! Rule of law for him is founded on principles of bending it to the whims of more powerful and affluent folks. Transport Supremo is not a democrat, and lets hope that Riga citizens would keep it in mind, while the Latvian judiciary is still unable to start prosecution of this openly law transgressing person after breeches of law found by the State Audit office. Riga taxpayers have allowed themselves to drag into the financial serfdom for the next twenty years due to the the policy of nepotism and negligence of the former Maire's of Riga, thus do citizens really suffer the collective Stockholm syndrome?

Text in Latvian: Riga City Council wheel barrows "should get quietly over the bridge"

Cartoon: Jukka Rislakki

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another "jem" from the Latvian outgoing "elite" (Updated)

Last weekend the Latvian First & Latvian Way party Union (LFLWU) was planning its congress. The party chief Ainārs Šlesers terminated his plans, thus the congress did not take place. However, the LFLWU announced that the former prime minister Ivars Godmanis should run for the European Parliament. Thank you, and what a nice competitor for the upcoming elections on June 6, 2009!

Ivars Godmanis is definitely better qualified than the minister who slaughtered (slakteris - a slaughter in Latvian language) the trust of the EU & IMF partners in ability of "Latvian outgoing elite" to bring the country out from economic malaise. As a requiem for the "outgoing political elite" here you have THE confession... .

Slakteris says his command of English is an important asset for Latvia

Published: 12:28 19.01.2009.
RIGA, Jan 19 (LETA) - Finance Minister Atis Slakteris (People's Party) believes his command of English to be one of the most valuable things that Latvia possesses.
In an interview on the Latvian State Radio this morning, Slakteris said that since he had been able to secure an EUR 7.5 billion loan for Latvia, his command of English is highly valuable for Latvia.
Slakteris said that, in his opinion, government members and his own command of English was sufficient at a time the state had to borrow funds from international partners.
As reported, Slakteris' interview to the U.S. "Bloomberg Television" last December created much publicity.
Slakteris' interview on "Bloomberg Television", that can be watched at several Internet portals at this time, showed that Slakteris does not know English well enough and even tends to forget the questions that he is being asked.
After the interview was made public, it prompted wide debate about Slakteris' suitability for office.
Slakteris said that the version of the interview that had leaked out was unedited and unofficial material.
As an eulogy to the outgoing political elite that has left the atomized Latvian society in poverty the Finnish author Jukka Rislakki had a special view about the Latvian political society today. After the 2008 second half Providus research it became known that 31,3 % of Latvian population actually supports so called Robin Hood's in Latvia... .

Cartoon: Jukka Rislakki

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Expensive and ineffective government

The Latvian 2009 budget must be slashed by another 1 billion euros in order to receive next tranche from the International Monetary Fund, and avoid bankruptcy by June 2009. While the PM is looking for possibilities to cut expenses several investigative journalists have been looking where is the money really spent in Latvia. TV3 discovered that there are shady schemes created where money for non exiting projects are generated through the Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) with EU funds money squandered. Apparently Arvis Auziņš who was beneficiary of such a scam is the municipal councilor (Union of Greens and Farmer) in Ogre and he also tried to bribe a journalist.

While different scams are engineered for getting access to the EU funds monies, the Latvian civil service remuneration system is still a part of the party political "feudal fiefdoms" system and it causes a lot of bad blood. Legally the civil service should be apolitical, however it is long known that civil service does not act as a corporate entity in Latvia, that would act independently from whims of political parties. The system of remuneration in civil service is having similarly shady rules to the system of salaries in the State Enterprises boards, which served as a prime generators for monies into the political party coffers. Now most of the State Enterprise boards are liquidated, but the political party financing from the state budget has not replaced the old system yet.

The law introducing party financing from the state budget and the mandatory tax and property declaration system should be the major agenda for the present parliament. Without these two laws it is impossible to introduce the principles of transparency especially during times when there is increasing public awareness bout it. During times of global financial and economic crisis, which affects all countries participating in the era of global flows of goods, finance and ideas, particularly those countries with ineffective government are affected the most severe way and we may witness it very strongly in Latvia. As a proof that not only I am concerned about the way Latvia is governed today, you may have the very unique Gatis Šļūka view on the working methods of the Latvian parliament.

Text in Latvian: QUESTION: puk,puk,puk...tuk,tuk, tuk...bu, bu, bu...AN ANSWER: bla, bla, bla

Today's Diena had a nice report about salaries of the top - notch civil servants. And it just gives you insight about the questionable system of remuneration at the highest level of civil service in Latvia.

Average monthly salary of Latvian under secretaries*, before taxes (Ls)

Ministry / Under secretary /2008./2009.

Agriculture /Dace Lucaua /6532 /3539
Finance / Mārtiņš Bičevskis / 6043 /3564
Economics / Anrijs Matīss / 5217 / 4330
Municipal Affairs / Laimdota Straujuma /5122 / 2852
Children's Affairs / Iveta Zalpētere / 5058 / 2850
Education / Mareks Gruškevics / 4146 / 2852
Transportation / Nils Freivalds / 4003 / 3313
Welfare / Ringolds Beinarovičs / 3888/ 2852
Electronic affairs / Juris Jansons / 3496 / 2450
Defense /Jānis Sārts /3391 / 2744
Environment / Guntis Puķītis / 3372 / 2664
Justice / Mārtiņs Lazdovskis / 3148 / 2094
Foreign Affairs / Andris Teikmanis / 2947 / 2975
Health / Armands Ploriņš / 2890 / 2150
Internal affairs /Aivars Straume / 2746 / 2506
Culture / Solvita Zvidriņa / 2347 / 2000

*Under secretaries (Valsts sekretārs) are the top level civil servants in Latvia responsible for administering ministries. Monthly salary, vacation allowance, bonuses, additional premiums forms the average monthly salary of the under secretary
P.S. For those of you reading in Estonian here is my interview to Sirp.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

God speed Valdis Dombrovskis!

Today Valdis Dombrovskis became the fifteenth Prime Minister of Latvia, since this Baltic State regained its independence eighteen years ago. Happy to learn that Valdis Dombrovskis represents the same generation I do, and quite ominously he has become not only the youngest prime minister in Latvia, but he is also the youngest leader in the EU today. His new cabinet was approved with 67 YEA votes, and 21 NAY´s came from the majority russophone Harmony Centre and Human Rights parties in a hundred member parliament.

Photo: R.Olins/Apollo

In normal circumstances people should be celebrating but not this time in Latvia. Parliamentary majority accepted the new Corruption Bureau Chief Mr. Normunds Vilnitis, the politicized state enterprises councils were liquidated, and also ``the anti-Mafia`` law was finally passed in the parliament! However, those amendments were long overdue in this corruption ridden country. The former government led the country to the verge of the bankruptcy, and now Valdis Dombrovskis must lead the country out of the malaise together with former ``adversaries``. The task of the new PM is not going to be easy, because he would have to be constantly guarding his back from his own coalition members ...

Photo: Kristians Putnins

Decisions of the parliament to pass the long mulled laws and appoint Mr Vilnitis as the new Anti Corruption warrior are encouraging, thus, God speed Valdis Dombrovskis with your challenging work in overhauling the antiquated state machinery! Glad to realize, that also Gatis Šļūka in his cartoons has the same contemplations:)

Text in Latvian: [The question] What should we do? it simply does not operate...[an answer] We would reinstall it!

P.S. Here is my interview to ERR presented on the web thanks to the Päevaleht Online

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bad habits of the "outgoing political elite"...

The newly formed government of Valdis Dombrovskis faces uphill struggle. In case Dombrovskis's government would be approved in tomorrow's Saeima session, and its seems the most likely scenario [to believe the snap opinion poll I have on the top right corner of this very page], the new government would have to cut government expenses for about another 1 billion euros to keep the 2009 fiscal deficit at -5% level.

If there is one extremely bad habit of the hopefully outgoing and self imposed "political elite" in Latvia, then it is the system of finding scapegoats for their own wrongdoings every time and everywhere. Like politicians in France their homologues in Latvia love to blame EU for most of their own shortcomings.

Below you may see today's front page of the second major Latvian daily NRA. Regardless of totally reckless and sometimes "puzzling" policy making of the former government the newspaper came out with the following header today - Eiropa prasa griezt skarbāk...

(text in Latvian) - Europe demands drastic [budget] cuts

P.S. I am listening to the Latvia's most popular talk show now, and the PM nominee Valdis Dombrovskis just announced that his government would seriously consider introducing the mandatory income declaration system as one of the first tasks of his government.

P.P.S. While the government published its declaration , also the People's Party nominated their candidate for the Minister of Culture today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two days until the new government vote

There are two days left until the Latvian parliament would vote to give a mandate to the Valdis Dombrovskis care taker government. The presidential ultimatum still stands and since the onset there is a feeling that Mr Valdis Dombrovskis is forced to work in fire - fighting regime. New coalition - New Era, People´s, Party, Civic Union, Union of Greens and Farmers, and the Fatherland Party - agreed on the government declaration. The nominated PM candidate wants all the governing coalition MP´s to sign the coalition document to receive as broad and tangible mandate as possible, while the latter document is not available yet.

With the candidacy for the post of the Minister of Culture still open and ministers of health and education still wavering there is no better way to finish this blog entry, than with another poignant cartoon of Gatis Sluka. Enjoy:)

Text in Latvian: (Text on the screen) Reception of ministerial portfolios. Hallo, does anybody need a portfolio of the minister of education?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Latvian "vertical of power"

Yesterday evening the Latvian LNT TV station had an unexpected talk show with all but one former primer ministers present, and Andris Bērziņš busy preparing for elections. My colleague Iveta Kažoka in her blog spared my time to immediately write my contemplations about the program in Latvian. The central question of the show was - what Latvia should do? - as if Latvia would be some kind of abstract entity, and it would not have basic mechanisms of state governance. The most active speakers were former prime ministers from the People's Party (PP). Other ministers chirped out some ideas as well, but somewhat miraculously central theme of the whole emission became - whether the future Latvian government should exercise emergency powers and resort to the vertical of power!

The odious Art. 81 allowed the Cabinet to exercise legislative powers while parliament was in recess. This article was rid from the Latvian Constitution after Aigars Kalvītis government tried to perform shadow coup d'etat at the end of 2006 with the secretive changes in the law of security organizations. Yesterday, it was the incumbent Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis who assumed that without resorting to the Art. 81, and endowing Latvian executive with legislative powers, there is no chance for the Valdis Dombrovskis future cabinet to solve the challenges Latvia is facing right now. There were only two ministers - Guntars Krasts & Einārs Repše - who objected to return of the Art. 81.

The anchor of the program could not really moderate the discussion thus former prime ministers' diatribes were unbearable for most of the time. Former PM Valdis Birkavs had an idee fixe that 80% of the Latvian civil servants should be given unpaid leave until the mess with the bloated Latvian government is solved. Also representing his own construction lobby, he believed that the only right solution for Latvia getting out of the present dire straits is propping up the construction business. Moderator paid undue "attention" to the proposed Minister of Finance in the future government, Mr Einārs Repše. He asked him and other PM's whether Latvian monetary authorities should not unilaterally decide about the Latvian currency switched over to euro? All former PM's agreed that stability of the Latvian currency is the prerequisite for leading Latvia out of the present economic swamp. Around the middle of the show the moderator asked the key question - what the former eight prime ministers considered their faults for having Latvia now on the verge of bankruptcy?

Einārs Repše tried to argue that probably he was too offensive with his onslaught on the Latvian corrupt networks and probably overestimated his personal powers, thus had to give in to the government of Indulis Emsis. Aigars Kalvītis and Andris Šķēle were drumming the same tambourine, and believed that they had been too mild in giving in to the requests of the trade unions. Other than that, those gentlemen did not find a single fault (!) in their performance. Such issues as the rule of law and personal responsibility simply did not appear in that discussion. The personal willpower and extreme form of technocratic approach to problems was omnipresent, thus "Latvian self proclaimed political elite members" came to conclusion that if there would not been the coalition "cow trading" their work would have been a lot more easier whilst having possibility to resort to emergency powers. Thus much about the traditional cognisance of democracy among six (!) former prime ministers in Латвия... .

I never had any hopes about any of the Latvian AAA team ministers. At least there is a flicker of hope about the future cabinet being able to lead the country in one piece until the early elections. The trust in democratic regime among Latvian populace was lost very much due to the same authoritarian prime ministers exercising their power unaccounted. The results are not far to look after, because latest polls show that about a quarter of the Latvian population would better prefer authoritarian dictator than party democracy in Latvia... . The quarter of population is probably the same that does not want to take part in elections, that monthly sociological pollsters regularly show us.

The new government should be voted in the parliament the coming Thursday. The new government still does not have the candidate for the minister of culture. At least the opposition New Era (NE) party seems like playing the chicken game, because they announced about reevaluation of the formerly signed agreements about super-expensive construction of the National Library. PP has not openly opposed this announcement, but the former ministers of health and education have voiced their doubts about taking their posts in the future government, because according to them additional 20% budget cuts (in addition to the -15% initiated already in January 2009) are too drastic. However, the IMF and EU conditionality is a good mechanism, because monies are not disbursed until requested agreements are reached. Previously mentioned ministers and PP party should understand, that if they would undermine the Valdis Dombrovskis formed cabinet they would pull also themselves into the dustbin of history. Thus, I consider the PP leadership frantic holding to the demand for control over the EU structural fund cash flows as sign of extreme weakness of that party (apparently they do not have neither human resources nor funds, if they plan to propose Ms Anta Rugāte for the Culture Minister post). The Valdis Dombrovskis formed government would have several priorities to perform in order to reignite the frozen Latvian economy. But before that, lets wait for the Thursday vote in the parliament. And while waiting for the vote, you may perceive the prevailing mood among the Latvian public about the bacchanalia's of the former government through another poignant cartoon of Gatis Šļūka.

Text in Latvian: [Men in Red hat]: Where is the booze? It was a hard and unpopular decision.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First draft of the V. Dombrovskis government (updated)

Valdis Dombrovskis declared today that he would announce the list of the new cabinet members on Wednesday morning . Until now the initial draft looks as follows:

Prime Minister — Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era-NE)
Minister of Forign Affairs — Māris Riekstiņš (People's Party-PP)
Minister of Defense — Candidate from the Civic Union (CU) (probability to have either V. Kristovskis or Kārlis Šadurskis)
Minister of Justice — Mareks Segliņš (PP)
Minister of Economy — Artis Kampars (NE)
Minister of Finance — Einars Repše (NE)
Minister of Transportation — Kaspars Gerhards (Fatherland Party)
Minister of Interior — Linda Mūrniece (NE)
Minister o Education — Tatjana Koķe (Union of Greens and Farmers-UGF)
Minister of Culture — Candidate from the PP ( probability to have Juris Žagars)
Minister of Agriculture — Jānis Dūklavs (UGF)
Minister of Welfare — Uldis Augulis (UGF)
Minister of Municipal Affairs — Edgars Zalāns (PP)
Minister of Health — Ivars Eglītis (PP)
Minister of Environment — Raimonds Vējonis (UGF)

Out of fifteen ministries there are five ministers from the previous government, three members of NE party have ministerial experience, and a true newcomer of this list is the former brewer Jānis Dūklavs. There could be a newcomer also for the Minister of Culture post, and unless the Civic Union party would propose Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, we could have newcomer also in the Ministry of Defense.

It is too early to judge the future cabinet, because this draft list could still be amended. However, the immediate tasks of cutting budget for about another EUR 1 billion until the end of March, does not allow the new government to start slimming the government. Otherwise such lacklustre ministers as K. Gerhards, T. Koķe, and M. Segliņš would not even be proposed. However, really good news is that the Latvian First Party/Latvia's Way (LFP/LW) would not be included in the governing coalition. Former PM Godmanis was offered to lead the Ministry of Agriculture but he perceived it rather like an insult. Thus, very much due to the Transport Supremo extravagance and Ivars Godmanis following him in short leash the once major liberal party is out of the government, again... .


It is Wednesday morning and Valdis Dombrovskis has come up with the Minister of Defense candidature, while the Minister of Culture post being still vacant. The Civic Union has offered the post to its party member Imants Lieģis, a former ambassador to Spain.