Monday, April 28, 2008

Stagnation of the ruling political class continues

Last events in the Latvian political theatre do not provide much optimism. Yesterday Mr Joaquin Almunia, EU Commissioner responsible for economic and monetary affairs came out with his bureau's forecast for the bloc of 27. New and adjusted basic economic indices for Latvia are bleak enough. While GDP forecast for 2008 is adjusted to 3,8% its the inflation that is predicted still to be the highest in the EU at the end of the 2008 - 15,8%.

Today's Diena published latest poll of the Latvijas Fakti.


The negative trend started already in March 2007 when those supporting present political class and alienating from democratic regime split after omenous announcement of the former president Vaira Vīķe Freiberga, and detention of the Maire of Ventspils that preceded the latter announcement. During Summer of 2007 the support for the governing quadrumvirate started to dip below the support for the opposition parties. The peak of the distrust against the ruling coalition reached at the end of October 2007. I already wrote about the reasons for such an absolute slump of trust in legitimacy before and here I would like to give a short comment on latest polling data.

The most negative trend is the high number of undecided voters and continuous increase (+ 2,5% in April) of the number of alienated voters (the lowest quintile of the graph=21,3%), or those who would definitely not go to elections. It means that today every voter out of five electors would definitely not go to elections. Thus, the rough estimate from the Central Election Bureau data about the total No. of voters in 2007 (1 495 199) would make it 291 800 alienated electors today.

The number of undecided or swing voters have dipped only slightly and as already said it is still 25.7% high. It is the opposition Reconciliation Centre (RC) party gained +1,3% and RC is a stable leader in the polls for quite some time allready. The newly founded Civic Union party has lost about 2,1% of its support in comparison with March data. Also Messrs Pabriks & Štokenbergs newly founded "Another Politics" has lost its support (by 0,8% points) due to the questionably received and ongoing signature collection campaign.

Only two parties from the ruling quadrumvirate - Union of Greens and Farmers and People's Party - have enough support to pass into parliament if elections would be tomorrow. However, the support of subseqently 7,7 and 6,6 percent of the electorate is too little in order to take a decisive action and lead the Latvia Inc. out of the economic malaise. Especially so, when the Prime Minister's party has scanty 3,8 % support of the electorate.

There is another option actually! To disregard the public opinion at all and make painful and thus needed structural reforms (cutting red tape and jump starting Latvian economy with overhaul of taxation system), because the support for the existing political class is irrevocably lost. Do they have guts for that, I doubt. Instincts to stay at power are stronger than abstract interests of the Latvian public in the long run, unfortunately.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cracks in governing quadrumvirate?

Since yesterday disagreements among different fractions, minigarchic families and simple political tricksters have intensified again. I very much hope that not only unexpectedly nice spring weather is the reason for such an active positioning in the public space.

First, the People's Party (TP) revived its onslaught against the head of the Anti Fraud Agency (KNAB). Immediately, Mr Loskutovs who is the head of the KNAB responded that neither TP nor prime minister's Union of First and Latvian Way parties have paid circa EUR 2,1mlj. into state treasury. The hefty sum is to be paid due to the misspent funds during illegal election campaign in September 2006. PM's party continues its prime example of legal nihilism and wrote about it already before.

Also, the new political party is founded this weekend under aegis of Ms Kalniete and Mr Kristovskis - The Civic Union. Lets hope that this civic action would be lengthy enough to sustain its life after more and more revelations from the General Prosecutor's office come out.

Present accusations remind me simply mud slinging that I have seen before, and lets see how will it end now:).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Change the structure or die!

While thinking how to name this piece I was inspired by my colleague's article. Jānis Bērziņš reference about economic ills in Brazil in the late 1980's, and the famous phrase "export or die" actually was first used by Nazi Germany policy makers. Knowing the past of Latin American juntas it becomes understandable now through where did Brazilians learn the strategy first proposed by Friedrich List from. Brazilians were not the only ones actually, because Friedrich List inspired almost all countries in South East Asia, and his National System of Political Economy served literally as a bible for the architects of Asian economic boom from Japan in the 19th to Deng's China in the 20th century.

Japanese and the rest of Asia after the World War 2 totally changed structure of their economic system, thus affecting also subsequent political and social transformations. Results of "Asian Miracle" are widely known and the world's economic powerhouse has gradually moved in the late 20th century from the Transatlantic area to the Pacific.

It does not imply now that if Latvian or any other Central European policy makers would copy Japanese or Chinese model they would automatically start prospering, however. The point is somewhere else, and that is the compatibility of the foreign economic models with the existing social and material infrastructure. The key for the ability to make comprehensive and sustainable transition from one economic system into another is hidden in using the best brains in a given country possible. In order to nurture the best brains there is a need for cohesive tertiary education system which is based on principles of meritocracy. Meritocracy is the last thing cherished in Latvia however.

Just listen to PM Godmanis, Transport Supremo, Education Minister and other members of the present political "elite". All previously mentioned persons in their public utterances constantly ask the question - why does young generation not want to join party politics, become teachers or academics, and work in Latvia at all? The answer is simple ladies and gentlemen, that in order to work somewhere it isn't your merits what counts but your social networks, with all the consequences to bear! Such social networking system starts from high school where students with extremely bad grades are still promoted through the schooling system. Then they squeeze into university, and they continue their squeezing through the system in labour market in the manner of George W. Bush.

The difference between the US and Latvia is the sheer size of people and lack of totalitarian experience in the United States. The US system is far from perfect, and quality of its public schools directly depend on the ability to collect property tax from affluent folks (that explains bad schools in run down areas in Harlem, Bronx etc.), but at least the US has the best university system. It means that Universities can attract the best students from all over the world and thus balance off relative shortcomings of its public education system.

Latvian university lecturers and professors, instead of devoting their time for research and working with best students, most of their time must work with students of questionable quality. University attendance has exponentially increased, but it has happened due to the exponential decline of vocational and technical school attendance. With few exceptions there is no real campus traditions, that would make Latvian students socially active. Students attend not different lectures at universitas but are pushed through the system like in the vocational school. The bottom line is that students work in order to pay for their studies and in their free time they also study, and such "system" or vicious circle stands rock solid now.

If one looks on the OECD Pisa results then one may notice the trend in East Asian economies, their schoolchildren are getting better and better. Also the number of Asian students in the best US, European and Australian universities keeps increasing.

Results of Latvian schoolchildren, however, have declined in most areas of evaluation. As a university lecturer I see that preparedness of Latvian students is declining from year to year. And it is no surprise, because selfish and often poorly educated Latvian government administrators provide teachers only with promises and salaries that would not allow them to starve. Such issues as comprehensive evaluation system with courses for their professional upgrade or foreign visits are on paper only. In order to keep both ends meet in the situation where teachers hemorrhage out to the Western part of Europe those who stay at home work at least two shifts and they are simply overworked (in September 2007 there were 475 official teacher's posts in Latvia that were officially unfulfilled).

Such things as comprehensive and structural reform of the Latvian education system should go hand in hand with reforming the structure of the national budget priorities and the way taxes are determined and collected. Latvian politicians are afraid to reform, however, and there is up to now no one to reign in the ballooning red tape. Thus apathy prevails now also among the guild of dedicated enthusiasts - teachers, lecturers and professors.

I don't even want to speak about the language policy in universities. Latvian language should be promoted, aye. But there should be a balance found between preservation of the Latvian language culture and supplying the most essential spheres of Latvian economy and social infrastructure with best professionals possible, even if they are educated in English, German, French or Russian.

Constantly dragged and half-cooked reforms only increased prejudices among different groups in Latvian society. It means that it puts supporters of purity of Latvian language on defensive and only gives rise to intolerance in Latvia. Latvian society is literally caught today between financially not so promising West and the Eastern "candy man". Selfish benefits are at stake for the minigarchic families and their underlings. Long term goals of the state, which still is the primary agent in the international system, have been forgotten and it was very vividly exemplified by couple of high ranking civil servants in private conversation with me. I asked, "why Latvian political government dares to employ such reckless and outright corrupt policies"? An answer was - "because we are in the EU and they cannot afford to let us down". If such "slave" mentality prevails among political elite, then it only underlines my previous assumption, that the present elite is uneducated and foolishly naive.

Latvian present economic structure cannot sustain its exponential increase of burgeoning red tape without structural reforms in most of the interconnected sectors of its national economy. Thus, the slogan during this year of global economic downturn in Latvia should be simple - change the structure or die!

Monday, April 21, 2008

It was not just a birthday "seminar"

I shall be very short this time. Yesterday I wrote about the facts TV3 was reporting, and derided the sickly Latvian governance system. Earlier Pēteris shortly described formal story behind the former E-Minister "birthday seminar". And today also the Latvian Intelligence Agency (SAB) approved yesterday's news as correct. Simply the press officer of the SAB Ms Iveta Maura differed in her statement from the TV3 journalist's version in certain details.

So, the official statement of the SAB press officer to the Latvian Radio 1 was, that the former E-minister contacted SAB and asked them to consult her after she was approached by shady politicians. SAB simply continued their job guaranteeing security of the electronic data processing in this country. It seems that there are quite few people who do not like increased strength of the europeanization winds in this country...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unhealthy party political games

Those of you intimately following Latvian political developments I'd like to ask you to scroll down and read the update of this Wednesday's blog entry. It would save your time, and thus, would allow me to bring out another detail of the peculiar Latvian political culture - a scam.

About month ago the former PM visited the University of Latvia political science students and bragged in front of them about being the candidate for the post of the president, but not really willing to take such a responsibility. His speech to the students is not reproduced here due to the fact that it did not contain a single line of policy proposals or his ideological stance. However, his smug presentation style and openly hostile attitude about other members of the political theatre makes me to conclude, that the present Latvian political elite is disgustingly sick. Just to bring you an example, former PM marvel in his speech was his assumption that paramount task of policy making in parliamentary democracy is to trick political competitors, because policies are made by civil servants, anyway.

Another proof for sickness of the governing elite came out during the "strawberry cake affair" of the E-minister Ina Gudele. Last week in his interview to Latvijas Avīze Gundars Bērziņš was vicariously suggesting that there is Latvian Intelligence Agency (SAB) spook in the government. Today's TV3 "Nekā personīga" had made an investigation and considered this option seriously, thus coming to conclusion that Gudele was wasted for non-compliance to the governing coalition "unwritten rules". Gudele in her Latvian TV1 interview accepted last summer the fact that SAB was interested in her work. Thus, according to TV3 , there was probably an idea to force Gudele to publicly denounce the Kažociņš candidature for the SAB post, while his candidature was slowly dragged through the corridors of the Latvian government, and morally corrupt coalition members continued their smear campaign against him.

Ina Gudele apparently did not comply with "lettish omerta", and thus, according to TV3 her exit was quickly "organized" by finding that she organized her birthday party whilst using taxpayers monies. Government cannot hide the fact, however, that Olita Magone , who was the undersecretary of the E-secretariat at the the time, was also responsible for organizing the ominous "birthday party/seminar". Ina Gudele fired Olita Magone after Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) found that she was the mastermind behind the scam selling Latvian passports to shady customers mostly from the Commonwealth of the Independent States.

The payback of Magone vs. Gudele sounds understandable now, but the fact that proxy fights are used for the AAA team bigwigs, also shows how sickly childish the Latvian governance system is. As an outcome Ms Gudele not only handed in the letter of resignation but also terminated her membership in the Union of Greens and Farmers party. Another person is being offered on the altar for whims of Latvian oligarchic clans. "Honorary head" of the AAA team, Andris Šķēle cowardly pulls strings while using his university buddy Gundars Bērziņš verbal diarrhea. Another member of the triple A team, Aivars Lembegs is simply let free by Latvian judiciary, even to openly meet his "stipendiaries" in Saeima. Minigarchs still rule this country and apparently about 90 % of eligible electors find it traditional enough to accept it as a fact of life... .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Free fall of the government continued (updated)

Because the Baltic States economies are interdependently connected it should be obvious that tremors in one economy is reverberated into another. The Bank of Estonia downgraded the 2008 Estonia's economic growth prognosis of the ministry of finance from 3,7 to 2%. In the meantime Latvian PM probably likes his media promoted "image of martyrdom", and still finds optimism saying that Latvia can manage soft landing. It does not help the government from its continued free fall after all. It is widely known that PM works hard (lights in his Brīvības St. cabinet are constantly on long after midnight), however, the ministers he works with are the same as in previous government.


It is Thursday morning, and there is Saeima session today. The Lettish talking shop/parliament (parler - to talk in French) should approve Jānis Kāžociņš as the head of the Latvian Security Service (SAB) today, and the State Security Council already reached the consensus in his support. Actually there were quite many politicians (Jaundžeikars, Segliņš, Bērziņš Gundars) who openly continue to show their dissatisfaction with such a consensus agreement. Saeima would vote openly today (at least MP's said so), thus it would be interesting to see those ominous AYE's and NAY's.

Political system is still reconfigured in Latvia. Rumours whirl about all kind of constellations, possible JL+TP block, fall of government due to the inability to agree on the administrative reform, and myriad of other petit politique issues. President in the meantime openly scolded the E-minister for agreeing to celebrate her birthday in the ministry whilst using taxpayers monies. Both PM and president even think that such misshap is thus serious that she should consider stepping down from her post as the minister. Both gentlemen comfortably forget that Mr Goodman's paymaster Šlesers alias Transport Supremo should be literally sent to the moon for all his MISSHAPS as the minister. Also we have tax evading president, and neither Internal Revenue Service (VID) nor parliament considers it as a problem. But that is too much as to expect rational behaviour from Latvian ministers and incumbent president, however, still sad...


It is Saturday evening and after ominous birthday celebration the Prime Minister accepted resignation of the E-Minister Ina Gudele. She headed the E-secretariat as the Special Assignments Minister responsible for Electronic Governance. It means that on Monday the head of the government and his public relation people will have to think hard. Because the question now is about the face saving of the government, and stakes are high. How to simultaneously legitimize acceptance of E-Minister's resignation for entertaining civil servants at her birthday party for the scanty 1000EUR of taxpayers monies, and explain why he still intimately holds to Transport Supremo who allowed bankruptcy of the Latvian Post Plc. and overlooks one of the most expensive road building cartels in the world (proven by the State Audit Office!!!)?

Opposition party quite correctly pointed out to the coalition government the need to rethink the raison d'etre of the E-secretariat. The major reason for creating such an institution was to introduce the system of electronic signatures and to help to digitize the work of Latvian government. Electronic signature system is still miles away, and just compare official Estonian and Latvian e-governance webpages to understand the difference. In the meantime coalition government reiterates that the "good work" of the e-secretariat should be continued, brrrrr...

P.S. Actually there are three Special assignment ministries at the present moment in Latvia - secretariats of E-governance, social integration and EU funds governance - with special assignment ministers heading them. At the time when global economic downturn is just on the threshold, it would be efficient and also reasonable to integrate the e-secretariat into the ministry of transport and communications, EU funds governance into ministry of finance, and finally the social integration is the function also ministry of justice deals with. The BIGGEST problem in Latvia is the stagnant administrative structure however. Ministers, whilst following the path of totalitarian Soviet social structure, serve their mandate not as servants (ministere - to serve in Latin) but literally as masters to their flock of slaves...and the slave mentality is as prevalent among majority in this country as the master mentality among minuscule gang of questionably educated tricksters, unfortunately.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Second signature campaign is over

Less than a year later after the signature campaign against the virtual coup d'etat in Latvia (government changing security laws on the last day of 2006), there is almost as identical number of signatures collected as in April 2008. While in May 2007 there were 212 000 signatures, this year there are about 213 000 signatures collected in order to initiate constitutional amendments.

After a week another signature collection campaign would start and that one will be about amendments in pension laws. Initiators of this campaign wanted to hold the signature collection campaign simultaneously with the campaign that successfully ended yesterday. Nevertheless, Latvian political "elite" was scared to loose their perks. Therefore they thought that while keeping those two campaigns apart there would not be quorum for initiation of at least one referendum. Whilst doing it "our responsible" leaders made Latvian taxpayers to pay additional LVL 570 000 (its the sum one signature collection campaign costs). Democracy is expensive regime indeed, but its worth to pay such sums knowing that gradually it will allow us to get rid of inefficient "governors". Thus there would be no need for addition and symbolically annual 570 000Ls expenses. I hope that one day there would be a chance to have MP's who would legislate and not just continue their talking shop and travel to exotic countries without knowledge and understanding that they travel for the need of civitas and not just ego or oligarchia.

If one looks into Eurobarometer data then one may find reasons for Latvian public making referendum already second year in a row. I made a small research last year, and compared support for the government & parliament in Estonia, EU (an average), Latvia and Lithuania. I made the table only from YES answers. Undecided voters are fluctuating from 3-5%, thus the rest you may calculate yourself are representing NO's. Number 1 displays result of the spring poll and the second row (without a number) displays the autumn poll.

Q: Do you trust your government? YES answers

Q: Do you trust your parliament? YES answers

There are similarities between lack of trust for the government in Latvia and Lithuania. Both countries, however, are miles away from Estonia and the autumn Eurobarometer data clearly shows that lack of trust for the government in Latvia has stagnated below the legitimacy line of the democratic system (19% support for the government and only 16% for the parliament).

The number 213 000 is roughly 10% of the total number of inhabitants in Latvia and that is the most active one. However, I would argue that the first 5% are "true" activists (135000 signatures given until April 8), because another 5% of signatures were collected literally during last two days of the election campaign. It is a usual trend already, and it shows that majority of Latvians like to be led by collective action. What do I mean by this is the fact that instead of making up their mind on their own, and going and signing in relative calm about 100 000 citizens preferred to stay in long queues where they could chitchat and/or let the steam out. There are several reasons for such behaviour, and they would be discussed another time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Referendum to come! (updated)

There are long queues in Riga even in this drizzly weather. All signs show that the first step in cleaning up the traditional nepotism in this country would be taken after all. It was a time after all. The process would be long and tedious, and another food of thought for such contemplations was the vote of no confidence about the Minister of Transport. Obviously he was able to stay in power with 49 AYE's and only 25 NAY'es. After all, there are still some European funds to appropriate for your famiglia Transport Supremo, avanti, avanti!!


In the Latvian TV evening news (Panorāma) the Head of Latvian Central Election Bureau Mr Atis Cimdars approved that during last two days there was an amount of 30% of previously collected signatures collected (30% of 135000= 45000), thus repeating the trend that took place exactly a year ago. The TVNET website, while basing its information on LETA news agency just announced that preliminary final number of signatures would be somewhere around 180 000.

It is early Friday morning and in his radio interview the Head of Latvian Central Election Bureau confirmed his yesterday's predictions about increasing trend of signatures during last two days. Now, the preliminary number stands at 213 000 signatures, LETA just reported.

P.S. Those of you reading Estonian may find my commentary in Postimees today.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Forget economic downturn says Latvian "elite" (updated)

Today's Apollo published a quick review where two simple graphs show actual and percentage increase of salaries of the 20 Latvian public sector top managers. Previous and incumbent PM keep reiterating to the Latvian folks that they should seriously limit their expenses, because of expected economic downturn. Latvian top managers seem to care less. Actually it seems that hefty 38-70% annual increase for "some" in public sector from 2006-2007 is due to their brave determination to "fight inflation (!)", and thus allowing Latvian economy to pass the economic abyss:) Day after tomorrow in April 11 preliminary results for initiation of the referendum will be known as well there will be special session on Lattelecom privatization deal.

In the meantime, tomorrow there is the day of reckoning for the Transport Supremo. Opposition New Era party (JL) demanded the vote of non confidence about Mr Šlesers because of his incompetence whilst overseeing the work of the Latvian Post Plc., impeding competition in RIX, allowing mismanagement and not providing competition in Latvian road building sector etc, etc.

Transport Supremo studied in the same school I went, the Riga Secondary School No. 25. Differently from most of us he finished elementary school at No. 25, and further continued in vocational school. He was a grade older than me and I do remember how Mr Lešinskis (he took his wife's surname after the marriage) was very active selling jeans and other items at school in the late 1980's. He is a good manager, and he actually fits well into the post-Soviet management culture in Latvia. The major tenet of such "management culture"is that the you cannot manage anything without political networks, and state administrative capacity is undermind with the lack of transparent rules.

Such management culture still thrives in Latvia, but simulataneous challenges from globalization (trade and financial liberalization) and EU legal norms turn the "traditional Latvian management culture" into a drag on economy. Changes are in the air and Transport Supremo should better think about exiting from politics. Actually, today's Kas notiek Latvijā TV show is devoted solely to the question of "to be or not to be transport supremo". It is going to be a good show and update would probably follow.


The TV debates ended with the usually high number (7902) of telephone voters saying that Transport Supremo is simply not up to his task. Opponents to such opinion were scanty 300. There is an opinion that teledebate has no direct effect on the way realpolitik works. Obviously in the parliamentary system minister should not resign just because spectators in some TV debate deem it right. Nevertheless, temperature of the public opinion is a very serious factor for stability of the government in "old democracies" and I would argue that increasingly so also in "new democracies". If not Kas notiek Latvijā show we would not have even budding civil society today. Every quality discussion I believe gradually brakes the untouchable oriole of Latvian politicians and civil servants. In effect the teledabate was created for upgrading the culture of political discussion in Latvia, and those were prominent intelligentsia members who promoted creation of Kas notiek Latvijā.

For the sake of the signature collection campaign the manner Mr Šlesers rebuked arguments of opposition actually worked well. The fact is that Transport Supremo proved that he has learned only couple of maxims of Machiavellian politics - to avoid answers to direct questions with auxiliary "number crunching" and to speak eloquently. In fact Mr Šlesers "number crunching" looked silly and his eloquent speech is balancing on shallow demagoguery. In addition it was just sick to hear his Communist Youth style bragging about the megalomaniac plans to have roads better that in Estonia in five years whilst the latest report of IMF(pp.85-88) just came in. Transport Supremo is not just academically unprepared (he does not have university degree), but he is also caught unawares about the fact that Machiavelli usually stressed the virtue of promoting interests of res publica and not just una famiglia!!!

Whilst answering about the sorry state of the Latvian Post Plc, his excuse was that there are too many redundant workers and that he tried to get more help from the government, and that he succeeded in this endeavour. Talking about the sorry state of Latvian Roads Plc, lack of competition in road building his excuse was absolute under financing of Latvian roads before him, because Mr Repše (New Era party) had liquidated state roads financial fund, and the fact that European companies are not interested to enter into the small Latvian market. Direct questions from opposition members were not answered.

In nutshell following questions were asked. Ceteris paribus, while costs of road building in the Baltic states are almost the same, why is it so that street signs and 1 km or road expenses are twice as expensive in Latvia, why sand expenses in Latvia are twice as expensive in Lithuania, why Finnish and Swedish raodbuilders work in Estonian market that is actually smaller than Latvia??? All these questions were unanswered and I am sure the scattered opposition members will repeat the same questions tomorrow in the Saeima where they have initiated the Minister of Transport vote of non confidence.

In the meantime the coalition still looks rock solid and even opposition Reconciliation Party said that they would not support the vote of non confidence, because ...guess what?? You are right, because Mr Šlesers is the only minister who supports allowing non-citizens to participate in municipal elections!!! Such thing as consistency of issues debated in any municipal council or in Saeima, or rational policy making is simply ABSENT so far...still sad:(

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Still some way to go to referendum? (updated)

The Latvian Central Election Bureau just reported that 134 966 citizens gave their signatures for initiation of the referendum that would give not only president (Art. 48), but also certain number of citizens to initiate snap elections (Art. 78, 79). In order to collect the 149 064 signatures (10% of electors of the last elections) the Latvian civil society is still about 14 000 signatures short.

Representatives from the Association of Free Trade Unions believe that they might count also circa 11 000 signatures that allowed to start the signature collection campaign. This hope might turn out to be misleading, however, because the most active and responsible part of civil society usually do the signing sometimes without properly following for what is it really for, because they stand for a cause. For example, I did not know that my signature for initiation of the signature campaign would count also for the campaign that would end day after tomorrow.

It means, that in order to be on the safe side, the Association of Free Trade Unions and civil society at large must collect at least 24 thousand additional votes till April 10, 2008.


It is Wednesday noon and vDiena reports that people stand in queues in order to sign to initiate the referendum that would bring constitutional amendments in Latvia. Already in Tuesday evening news several prominent opinion makers (Sallija Benfelde, Kārlis Streips and Askolds Rodins) called citizens to really think about the significance of the upcoming referendum.
Pessimism prevails among civil society members, especially seeing how marketing strategy serves the purpose of the red coloured rag for the consumer in Stockmann crazy arenas in Riga and Tallinn today. In the meantime someone is still humorous these days, including Diena cartoonist Ernests who's "kalvitis" announces : "I reckon than in order to promote the Latvian entertainment industry, we gotta join forces with Russia and create another TV show..." ...."and dance after the GAZPROM doodle/"

The Saeima emergency session just ended, where scattered opposition demanded the government with their project to have a clear answer, not to drop the coal and biomass powered station construction from government medium planning documents and to start immediately working on the planning document. Majority of parliamentarians after the Ivars Godmanis speech, where he promised a detailed answer about Latvian long term energy policy in his 100 days in the office speech, said NAY to the opposition project. The project was a bit too vague I should say, but at least there is more clarity now about where Latvia stands prior amendments in the Energy bill should be voted into law in Saeima on April 10, 2008.

The project, most importantly, does not bar construction of the coal and biomass powered electricity station. The question about state guarantees (using public funds) to the gas powered station is still open. Funniest part of the proposed amendments is at the end of the document. On questions whether social partners were questioned, or whether public was informed about amendments, there is a blunt answer NO! Also, quite interestingly in the list of NGO's who were involved discussing aforementioned amendments are Latvijas Gāze Ltd and Latvenergo Plc.....

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Even bridges are the most expensive in Latvia...

I came to visit my friend Jānis Bērziņš who lives next to the newly built Southern bridge (Dienvidu tilts) accross the Daugava river. After discussing peculiarities of the political culture in Latvia yesterday I just had to write about the bridge, because it could actually bring Latvia into the Guinness book of records for the greatest amount of misspent public funds.

Here is the picture of the Southern bridge that is still under construction and should be finished until the end of the 2008. Whilst looking out of the window I see that ramps off the major arteries have only one lane, whilst customarily in any other country of the world they have at least two lanes.


Now, please compare this photo with the next photography.


This is the Millau bridge in France and it is considered as the marvel of technology in France. It is three times (!!!) longer than the Southern Bridge accross the river Daugava in Riga. The GPS system and other high tech devices by Swiss engineers were used for building pylons of this bridge, and you may find technological characteristics here. I have not noticed that there are particularly demanding technological solutions involved in building the Southern bridge. Also, and most importantly, problems start when we compare costs of the two bridges. According to official information the already finished Millau bridge cost EUR 394 million.

In comparison with Millau technological marvel the Southern bridge's first two stages already cost more than Ls 176 mlj (EUR271 mlj) for Riga taxpayers. According to latest estimates the total costs of the bridge should exceed Ls 568 millions (EUR812 mlj.), and it is not even the final calculation yet!! There are also other publications about excessive costs of "the golden bridge", and also the Latvian State Audit Office plans to make a full investigation from May-December 2008. Head of the Office Ms Ingūna Sudraba already announced that the building process is not truly transparent, and she has already found that there are illegal acts performed whilst getting the Latvian state to secure the loan from the Deutche Bank. The official blueprint and costs calculations were voted by the City of Riga councillors as secret, thus there is no possibility for investigative journalists to find out more.

Donations to political parties

It was a very laborious evening discussing peculiarities of Latvian politics with my colleagues Andris Sprūds and Jānis Bērziņs yesterday. After all the gloomy scenarios I wanted to keep a positive tone today. It is spring weather outside, its sunny and Latvian U-18 ice hockey squad keeps its winning streak. However, my hopes of positive Sunday were crushed with latest news about official donations to Latvian parties.

According to latest news from LETA it is Peoples Party (TP) who leads the list followed by LP/LPP and New Era parties. According to latest data TP received donations totaling Ls 13400.

Head of Aglona municipality Ms Helēna Streiķe donated Ls3900, Līvāni municipality head Andris Vaivods donated Ls 2900. These sums look like peanuts, but if one considers that Latgale region(both Aglona and Līvani are in Latgale) was the poorest in the EU prior Romania and Bulgaria joined the club, one must start thinking how the governance system works in Latvia Ltd. Also, the Deputy Maire of Riga Andris Ameriks (LC/LPP) donated his party Ls10 000, thus why do I have such inquisitive tone?

Because I could somehow understand Mr Ameriks donating 15000 euros to his party, because his 2007 income declaration states that he "earned" in boards of public companies and Riga municipality about Ls 177 000 (250 000EUR). But Ms Streiķe earned only Ls23000 and Mr Vaivods about Ls30000. I do not want to count their monies, although the Internal Revenue Service might question the reliability of remuneration system in regional councils and development agencies, but the sums (10% of their annual income donated to their party) look conspicuously like a traditional tithe.
It is widely accepted "secret" that heads of municipalities in Latvia have a duty to support their party treasury. After all their salaries and state allocated monies to support infrastructure of their municipality very much depend on their ability to "support" their party. A vicious circle?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Will there be rule of law?

After the parliamentary elections in 2006 the Senate of the Supreme Court made a decision (November 13, 2006) that two parties (Peoples party(TP) and Union of Latvian Way and First parties (LC/LPP)) breached the election law. The Court's decision stopped in half way, and it said that the breaches were not as significant as to announce the elections as illegitimate. Opposition parties brought this decision of the Supreme Court to the Court in Brussels, where they lost the case because of its political nature.

Both parties were campaigning through "third parties". "Third party" election financing is a very tricky issue and it is not properly regulated in most European states. Nevertheless, the Anti corruption agency (KNAB) made a decision, that TP & LC/LPP have to pay back monies that exceeded official limits into state treasury. According to KNAB calculations both parties together should repay circa 1,5mlj lats (about 2 mlj euros), that would eventually bankrupt those parties. Both TP and LC/LPP claim that they have not performed any illegal acts, and thus the case is pending in the Administrative Court. Because Administrative courts are overburdened, the case might take years prior the court would pass its final verdict. Also the case might simply expire after thus many years, but illegally elected politicians could continue to enjoy their status of untouchables.

In addition to that, like a snow from the sky, in today's Latvian media LC/LPP party several members came up with a novel idea. The head of Saeima National Security Commission Dzintars Jaunžeikars, for example, openly states, that "LC/LPP party is a different legal entity after its last party congress (January 27, 2007), thus it should not be responsible for anything [including the allegation of breaching the election law] that did the Union of LC/LPP". Legal nihilism par excellence!!!! And all this at a time when statutes of LC/LPP party openly state that the newly founded LC/LPP party is responsible for all the deeds of its predecessors!!!

In Estonia such actions are called JOKK (juriidiliselt on kōik korrektne - in legal terms everything is alright) politics. It is this peculiar post Soviet politics where the same folks pass, change (very often past the date) and implement legal norms. If such tactics of the prime minister's party would succeed it would create a prime precedent for burial of the rule of law in this country, and gradual demise of the state. Short and simple!

P.S. Thus, why do people wonder about folks leaving this country for better life in Western parts of the EU!! When Brussels officialdome and civil society in Latvia Ltd. will finally wake up?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Past coming back, unfortunately...

At this very moment I am listening to the CNN and broadcasters are delivering news about sorry state of Italian flag carrier "Alitalia". Unfortunately it is no news anymore, the same as the sorry state of democratic culture in Latvia. Today, whilst Latvian government continuously suffers under strains of non confidence, there was a funny news from the sky!

According to "Diena" students from suburban Ogre flushed photo of the Latvian president Valdis Zatlers into WC. Prior flushing photo there was someone who made the picture out of the tax evading presidents photo in WC, and later put that picture into their mobile phones. Subsequently someone passed it further to their classmates. Apparently this picture became such a HIT in Ogre locality, that even local police officers visited students and wanted to delete so called obnoxious pictures from student's mobile phones.[fortunately Latvian Ombudsman office overruled such frivolity of Ogre policemen]

Whilst reading this news reminded me about something deja vue, and it made me to look after Jaroslav Hašek's "The Brave Soldier Svejk during the WW1"(Jaroslavs Hašeks, "Krietnā Kareivja Šveika Dēkas Pasaules Karā", Rīga: Jumava, 1998, p. 19) from the shelf. Thus, to proceed with my story I want to quote some lines from the aforementioned book. The discussion takes place in a simple Prague pub between secret police spy Bratschneider, the barman, and the brave soldier Svejk.

"Bratschneider said that in Sarajevo someone shot Archeduke Ferdinande, thus mister barman, what would you say about that?

Originally I [barman] am not mingling in such issues and they can really blow me for that...whilst blowing his own pipe in the meantime. Actually, the barman continued, persons who meddle in those affairs too much usually break their neck. I am an owner of the bar. If someone orders beer, I serve the one, but any politics of Sarajevo and Archdukes smells like Pancrace [famous prison in Prague].
Bratschneider was disappointed and looked around in an empty room. Not finding anyone he continued, that he remembered that instead of mirror on the wall in the same place there was the picture of the family of the Archduke hanging some time ago.

Indeed, you are right, responded owner of the bar Mr Pavlivec, but flies were shitting on it thus I put it into attic. You know, if I would speak too much there would be more hassle, and who needs it after all."

Thus, Bratschneider saw the foolish soldier Svejk. Whilst drinking and agitating Bratschneider did everything to trick and accuse him for treason. After lengthy arguments about infidel Turks and half christian Germans and Austrians Bratschneider was able to "hook" Svejk. "So, said Bratschneider [whilst looking on Svejk] you said that flies were shitting on the Archduke, but wait and we shall change your brains." While Svejk and owner of the bar Pavlivec were brought to the secret police station the wife of the bar owner Pavlivec was sobbing. Whilst seeing it, the owner of the bar was calming her: "Do not cry and whine too much! What the state powers can do to me for the sake of one official picture full of fly shit?"

That is a nice and long story, but today the same story was ALMOST verbatim repeated with Latvian policemen checking Ogre students for flushing picture of Latvian president in WC... .

To finish this story I decided to translate the most popular comments in the liberal "Diena", because the "Latvian toilet flushed presidential picture" caused quite a stir today.

No 1. Vilis said that "Katram demokrātiju cienošam latvietim šodien podā jābūt zatlera portetam" [Every Latvian who cherishes democracy should have portrait of zatlers in their WC]
No 2. Ino said that "Neuzskatu šos skolniekus par varoņiem, bet par patstāvīgi loģiski spriest spējīgiem jaunajiem Latvijas pilsoņiem. Visu cieņu jaunajai paaudzei, kauns policijai, kura gadu gadiem nespēj atklāt tiesneša Laukrozes slepkavību un citus kliedzošus noziegumus, bet atrod laiku pensionāru un skolnieku terorizēšanai" [I do not consider these schoolchildren as heroes, but as mature young fellows. Respect for young generation of Latvians, shame on police who cannot reveal the death of judge Laukroze and other crimes, but find enough time to terrorise after students and pensioners"]
No. 3 Zekunde said " O, jēziņ! Staļina laikā kāds nešpetns skolnieks vecajam gruzīnu komunistam bildē piezīmēja klāt asti un ragus. Nu tad nu puiku izsvieda no skolas, māti no darba, bet rajona miličiem un čekistiem bija daudz darba un labs iemsles saņemt prēmijas par valsts ienaidnieka neitralizēšanu. [ O Jesus! During occupation time there was a student who drew horns and tail on the picture of Stalin. The boy was expelled from the school, the mother was fired, but the regional militia workers had enough time and opportunities to receive bonuses and additional income for neutralisation of the state enemy!]

Spring blues... except Latvia Ltd?

I am dealing with bureaucratic paperwork while in Latvia now. I had to acquire just few papers, but spent some time and money in order to have them in order timely. In the meantime I have spoken with several entrepreneurs in Latvia and I do understand when they curse Latvia Ltd. for its endemic bureaucracy...this country has far too many obstacles for truly free economic activity. In the meantime it is Latvian Transport Supremo who is under fire in Latvia today. He is in safe waters because the PM is his guardian, and even the voluminous report of the State Audit office is not shaking his position.

The state audit office accuses the Ministry of Transport and organization under its supervision, the Latvian Roads Plc (Latvijas Ceļi) in mismanagement of public resources. The PM biggest excuse for pardoning his buddy Šlesers is the lack of competition in the sector of road building in Latvia!!! Can you imagine, in the free market of EU the PM could find the only excuse - the lack of competition, for Gods sake!!!! In Estonia it has been Lemminkainen and Swedish road builders who have constructed roads last ten years, and I have not heard that Estonians have whined about the lack of competition. In Lithuania they have first class roads and the Latvian PM whined that Lithuanians have not showed considerable interest about Latvian road market...But why should any newcomer into Latvian road building market want to come if they know that there are the same winners in public tenders. The State Audit office in its rapport openly states that ACB company was chosen as the only candidate in 35% of cases, and couple of three companies (ACB among then) won 65% of tenders.

Latvia is not transparent market and it sets it apart from Estonia for example. Will see how long the corrupt elite will strangle the Latvian civil society? In the meantime it is weird to sea sea change of politics all around of world but not in this country. Belgium got its government last month after nine month Calvary. Poland chose to follow the way of europeanization last year. Georgia and Ukraine have changed their leadership after pressure from civil society, and also these days it was Robert Mugabe who most probably would have to step down after being 28 years in the office. Latvian quadriumvirate is holding to power and even though fall of the government is now openly spoken in governing circles. However, I am afraid that without sharp economic downturn and consequently people becoming agitated there is not chance to topple the Latvian post-soviet Mandarin class.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Referendum after all? (updated)

Today the Central Electoral Bureau of Latvia published intermediary data of signatures collection campaign. The signatures collection campaign is needed for initiation of the referendum that would enable civil society in Latvia to rid itself from the illegitimate Quadriumvirate of coalition parties.

Coalition parties cannot agree on the best "privatization" deal of the Lattelecom Plc. The deals and swaps of stocks between Lattelecom, Latvian Mobile Telephony (LMT), Telia Sonera and Balckstone Group are thus complicated, that there is a need for team of experts to realize who wants to overplay whom. The fact that there are several intermediaries proves to me, that the state treasury would get the least out for this scandalous privatization deal. Thus all the extravagant plans about the new library also euphemistically called the "the Castle of Light" would simply turn out to be baloney or "castles of Air". The PM announced on April 1, that there will be voting procedure with every minister given the freedom to choose the best privatization deal possible next Tuesday. With such a choice of liberty in cabinet voting (that should strive for unanimity by definition) I would argue that next Tuesday vote would initiate gradual demise of the existing government.

In the meantime Vents Krauklis (the Head of Saeima energy commission) had an lengthy article in "Diena" today with a flood of inconsistent and openly demagogic arguments. I was glad to read that the head of Latvian North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (LATO) Mr Sandis Šrāders was quickly and very effectively able to retort to wrong arguments of the Saeima head of the energy commission (TP member), GOOD INDEED!

The latest news from the CVK show that 82 495 citizens (55%) have already signed for the initiation of the referendum. These news are good, but in the meantime one still must wait till the April 10 deadline, when the final date for circa 150 000 signatures to be collected expires.


It is early Wednesday morning and there are more news coming out to support the initiation of the referendum. "Diena" reports that there are several new candidates for the post of the Latvian Intelligence Service (SAB). In his March 31 radio interview (Latvian Radio 1) Valdis Zatlers approved that the state Security Council would chose the new head of SAB by April 11. In his interview he did show vicarious support for the incumbent head of the SAB Jānis Kažociņš. I was taking this lack of support as a sign that incumbent president is not really impartial in his decision making.

My apprehensions are supported by the head of People's Party (TP) parliamentary fraction Māris Kučinskis, who believes that the head of the intelligence service should not be in power longer than five years. Such notion would disqualify the incumbent head of the SAB Mr Kažociņš. Also, and very similar to the presidential election "campaign" last May, Mr Aivis Ronis (former Ambassador in Washington D.C.), and the chief Administrator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr Normunds Penke were proposed for the position. Mr Aivis Ronis declined such news saying, that he does not believe that he could become the next head of the SAB.

Funniest news just came out from Latvian radio. Latvian Radio 1 interviewed Mr Aivis Ronis and inquired him about the NATO Bucharest summit and the proposed candidacy to the post in SAB. Aivis Ronis was very concise and diplomatic in his answers, and the conclusion of an interview was that probably the president and ministers are endowed with enough common sense to choose the best candidate for the post of the intelligence agency.

Irony of the previous conclusion is that I believe neither in impartiality of the incumbent president nor in several ministers and the head of Saeima security committee Mr Dzintrs Jaundžeikars. Forget about the fact that president Zatlers was "found" in Riga Zoo. Yesterday it became public that he did not report a single line about his illegal payments in his annual income declaration! Either Internal Revenue Service is blind in Latvia, or incumbent president is gradually becoming more similar to inmates of the institution he was actually found? Actually, inmates of that institution were simply called "more equal than others" in the famous essay of George Orwell "Animal Farm". But here I am probably becoming too ironic. Thus, political columnist Ms Laila Pakalniņa from "Diena" states very simply: "president most probably submitted his income declaration prior April 1, thus customarily to this day of humour Valdis Zatlers is not even able to joke about his payments in funny April, April style", sad.