Monday, June 30, 2008
In yesterday's emergency session the judicial commission bypassed the Saeima procedures (thus the opposition New Era (JL) arty already announced that they will try to overrule this decision in the Constitutional court). The motion of laying off the head of the Anti Corruption Agency Mr Loskutovs was brought to the parliament as a separate emergency session after all, and no rational arguments of the motley opposition helped here. The People's Party (TP) representatives were not even hiding their angst and with 53 AYS in the 100 member parliament Loskutovs was sacked from his post.
The former PM Kalvītis was thus happy about firing Mr Loskutovs that he could not hide it from the Saeima pulpit. He came out with another pearl a'la Kalvītis, announcing that, "the performance of Mr Loskutovs has made all the MP's into criminals in the eyes of commoners". His bravado in front of the MP's was a meek cover, because yesterday he was thus afraid of the peaceful demonstration in the front of the parliament, that he had to be escorted by the police and entered into the Saeima from the back doors. Also the speaker of the parliament Mr Daudze is his morning radio interview found excuses of avoiding the demonstrating people due to the "inability to talk with such a folks". The irony is that Kalvītis & Daudze named commoners are also members of intelligentsia who were among 500 or so protesters who stood in the front o the parliament for about eight hours.
As it was expected during the first emergency session yesterday the Minister of Defense (52 NO) and Minister of Agriculture (51 NO) survived the vote of no confidence initiated by the motley opposition. The considerable advantage of 58 member governing coalition is gradually dwindling, and now it is a time to wait until the August 2 referendum.
There is the Latvian Song & Dance festival starting this week and it is a chance for folks from all corners of Latvia and world to meet, sing, dance and discuss. It could enable the majority of the participants to form a conclusion that the best proof of the yesterday's Pyrrhic victory would be an overwhelming participation level in the August 2 referendum. Shall see, there are 34 days to go!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Latvian minigarchic families and their godfathers are not happy with the KNAB, because it crushes fiefdoms built by the ill famous AAA team during the last 17 years. The Latvian cabinet gave a green light to lay off the incumbent head (Mr Loskutovs) of the KNAB. The final decision is within parliament and one still does not know whether there will be "ten brave MP's" who would demand (according to the Saeima procedures) to add the issue of Mr Loskutovs into the emergency session tomorrow. On Sunday Latvian motley opposition have demanded the vote of no confidence on ministers of Defense and Agriculture.
Members of intelligentsia as well as opposition New Era (JL), Civic Union (PS), and Society for Other Politics (SCP) parties have asked supporters to come in front of the parliament and, thus with their presence express their support to KNAB as an institution that quite successfully started ridding the republic from the corruption cancer.
I am in Istanbul now but in my thoughts I am with my friends who will be in front of the parliament. Shall see how considerable was the increase of budding civil society since the Cappuccino revolution last October? Even though many experts do not expect multitude of civil society members in front of the Saeima due to the Summer vacation time, still I am convinced that tomorrow's venue will most certainly act as a prelude to the ominous referendum on August 2, 2008!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The parliamentary session this summer is continuing and most probably will turn out to be the longest in Latvian history. Latvian motley opposition collected 34 signatures to call for an emergency session of the Saeima. This coming Sunday Latvian MP's must decide whether the confidence in two members of the cabinet, the Ministers of Defense and Agriculture, is still there. The governing coalition, that has barely 53 votes in a 100 member parliament, decided that they also want to decide the fate of Mr Loskutovs on the same day. Saeima procedures prohibit adding another motion into the emergency session. The judicial commission of the parliament decided twice on the issue of vote of no - confidence about Mr Loskutovs. On June 20th with the head of the commission Ms Muižniece in abscentia the decision could not be reached because there was no quorum. When Ms Muižniece returned from Azerbaijan the same evening the judicial commission in the evening decided, without members of the opposition parties present, to move the motion of Loskutovs no-confidence to the emergency session. However, nobody knows exactly whether it will really happen on June 29.
Party political games are still played and the referendum that could lead to snap elections is decided to be held on August 2. Saeima must also decide what they will do with proposed changes in pension laws, and this motion could probably go to referendum later this summer. Also incumbent president, while meeting with people in Strenči ,asked his country men and wo men to actively participate in the August 2 referendum. Does it really mean that he also is tired of the present Saeima, or it is just his public relations stunt knowing that its is rather hard to get circa 750 000 AYE votes (half of the electors in Latvia) in the referendum? It is hard to say exactly, although I would argue that he simply tries to be nice to everyone now. After all nobody prohibits him from exercising his power to call for dissolution of the parliament right at this moment as it is written in the Art. 48 of the Satversme. Also the sociological polls since October 2007 show the ever declining trust of the electorate in their parties, government and parliament.
Alright, incumbent president waits till the referendum results, because it saves him from exercising the right to call for the tedious procedure of snap elections. He is cautious and his betting could be quite right - in any case publicly he was outspoken thus showing that he is for changes in the stagnant political culture. Just he forgets one aspect, that onerous action whilst exercising his powers could have saved him from the bad fame of tax evader, and he missed it:)
Sunday, June 22, 2008
There is turbulence in the Baltic States politics due to the economy cooling down. Estonian PM and Reform party contemplates about the new situation after accepting the negative budget. Latvian PM is in the hospital and recuperates after the car accident. In the meantime the motley opposition acted in unison and postponed the session about "unsuitability" of Mr Loskutovs as the head of the Corruption Fighting Agency (KNAB) prior Midsummer celebrations. The opposition demanded resignation of the ministers of defense and agriculture and the session of the parliament will take place on June 29. Until July 2 also the fate of Mr Loskutovs and the Anti Money laundering law must be decided. It already feels that the politics will be boiling right after the Midsummer celebrations:)
Until then the sun is in equinox and the white nights are just gorgeous.
Līksmu līgošanu un saulainus Jāņus! Lōbusat Jaanipāeva!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The PM decided to meet the president today but en route there his car collided with a minibus. After the accident Mr Godmanis was taken to the hospital with serious concussion and broken bone in his temple area reports LETA. According to the doctor Andrejs Pavārs from the Riga Hospital No.1 prime minister's condition is not serious, but he would not be able to return to his duties earlier than within a week.
In the meantime the Interior Minister Mareks Seglinš (TP) has lost his mind again (douze points!), because he sent a threatening sms message to the Diena journalist who dared to investigate affairs of People's Party (TP)! After his pronouncements last year he kept quiet for a while, but now such a sms message that would make any PM to demand his resignation. The Prime Minister is in hospital now, thus there is none to demand his resignation...
Latvian parliamentary motley opposition demanded resignation of the Minister of Defense and Minister of Agriculture. Reasons for such a request is the extremely vulnerable situation in fishing and dairy industries as well as pronouncements of Vinets Veldre (TP). The chair of the government was wobbling for some time already and now with the PM in the hospital would it really fall?
The governing coalition has 51+7 mandates in the parliament. Seven mandates has Fatherland Freedom party (TB/LNNK) and their leader Roberts Zīle already announced that his party members have a freedom to decide about Mr Loskutovs at their free will. The governing coalition does not have Mr Pabriks and Štokenbergs anymore, thus the QUESTION now is whether there will be solidification of the existing coalition with mandates from the Reconciliation Centre (SC) and Human Rights Party (FHRL)? Both SC and FHRL were vocal in their dissatisfaction about the existing government, and lets see whether it will also reflect in their voting behavior during upcoming days.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Several garden owners have told me personally that the snatchers of onions and salads are back after two years absence and leaving "empty land" behind them. Such news were confirmed also by police constable whom I reported about the theft in my garden.
The Latvian news channels now weekly show people stealing gas from pumps and from trucks. Actually the funniest fact is that the "most needy" are the owners of SUV's who fake their car registration plates, and thus simply tank&leave from gas stations. Statoil and other gasoline retail market participants have been even discussing reintroduction of prepayment system in gas stations. Economists and foreign experts speak openly about economic crisis in Latvia and such news are confirmed by a number of factories closed. Yesterday machine tools producer Rebir announced that they are relocating to China. Some months ago Riga Yeast Factory was closed due to the sugar reform in Latvia. Thus molasses was stopped to be produced in Latvia, and to import it from Belarus was too expensive to the new owners of the factory.
The only entity that stubbornly refuses to admit that crisis is there is the government. Last week during the weekly Kas Notiek Latvijā? TV show the PM explained that he would accept the existence of crisis in the Latvian economy only if the GDP growth would turn out to be negative, thus even 0,1% economic growth does offer some optimism to him...whatta number cruncher he is:)
While wrangling with his numbers the rest of governing coalition wrangles with the head of the KNAB, Mr Loskutovs. On Wednesday the governmental commission headed by the Prosecutor General must pass their verdict. Lets wait and hear...
Monday, June 16, 2008
MP Ainārs Latkovskis (JL) proposed amendments into the law of state flag two years ago, but Latvian parliamentarians did not even budge. His idea was to emulate the Scandinavian path that Estonia already followed. Such path would have meant that the multitude of celebrations would be set for the flag day (Estonia just celebrated it on June 4), and the numerous commemoration days would be remembered on November 11 for example. It (Lāčplēša diena) could be the day when all men & women, regardless of army they fought, and who fell for the Latvian independence would be commemorated. The amendments were not accepted, and thus Latvian households still live with eleven days annually, when they have to scrupulously follow the calendar in order to know how high the flag should be flown.
Commemoration days that oblige all households to fly the flag in half mast create different associations to different people. On June 17, 1940 sixty eight years ago Latvia was invaded and later occupied by the Soviet Union. I should look into Saeima records and find out who were the MP's that proposed to include June 17 into the list of commemoration days. In the meantime I feel bad today, because to fly the maroon-white-maroon in half mast to remember the day when your state was raped, is symbolism that is more appropriate to the victims of Stockholm syndrome. Funniest part here is the fact that as a household I must follow the script, otherwise the municipal police would come up and punish me for not abiding the law with a hefty fine...
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Photo: Aivars Liepiņš Diena
The last Latvian team that participated in the Summer Olympic games was the men's basketball squad in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.Photo: http://www.rigasask.lv/
After Latvia regained its independence in 1991 the women's basketball team is the first team that will participate in Summer Olympics. The Latvian men's ice-hockey team participated in the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 already. Now the Latvian women's basketball team earned the the right to bring the historic Latvian team sports torch all the way from Berlin in 1936 to Beijing in 2008. It is symbolic that the the women's basketball reached the summit that deservedly earned them the right to participate in Olympic games first, because the Latvian women's basketball stood out as primus inter pares among other male and female team competitions during the Soviet occupation in Latvia. The high time of Latvian women's basketball was spent under the Soviet yoke, when the famous triplet TTT (Riga Tramway Trust Company team) with Uļjana Semjonova won the Soviet women's basketball championship title 22 (!) times, and helped the Soviet women's basketball to flourish in international arena.
Now it is time for Latvian women's team to participate under their own maroon-white-maroon flag and it is quite an achievement for a 2,3 million state. Those of you willing to learn more about Latvian basketball are welcome to visit the site where abundance of pictures will allow you to compensate the lack of Latvian language knowledge. Also, and even more importantly Latvian women with their steely determination set an example for Latvian men to emulate one day!
Friday, June 13, 2008
An oil was added to the fire by the Latvian Minister of Defense Vinets Veldre yesterday evening. The latter person is veterinarian by his education and became famous lately for openly lobbying controversial decision to establish an elite cavalry unit in the Latvian army. The reason why the cavalry issue became controversial is the fact that at times when economy is experiencing total slowdown the Minister of Defense found it reasonable enough to establish the cavalry unit and so lobbied his own horse breeding business.
But the reason I speak about controversial decisions of the previously mentioned minister is not a cavalry, or Ministry of Defense still funding sports clubs in Latvia but the speech of Minister Veldre yesterday. Like a lightening from the sky came the announcement of the Minister Veldre "about the decision of the governmental commission investigating job performance of Mr Loskutovs fundamentally made already, thus the reason why the commission will sit until next Tuesday is the fact that the decision should be made judicially sound. Minister Veldre (TP) "found" the issue of Mr Loskutovs "thus important", that instead of attending the NATO Defense Ministers meeting this week he delegated ministry officials to attend it instead.
Oops, and another member of governing majority did it! I am actually getting agitated about the childish mistakes members of governing coalition make (almost willing to shout out loudly douze point:). Luckily the PM backed off from such an announcement and asked the government members to decide at 2pm today, what shall they do with the Minister of Defense after all? The PM rather customarily reflecting the governance style of the present "pol. elite" announced that the Minister of Defense would stay in the commission investigating job performance of the KNAB head, because they do not see any breech of principles or conflicts of interest. Also the Head of the investigative Commission Prosecutor General Mr Maizītis asked the PM not to hurry with conclusions especially after Minister Veldre controversial announcement. Thus, Mr Maizītis asked for more time to investigate the substance of job performance of Mr Loskutovs and it was extended until next Thursday. Anyway, here one may simply conclude that principle of due process is not followed properly.
Therefore, one issue is clear. Every such clumsy and outright stupid announcement bypassing the rules and procedures that were previously agreed upon make the Latvian civil society more and more convinced that the "present political elite" is simply bankrupt. And all this happens during the day when Irish Taoiseach announced THE NEWS - majority of the 40% of eligible Irish voters said NO to the Lisbon Treaty. There is something to contemplate about now in most of the EU capitals, and we will definitely hear political elite's reflections next week after the heads of states convene in Brussels. The majority of the Latvian government members in the meantime are more concerned about their own benefits rather than the future of the continent, thus the never ending saga with the head of the Anti Corruption agency, isn't it funny:)
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
While living in his power bubble the member of the Union of Greens and Farmers Vilnis Edvīns Bresis (ZZS), contrary to the ethical standards of not proposing substantial amendments into the bill in its third and final reading, proposed to "screw" the Law on Prevention of money laundering and legalization of illegal financial funds last week. It is the bill that has been pending in the Latvian lawmakers corridors for years, and also Latvia's Western partners expressed their wish to see Latvian MP's passing their anti money laundering legislature already in 2005.
Contrary to the ethos of the directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering, including terrorist financing the amendments of Vilnis Edvīns Bresis narrowed any possibility for Prosecutor's Office to solve not only the so called "Mafia cases" of Latvian minigarchic families, but also sizable financial scams. Previously mentioned amendments violated the previously mentioned directive. Thus, the utter changes were the reason why the incumbent president did not sign the dysfunctional bill into law and returned it back to the parliament. Thus, the same incompetent parliamentary majority (including "opposition" Reconciliation Party (SC)) who voted for the Vilnis Edvīns Bresis amendments, will have to reconvene next weeks in order to rid the law of the ill famed amendments (again, and they will receive additional salary for that:) until July 6 now.
Next week the governmental commission also must announce whether the Head of the Anti Corruption Agency (KNAB) Aleksejs Loskutovs wobbling chair would fall or not. The simultaneous wrangling around the money laundering law and governmental commission opining about suitability of Mr Loskutovs to continue his job looks suspicious. The governing People's Party (TP) must pay about 1mlj LVL fine (due to illegal election campaign in 2006) into the state treasury, and in case they get rid of Mr Loskutovs they might skip their virtual bankruptcy. Also Prime Minister's First and Latvian Way party Union (LPP/LC) must pay about half a million LVL into the treasury due to same reasons, and basically would have to follow the same track - bankruptcy. However, if the governmental commission has such members as the Defense Minister Vinets Veldre (TP) and the Head of the Saeima National Security Commission Dzintrs Jaundžeikars (LPP/LC) then I would not be so convinced as to predict due process in evaluating the job performance of Mr Loskutovs. After all the same Mr Jaundžeikars must discuss the suitability of Mr Loskutovs as the head of KNAB, while he openly tried to hush down his son's "drug n' driving" and considers the head of Latvian Intelligence Agency (SAB) Mr Kažociņš who is his co-discussant in the governmental commission unsuitable for the post.
Incompetence and greed to stay at power at any cost describes the present governing coalition. Latvia is governed by minigarchic families and their proxies in the parliament. It is very uneasy feeling among rather numerous members of civil society in Latvia. Parliamentary opposition in the parliament is too fractional at the present moment. The only hope is that those incompetent steps of the members of the governing coalition will reach their critical mass this summer and together with proposed referendum campaign would lead to snap elections later this year.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Parliamentarians also opened the way for the popular referendum about the constitutional amendments (Art. 78, 79) this summer (probably late July or early August). Should the referendum succeed, it would most probably lead to snap elections. In order to have a successful referendum there is a lot of work to be done, because 50% of eligible Latvian voters must say AYE to constitutional amendmends, and it is around 751 000 persons in Latvia. Fingers crossed, because changes are gradually setting in!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
The emergency session and cross examining the PM in the parliament about the state of economy, that opposition parties demanded for today, is postponed until next Wednesday. And then there is the last day of tenure for the incumbent Head of the Supreme Court Mr Andris Guļāns today. The collegium of Latvian lawyers have designated Mr Ivars Bičkovičs for this position. The past of the latter person is not impeccable however. The media has found out that Mr Bičkovičs as an official was first denied access to the information shared by the NATO countries. Because paternity of Mr Bičkovičs is questionable investigative journalists found out that his mother got Latvian citizenship under rather questionable circumstances. Mr Bičkovičs is also not very keen to talk about the cases revealed in the national bestseller "Home made Adjudication", although he should considering the fact that the book showed the roots of corruption in the Latvian legal system. Regardless of his questionable ethical standards the Saeima judicial commission agreed on promoting him for the position of the new Head of the Supreme Court. Quick agreement on Mr Bičkovičs among the governing clique very much resembles the way how the governing clique found the incumbent president with questionable credentials (he officially admitted evading taxes). It means that from the onset the Supreme Head of the legal profession in Latvia would be manipulative due to his past. Several parliamentary majority members already showed their contempt for the voices raised in media about Mr Bičkovičs. Most of the governing clique conveniently forget that they squeezed into parliament due to illegal election campaign, and also the Senate of the Supreme Court on November 13, 2006 had the same opinion. So the question still stands, whether Mr Bičkovičs is going to be an independent head of the Supreme Court or a mere manipulative doll for the minigarchic families of Latvia?
Monday, June 2, 2008
Contrasting news come from Latvian cabinet however. As I already reported opposition parties in Latvian Saeima demanded a special parliamentary session in order to start discussing need (!) for amendments in 2008 budget. Predicted revenues into 2008 budget were made during the high time of real estate caused housing bubble. The balance in Latvian 2008 budget was created not due to cutting red tape (the number of civil servants has increased by 70% last year), but due to taking this money from the social fund. Such actions constrains timely and deserved (from pensioners point of view) pension increases during times of high inflation.
The Latvian PM asked the parliamentarians to postpone the session due to his busy schedule whilst the Summit of the Council of the Baltic Sea States takes place in Riga today and tomorrow.
The Summit meeting is important and hosts have to perform their tasks. Nevertheless, the sorry state of Latvian domestic governance is not going to disappear.
Thus a small scorecard for a "sick man of Baltics" prior hot summer is:
- budget amendments pending;
- bureaucrats travelling around the world and "eating strawberry cakes" without proper oversight;
- as a symbol officially tax evading president still in the office;
- two popular referendums sometime this summer which could initiate snap elections;
- the chair of the Corruption Fighting Bureau (KNAB) wobbling;
-"world's most expensive bridge" still being built;
- the expensive National library project ongoing;
- teachers, policemen, doctors being suspiciously quiet;
- dairy sector representatives pouring milk in gutters (due to disagreements about payments) with promises to bring loads of cow manure in the government house if their demands are not going to be met.
These are just the most important issues the Latvian government has to deal with. On top of these there are high gas prices (hence skyrocketing food prices), huh, uhhh, quite a scorecard:)