Thursday, October 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Changes brewing in Latvia

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't ask, don't tell

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Latvian shaky governing coalition

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

An end of an epoch

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Present mood in Latvia through eyes of cartoonist

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. year - learns basics of Saeima rules
2. year - grabbing or in Latvian colloquial stealing
3. year - preparing for elections
4. year - pre-election fight

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

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

True nature of the Latvian governing coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2009

Latvian parliament members are too tired to perform?

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