A couple of years ago, I was informed of a Scandinavian-based project to set up a commercial, state of the art hospital in Riga (or buy one of the existing ones) to provide offshore care to foreigners as well as paid and pro bono care for locals. This seems to have come to naught, as a foreign acquisition could be one way to "save" the First Hospital or Hospital No. 1 (a better translation?). One wonders why the government isn't putting up most of Latvia's hospitals, especially the better equipped ones, for sale rather than turning them into skeleton-staffed clinics? Is the government ineptly covering up that it is, in effect, privatizing health care? So why not do it openly and say -- we are selling our "superfluous" hospitals in an international tender. concession or whatever. In other words, allow international health care corporations to bid for these hospitals with certain conditions for providing low cost care to all citizens (or setting up private insurance schemes) rather than closing or downgrading the places as day clinics and letting (some) heart surgeons pick vegetables in Ireland?
Some of the wildest rumors claim that the hospital will be torn down to make room for a casino, a story that could have been fueled by Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs reported statement that he would like to see "a little Las Vegas" in the Latvian capital (gambling and entertainment resorts for tourists, mainly from Russia where the casino business has been shut down or exiled to the edge of the Siberian tundra).
Meanwhile, there are reports that under the still-confidential new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Latvia may be raising its value-added tax (VAT) again to 23 %. There are very optimistic predictions that additional tax revenues from this and possibly a progressive income tax should reduce the need for budget cuts in the 2010 budget to LVL 260 million from the previous assumption that LVL 500 million would have to be cut. OK, there is a report that tax revenues in recent weeks have been trailing planned amounts by only 1 %. But I firmly believe that further VAT hikes will not increase revenues and shift transactions in certain items to the gray market. Tax evasion is a normal and, I think, morally justifiable form of resistance to an inept government that has broken the promise of rendering basic services for the taxes it extracts from the population. The government, by suddenly and seemingly irrationally (state of the art hospitals closed or downgraded, pensions cut--although Sweden has done that, too-- other services attacked with a percentage-guided axe swung in the dark) reducing the return on citizen's taxes will inevitable decrease the tax base through salary cuts, unemployment, and tax evasion. The sums to be cut from future budgets will increase, rather than decrease as government revenues spiral downward, spurred by the government's own policies.