Tuesday, September 22, 2009
That would be bad enough -- the TP prevented a bill proposing a tax on housing from being moved into the legislative process in the national parliament, the Saeima. So instead of voting on some kind of tax on residential properties, there will be no vote or parliamentary discussion, essentially reneging on the promises made to international lenders to implement such a tax.
But there is more. The TP has expelled, without any hearing, the Saeima deputy and party member Dzintars Ābiķis, who voted against blocking the bill from the legislative process. He didn't vote for raising taxes, he didn't vote in favor of the residential housing tax, he simple voted for letting the legislature discuss, amend and put to a vote a bill drafted in an effort to comply with international lenders.
The TP has also suggested that it wants to talk to the IMF and other lenders in what very much sounds like an attempt to renegotiate a done deal, putting forth their own terms (whatever they may be). To be sure, the international lenders' terms are harsh, they allow absolutely no spending of the loaned funds for economic stimulation (that is left to EU structural funds, which Latvia has CharlieFoxtrotted** so far). And oh yes, the TP has a bit more current voter support (around 1.7 %) than Stalin would get. Just the guys to talk on behalf of the Latvian people.
And yet that is not the end of the story. The government has drafted a budget that simply doesn't cut spending by the amount agreed with international lenders (by around LVL 271 million instead of the required LVL 500 million).
So what is happening? EU and IMF honchos are soon descending on Riga to ask the headline question in person. The opinion, already widespread earlier -- that the Latvian government is a bunch of untrustworthy, capricious fuckwits-- is crystallizing even more. And that means, we may not get the next tranche of international loans no matter what anyone does. I mean, when the signature of a major coalition party amounts to goatfuck a few months later...
Where do we go then? -- probably devalue the lat, print cash (could have been done earlier to spare everyone the agony of salary cuts and firings) and buy time through the winter, possibly with Dombrovskis being pushed out of office or resigning (getting off the tracks before the train hits). After that, with the TP zoonoids in charge, you can write your own black comedy...
* Russian-derived word for total chaos, literally, a honky-tonk whorehouse in chaos
Friday, September 18, 2009
The Labor Inspectorate head and staff members are suspected of using European Union (EU) social and regional program funds to hire fictitious employees (apparently real persons who never worked a day at the government agency but funneled almost all of their salaries to the bank accounts of the alleged conspirators).
Elce told journalists she would cooperate with the investigation and denied that she had benefitted from the diversion of EU and other public funds.
The "fiddle" with EU funds seems to have been an internal one for the enrichment of those involved, but its alleged existence raises suspicions that the agency could have been (and still be) open to bribe-taking to cover up illegal, unsafe and unethical labor practices and the use of black and gray market labor (illegal aliens, legal residents paid in envelopes).
Events such as this indicate that the KNAB is keeping its earlier promise of "we will come for you" with regard to corrupt public servants, but it does little to diminish the image of Latvia as a state where corruption, incompetence or both are endemic to the structures of public administration.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Valdis Dombrovskis, like the summer weather in mid-September in Latvia, is on borrowed time. It is hard not to see and hear that the knives are out for him. Both his own coalition partner, the People’s Party (Tautas partija/TP), and the loyal opposition (no ministers, but hitherto behind the government) of Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (Latvijas pirmā partija/Latvijas ceļš LPP/LC) are shaking the coalition so hard that pieces are sure to fly off.
The LPP/LC said at a recent party leadership conference that they would not support Dombrovskis’ government. with Riga vice-mayor Ainārs Šlesers calling for the Prime Minister to step down in so many words.
Guess who will step up?
Not even a few months had passed since the June municipal elections put the twins Nils Ušakovs (of the pro-Russian Harmony Center/Saskaņas centrs/SC) and Šlesers in charge of the Latvian capital when the “alpha twin” Šlesers started talking of taking up the call to head a government after the 2010 elections. Now, it seems, the trumpet is sounding in his ears a bit earlier.
The People’s Party has been quarreling with Dombrovskis on economy policy and accusing the government (here one must agree with Latvia’s most unpopular party in voter polls) of poor communication both within the government and with the general public. It looks like they are ready to jump as well, but hoping that the 2010 elections will boost their ratings significantly beyond the present 1.5 to 1.7 % the TP has gotten in recent polls (one thinks that given the historical ignorance of some young people plus the spin that he is actually a nice guy from Purvciems could get Vjaceslav Molotov an higher rating than the TP).
The TP wants to draft “ businessman” and ordinary rank-and-file member Andris Šķēle to make a come-back as Prime Minister (unless he trips and falls under the Bulldozer -- one of Šlesers’ municipal election symbols). Interestingly, when asked what business Šķēle had been doing on a TV talk show, Vineta Muižniece, the TP parliamentary faction leader, said that it was a private matter for Šķēle.
Certainly, whatever it is he has been doing has gotten little publicity compared to other business figures, such as Mārtiņš Bondars, ex-chairman of Latvijas Krājbanka (The Latvian Savings Bank), who have hinted at entering politics. We can read the bank’s annual reports. We can look at the track records in private business of people such as Vitālijs Gavrilovs, who ran the brewery Aldaris for many years. Other than peripheral involvement in some windpower project and alleged involvement in the failed first attempt to start digital terrestrial television, I really don’t know what Škele has been doing as a businessman these past few years. Does anyone else?
I don’t believe the “Šķēle factor” will revive the TP, which is widely and accurately blamed for its blind and deaf belief that the “fat years” would continue forever. What is more worrisome is that if fall guy Dombrovskis falls, “pedal to the metal” Šlesers may step up to the Prime Minister’s chair even ahead of the 2010 elections (it is anybody’s guess what may happen to the economy and the social fabric of the country over the next year, but it won’t be anything good). The LPP/LC, to my mind, is a cryptofascist party backed by religious fanatics who have repeatedly attempted to restrict the free speech rights of sexual minorities in Latvia. The authoritarian mind set of these people may then treat other dissidents -- such as angry spontaneous demonstrators -- no differently.
Another sign that Dombrovskis has expended his usefulness is the fact that the ink is dry on a number of critical international lending agreements and the cash is rolling into Latvia’s state coffers. There is no need to have guys hanging around whose party leadership (Dombrovskis is from the New Era/Jaunais laiks/JL) pledged in church to be committed to clean and honest government (many saw this as a balagāns/cheap show, but maybe not the Main Man up there). The international loans (and the lenders will not have armed auditors standing next to every bureaucrat) are the biggest opportunity for corruption and state capture, dwarfing the infamous G-24 credits of the early 1990s, where mere tens of millions vanished down the rathole.
Knowing what a Charlie Foxtrot (cluster f**k) the Latvian government (any Latvian government) can be, there was a substantial risk that the whole international borrowing process could have been bungled, leaving Latvia at least temporarily insolvent. Better to have had Dombrovskis and the JL guys at the wheel for that. Since it didn’t happen, we can clear the bridge and put a real pirate crew on deck now that the ship didn’t sink.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that another LVL 500 million will have to be cut from the 2010 budget in the next few weeks, with equally much coming out of the 2011 budget. So even if he gets a premature shot at the Prime Minister’s chair, Šlesers will face some real challenges as well as likely social unrest and a noticeable bleed-off of the potential workforce as economies recover in countries that Latvians can easily emigrate to.