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Wednesday 25.04.2018 | Name days: Līksma, Bārbala
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BNN summary of the week: cynical politicians, Latvia’s tax reform and weak presidents

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Change; Fight; Truth; Business; Future and Growth.

CHANGE: Martins Bondars confident he should «step aside»

Martins Bondars has decided to step down as chairman of Latvian Association of Regions. According him, recent decisions made by members of LAR have not been ones he would personally support.

When asked how he intends to continue working in the party, Bondars said leaving the post of chairman of LAR means he is formally not part of LAR. Except he remains a deputy in Riga City Council elected from the party’s list. He has confirmed that he plans to continue working in the city council’s opposition.

When asked about the possibility of Latvijas Krajbanka case’s influence extending to political decisions, Bondars said this political case will not affect his decisions.

Full article here

BUSINESS: Government allows Bite Lietuva to become the owner of TV3, LNT and Star FM

On Tuesday, 25 July, the Cabinet of Ministers permitted Lithuanian company UAB BITE Lietuva to acquire decisive influence in Latvian media companies TV 3 Latvia, LNT and Star FM.

Permission from the Competition Council is still necessary for the deal to complete.

According to government representatives, the three Latvian media companies own a major share of the country’s mass media market. They are also important from the perspective of protection of interests of national security. In accordance with requirements of the National Security Law, acquisition of 100% of capital shares in such companies requires permission from the Cabinet of Ministers.

To make a decision, the Cabinet of Ministers took into account reports from state security institutions on this deal, as well as information from Bite Lietuva about its owners and all other information regarding this deal from the perspective of protection of national security.

Full article here

FIGHT: Unity believes electing Sudraba to the committee causes trust in politicians to go down more

Inguna Sudraba’s approval for the oligarch talks parliamentary investigative committee’s board would the equivalent of the parliament deciding not to permit searches in Slesers’ home, Unity members say.

By electing Sudraba in the parliamentary investigative committee when there has been information that Sudraba was mentioned in Ridzene talks in relation to the possible illegal influence of a third country in political processes in Latvia, Saeima deputies demonstrate cynical attitude towards society and actively act against the goals of the investigative committee, Unity states.

The vote for her approval as head of the committee is the equivalent of the Saeima’s decision to prohibit the search in Ainars Slesers’ home in 2011, which resulted in the Saeima being dissolved in the end.

Unity had previously proposed rejecting Inguna Sudraba for the committee and picking each member individually, but the parliament rejected this proposal.

Full article here

DECLINE: candidates of the last presidency have all been intellectually weak

One of this summer’s hottest and most discussed piece of news was the proposal to allow residents to elect the country’s president. Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis’ 22 June speech to the parliament, in which he proposed allowing the people to elect the president in 2019, caused even more discussions.

BNN has compiled opinions of multiple publicly well-known people on this matter.

When asked about the idea of a president elected by the people in Latvia, Skaidrite Lasmane, leading researcher of Social Science Faculty of the University of Latvia, said: «I think it would be better waiting a bit longer for society to get used to democracy.»

Continuing the conversation, Lasmane admits being sceptical of a future in Latvia where the president is elected by the people: «I would support a president elected by the people more than I would the last weak and intellectually weak presidents».

Lasmane is also harsh towards Latvia’s current president: «I would go as far to say that our current president is also intellectually weak, as were the two that came before him. They were unable to offer a single worthwhile project or form a correct sentence properly. A president should be clever, like Vaira Vike-Freiberga was.»

Full article here

TRUTH: Antane says excise tax for diesel fuel should be reduced, not increased

«Unfortunately, when making the decision to increase excise tax rate for diesel fuel, the government did not consider all possible risks this decision could bring to the transport and logistics industry and the country’s economy as a whole,» BNN was told by President of Baltic Association – Transport and Logistics Inga Antane.

BALT has turned to all factions represented in the Saeima, as well as independent deputies, with a request to prevent the increase of excise tax for diesel fuel. At the same time, BATL proposes reviewing its proposal to decrease diesel fuel excise tax rate for railway transports by 50%.

«The proposal to review the plan for raising excise tax would be a notable gesture to the industry and society that the government thinks about the development of Latvia’s national economy in a long-term perspective, not just in relation to patching holes in the budget,» said BATL President Inga Antane.

She emphasizes: «Every ton of transit cargo brings our economy up to EUR 15, and this amounts to more than EUR 1 billion over the course of a year. This is why further development of this industry is vital.»

Full article here

GROWTH: where is the piece of land Duklavs’ associates wanted 15 million for?

Ir magazine has surveyed several hectares of land on Daugava River’s left bank, specifically within the territory of Riga Freeport, to find the piece of land that was mentioned by Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs during his conversation with other politicians in Ridzene hotel.

Ir has identified the piece of land within the port’s territory for the sale of which Duklavs asked Ainars Slesers for help in 2010. Duklavs owns 10% of the piece of land. In addition, his associates wanted to get 15 million from the buyer. Ir found the piece of land based on clues mentioned by Duklavs in the conversation.

According to Ir, the piece of land in question is indirectly by two Latvijas Gāze board members Gints Freibergs and Liga Berga through two firms.

When asked to explain his association with this piece of land, Duklavs continued denying ownership. He did, however, admitted sharing ties with one of the Bergs family members, Ir reports.

The piece of land is located on the left bank of Daugava River, not far from Latvian Propane Gas export base – those are two pieces of land have an area of 8 ha and were owned by Kremeri firm since 2005. Since 2008, this firm is owned by Vilandres, whose owners consist of LG board members Gints Greibers and Liga Berga. Berga’s daughter, Elina Berga, is a board member in the company.

Full article here

FUTURE: Saeima supports tax reform laws in final reading

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has concluded work on tax reform laws, supporting them in the final reading. Part of the proposals on additional benefits and multiple other matters will be put off for a later date.

Members of the committee concluded assessing all legislative drafts associated with the reform. Saeima’s Social and Employment Matters Committee supported the Law on State Social Insurance on Wednesday, 26 July.

Budget committee started assessing proposals for legislative projects for the final reading this Tuesday, when proposals for possible changes were reviewed by the government. On Wednesday, the committee worked all day – with several breaks over the course of 13 hours. In total, the parliament received around 350 proposals for reform laws.

When assessing proposals, the opinion of deputies coincided with decisions of the government. Many of the supported proposals were editorial. Nevertheless, there were multiple conceptual matters in which deputies changed their previous decision about possible amendments.

Part of the proposals on additional benefits and multiple other matters is planned to be put off for a later date. Decisions are planned to be made during budget review period. Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola says this decision is only logical, because there are matters that are not associated with the reform. The budget review is the right time to review them, because then it will be possible to balance desires with opportunities, said the minister.

Reviews of tax reform are planned to commence at the next Saeima meeting this Thursday.

Full article here


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World Press Freedom index ranks Estonia highest among Baltic states

The French-based organisation Reporters Without Borders has published its 2018 World Press Freedom index, where Estonia has been ranked 12th and Latvia has been moved up by four positions to the 24th place.

Abu Meri: parliamentary investigative committee could help combat corruption in Riga City Council

«Nils Ušakovs’ policy in Riga is not only non-democratic but also allows for systematic corruption, which has become a tradition. If a week goes by with no scandal, it seems too long. Because of that, I consider forming a parliamentary investigative committee to study corruption in Riga City Council,» said Unity’s Saeima faction leader Hosams Abu Meri in an interview to BNN.

200 thousand Estonian e-mail passwords found leaked online

The global database of the illegally leaked passwords of tons of e-mail addresses contains passwords used by some 215 000 Estonian internet users.

Latvian EC Commissioner invites businesses to prepare for all Brexit scenarios

Businesses and supervisors should prepare for all possible Brexit scenarios, said Deputy Chairman of the European Commission on Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Market Union Valdis Dombrovskis participating in the ongoing finance forum City Week in the UK.

Latvia prepared to pay 4.8 million euros for participation in Expo 2020 in Dubai

Latvian government is prepared for participation in the international Expo 2020 in Dubai. Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis said after a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers this Tuesday that it is planned to allocate EUR 4.8 million for this venture.

Spanish resort city to prohibit renting apartments to tourists

Palma, the Spanish resort city in the Mediterranean island of Majorca, has adopted a restriction that apartment will be not allowed to rent their apartments to travellers, becoming the first place in Spain to introduce such a ban.

Supreme Court of Justice views Kristovskis’ claim against Ventspils City Council

On 25 April, the Administrative Cases Department of the Supreme Court of Justice will be viewing two claims submitted by Ventspils City Council deputy Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis against the city council. «The fact that the case will be viewed verbally and that the defendants include Ventspils City Council, EPRDM and Association of Local Governments is considered unique and unprecedented in Latvia’s court practice,» says Kristovskis.

Messaging app Whatsapp not to be available to under-16s in EU

The smartphone messaging app Whatsapp plans to raise the minimum age limit to its European Union users from 13 to 16 years, as it is adjusting its rules of use to the upcoming EU data privacy regulations.

Saeima speaker in Tallinn: EU and NATO cooperation in defence should be enhanced

Close cooperation between European Union and NATO in defence is now more important than ever. This is especially true for cyber security and hybrid-thread prevention, said Latvian Saeima’s speaker Ināra Mūrniece during a meeting of EU member states parliaments in Tallinn on Tuesday, 24 April.

Ministry avoids going against supporting parties; Ventspils City Council’s violations reported to court

Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry has no influence at all, and sometimes it seems it has no desire to exercise its rights and perform its duties. This situation most likely appeared because the institution is led by a minister who represents a specific political party.

Warfare in Ukraine escalates, soldiers wounded

In the Donbas War that continues for the fifth year in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Russian hybrid forces have this week conducted a total of 44 attacks, wounding five soldiers, the Ukrainian military reports.

Demand for mortgage loans grew 53% in March

Increased demand for mortgage loans with state guarantees was observed in Latvia in March. Nearly every other loan application filed last month was intended for housing purchase using Altum guarantee. The largest amount of interest came from families with children, as reported by Citadele Bank.

Most businesses in Latvia still not ready for data protection regulation

The majority of businesses in Latvia are still not ready for EU General Data Protection Regulation, which is due to come to force on 25 May, says KPMG lawyer and certified data protection specialist Sanita Pētersone.

Finnish prisoners found radicalising towards Islamic and far-right extremism

In prisons in Southern Finland, a study of radicalisation of inmates has been conducted and has identified dozens of inmates, who are moving into either radical Islam or into far-right violent extremism.

Ušakovs invites colleagues from Russia to attend centenary festivities in Riga

Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs has invited mayors from 56 cities to attend festivities organized for Latvia’s centenary. This includes mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg, as confirmed by Ušakovs’ press-secretary Laila Ivāna.

Estonian President sees no return from e-governance

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid has discussed with Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, the Baltic country's experience in providing public e-services to the population.

Norway interested in developing cooperation with Latvia in tourism industry

«Latvia welcomes successful regional and economic cooperation with Norway. Our countries have common values and goals – developing Baltic and Nordic countries as a wealthy and secure European region,» said Latvia’s Economy Minister Arvils Ašeradens during his meeting with Norwegian State Secretary for Trade, Industry and Fisheries Roy Angelvik.

Finland not to continue its basic income scheme

The basic income scheme in Finland that has been tested in the Nordic country since 2017, will not be continued as the Finnish government has decided to look into other schemes for reforming the Finnish social security system

MEP: New Unity may be in the government with other parties that have similar goals

After Saeima elections, New Unity will cooperate with parties prepared to work with the association to accomplish specific goals, says leader of New Unity and member of the European Parliament Krišjānis Kariņš.

Canada experiences tragic attack on pedestrians in Toronto

In the Canadian city of Toronto, a driver has been driving onto pedestrians taking the lives of 10 people and injuring 15 more.

Latvian residents spend an average of EUR 81 on cosmetics every year

Latvian residents spend an average of EUR 81 on cosmetics every year, which is one of the lowest indexes in Europe. Compared to other Baltic States, Latvian residents spend less money on cosmetics, according to data compiled by Latvian Cosmetic Manufacturers Association.

Armenian Prime Minister Sargsyan resigns unexpectedly

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, has unexpectedly stepped down from office after ten days of protests in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Baltic Express: Europe has already invented the bicycle; we just have to adopt it

13 March marked a historic event for Ventspils railway hub – for the first time in the history of Latvia’s railway a private cargo carrier – Baltic Express – delivered wagons to Ventspils 1st station and private infrastructure’s railway terminal. Why is this event so important and what is the future for Latvia’s cargo railway system? – Baltic Express chairman Māris Bremze told ventspilnieks.lv.

Reduction of employees in state administration went the smoothest in finance sector

Measures to reduce the number of employees in state administration last year went the smoothest for the State Revenue Service and the entire finance sector, said Latvia’s State Chancellery’s Director Jānis Citskovskis.

Alleged Paris terrorist Abdeslam convicted of attempted murder

The lone Paris attacks' suspect Salah Abdeslam has been found guilty of attempted terrorist murder of police, when taking part in a shootout with police in the Belgian capital Brussels in March 2016.