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Friday 18.08.2017 | Name days: Liene, Helēna, Elena, Ellena, Liena
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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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New mandatory tests in schools to be introduced four years from now

In four years’ time – 2021/2022 school year – it is planned to introduce completely new mandatory tests in schools, as reported by State Education Content Centre Director Guntars Catlaks.

Nearly 9,000 children and their parents got homes thanks to state support programme

In the first half-year of 2017, state support helped 1,527 families in Latvia to buy homes. Compared with last year, families’ demand for state support has grown 6%, as reported by Altum finance institute.

Prediction: Aseradens will likely take control over Unity

Economy Minister Arvils Aseradens will become the head of Unity, Betsafe bookmakers predict. The possibility of Aseradens becoming the head of the party is given 45% probability by Betsafe.

Provisional estimate for next year’s fiscal space in Latvia is EUR 60 million

Next year’s fiscal space has been estimated at EUR 60 million, as noted by Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, adding that a more precise estimate will be available at the end of August.

Reconstruction of Vilnius airport runway concludes; aircraft return to Vilnius

On Thursday, 17 August, Vilnius airport’s runway was festively opened. This was the most massive reconstruction for the airport in the past 20 years. It was a unique project for Lithuania and all of Europe, airport representatives say.

Islamic State terrorist group takes responsibility for Barcelona attack

The recent terrorist attack in Barcelona, in which a shuttle bus rammed a crowd of people on La Rambla, killing 13 and injuring at least 100, has become this week’s topic.

Weather in Latvia to be warm but rainy on weekends

The sun will appear every now and then between clouds on Friday, 18 August. Still, some rain is expected, especially in the afternoon in Latvia’s eastern regions, where thunderstorms may appear. Rain is expected to reach the capital in the afternoon. Wind will draw in from the south. Air temperature will reach +21° C… +26° C, according to State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Latvia’s export growth was moderately rapid in the first six months of 2017

Compared with the same period of 2016, Latvia experienced a moderately rapid export growth in the first six months of 2017, according to data published by Eurostat on Thursday, 17 August.

Latvia’s annual inflation in July was one of the highest in Europe

Inflation indexes in Latvia and the UK both reached 2.6% in July, which is one of the highest indexes in the European Union, according to data published by Eurostat on Thursday, 17 August.

Kirsis withdraws his candidacy in favour of Aseradens

Riga City Council member Vilnis Kirsis has decided to withdraw his candidacy from the race to become chairman of Unity in favour of a different candidate – Economy Minister Arvils Aseradens.

Rinkevics expresses Latvia’s interest in maintaining political consultations with Palestine

On Thursday, 17 August, Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkevics met with the leader of Palestine’s diplomatic mission in Latvia, ambassador Taissir Al Adjouri, to discuss mutual relations between Latvia and Palestine and the peace process in the Middle East.

Putin grins to the world’s seven billionth baby, Lithuania wary of border incidents

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit this Wednesday to Kaliningrad, the westernmost point of Russia, but the reports about his trip in the Russian enclave and over the border in Lithuania were strikingly different.

Survey: red considered the safest colour for a car

Most Latvian drivers consider red to be the safest colour for a car. The most popular, however, is black, according to results of a survey by Virši-A fuel trader.

airBaltic’s number of carried passengers reaches a record in second consecutive month

Latvian airBaltic airline carried 393,312 passengers in July 2017, which is 21% more than the same period last year. The number of passengers carried by airBaltic remains the highest it has ever been in the airline’s history, BNN was informed by the company.

Brivais vilnis: nearly all fish processing companies are experiencing losses

Currently nearly all fish processing companies in Latvia are experiencing major or minor losses, says Brivais vilnis chairman Arnols Babris.

American helicopters to perform low-altitude flights within Latvia’s airspace

U.S. Air Force Brigade’s Task Force Phoenix helicopters, which are stationed in Latvia as part of Atlantic Resolve operation, will be performing low-altitude flights from 16:00 to 18:00 from Lielvarde to Dobele on Friday, 18 August.

Healthcare Ministry’s state secretary Karlis Ketners may be replaced

Latvian Healthcare Ministry may replace its state secretary Karlis Ketners. It is possible he will be transferred to work at Finance Ministry, as reported by LTV.

Suspects in Europe's insecticide egg scandal before Dutch court

In the Netherlands, two men have been in court in relation to the scandal of eggs containing banned insecticide that has caused an EU-wide health scare and cost millions of euros of damages.

Indian national with fake documents apprehended on Latvian border

An Indian citizen travelling from Moscow on a bus was caught at Terehovo border control point in Latvia for presenting officers a fake EU family member’s resident card. No criminal process was launched. The person returned to the country he was travelling from.

Latvijas dzelzceļš will not have to pay dividends from last year’s profits

The government decided on Wednesday, 16 August, that Latvijas dzelzceļš will not have to pay dividends from last year’s profits, which were EUR 880,998.

Latvian citizenship provided to 103 people

The Cabinet of Ministers has issued an order to provide Latvian citizenship to 103 people through naturalization.

Estonian Inbank's profits reach EUR 5.7 million in six months

Estonian financial services' provided Inbank made a profit of 5.7 million euros in the first half of 2017, which is a 429.4% increase compared to the respective period in 2016.

Agriculture Ministry invites residents to sign up for measures to support fisheries

From 21 August onward, Rural Support Service plans to start accepting applications for projects to receive support from European Maritime and Fisheries Fund’s action plan for development of fisheries in 2014-2020 as part of projects Innovation, Productive Investments in Aquaculture and Fishing and Aquaculture project processing.

Estonia seeks to improve reputation of state as employer

As the Estonian Ministry of Finance wishes to boost the reputation and brand of the Baltic country's public sector, it has announced a procurement tender aimed at preparing an action plan for reaching these goals.

Warning: there may be short-term problems with Swedbank internet banking functionality

Because of Swedbank’s planned IT modernization work scheduled for the night to Thursday, 17 August, there may be short term problems with payment card and internet banking functionality, the bank warns.