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Wednesday 17.01.2018 | Name days: Tenis, Dravis
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BNN summary of the week: kebab industry’s fears, insiders in anti-corruption bureau, and Latvia’s crumbling roads

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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: Fight; Fear; Opinion; Confusion; Truth.

FIGHT: transit association considers halting expensive railway electrification project

After the government’s decision to go through with railway electrification, which is one of the most expensive projects in Latvia’s history, President of Baltic Association – Transport and Logistics Inga Antāne considers turning to the Central Finance and Contracting Agency to halt this half a billion euros worth project at least until the government can secure full transparency and provide strategic solutions to halt cargo decline.

«Otherwise this project will be as though using a powerful snow-clearing machine in summer – there will not be any use for it,» the association notes.

BATL emphasizes that Latvia is a railway superpower. The country is a leader in Europe in terms of rail length per capita. «To maintain such an infrastructure in Latvia, it is necessary to carry 60 million tonnes of cargoes annually. According to the association’s estimates, Latvia already lacks one-third for this plan’s completion. Losses will only increase in the coming years, considering Russia’s decision to divert its cargoes away from Latvia in favour of its own ports. Experience of companies part of BATL shows that oil and coal cargoes from Russia are coordinated at a mere 5%, whereas the volume of such cargoes was coordinated at 90% at the beginning of the year,» explains the association.

Full article here

CONFUSION: National Security Committee member Tutins denied access to official secrets

Saeima deputy and member of the National Security Committee Jānis Tutins has been denied access to official secrets, as confirmed by the politician.

The parliamentarian now considers appealing the decision made by the Constitution Protection Bureau to prosecutor general Ēriks Kalnmeiers.

Tutins requested to be provided with access to official secrets after his election into Saeima’s National Security Committee in June. He was elected to replace Valērijs Agešins, who left Riga to work in Liepaja City Council.

Harmony faction leader in the Saeima Jānis Urbanovičs said Tutins is surprised with this decision and wants to know the reasons behind it. Urbanovičs criticized this situation, adding that «special services should explain what they want or if they simply do not want a single member of Harmony join the committee,» said Urbanovičs.

Full article here

FEAR: MEP move to ban phosphates used in kebab meat said to endanger massive industry

As the European Parliament pushes to bar the phosphates, used to keep seasoned kebab meat moist and aromatic, is considered as a grave threat to the existence of the popular fast food.

British news portal the Guardian wrote that across Europe, some 200,000 people work in the industry, and in Germany, where the doner kebab is the most popular fast food, the news have caused fears of in German association of doner kebab producers that «this would be the death sentence for the entire doner kebab industry in the European Union».

Full article here

OPINION: Latvian road association hopes politicians are tired of their indecisiveness

«There is no money, roads continue getting worse, residents continue getting more and more dissatisfied, politicians continue promising, and all this seems a bit like an old and boring film that is shown again and again,» says chairman of Latvijas Ceļu būvētājs Andris Bērziņš.

The association notes that after many years of requests from the entire industry and LCB, the Saeima has finally made steps towards proper funding of the road industry. The parliament has approved deputy Anrijs Matīss’ proposal and has asked the government to approve the plan to increase funding for roads in the state budget programme before 1 July 2018. It is planned to divert an additional 80% from excise tax on fuel for this initiative.

«Unfortunately, the Saeima has forgotten to make it clear when the industry can expect to receive those 80%: the government is free to schedule everything as far as 2025 or 2225. We can reveal a little secret – in the past ten years the Saeima has actively used the option to postpone allocation of actual funding to a much later date. It is a sort of tradition,» comments Bērziņš.

Still, LCB hopes that things turn out differently this time, and that roads will be provided with appropriate funding in 2020.

Full article here

TRUTH: Zatlers says Rīdzene talks are authentic; Šlesers had an informer in KNAB

The talks recorded in Rīdzene Hotel are authentic. In addition, then the politician Ainārs Šlesers had mentioned that he had an informer in Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, said ex-president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers during a meeting of the parliamentary investigative committee.

Zatlers’ interview commenced with questions from the committee’s head – Inguna Sudraba. In particular, she asked if Zatlers was aware of the secret meetings in the hotel when he was president.

«I can confidently say that they [talks] are authentic,» said Zatlers. Šlesers was the one who told him about the recording. He complained to the president that KNAB was illegally listening in on his meetings and that he had an informer in the bureau who told him about this. Šlesers asked Zatlers to ‘do something about that’ as president.

Šlesers refused to give Zatlers the name of his informer, however. Considering that Zatlers was president and therefore had no right to intervene in the investigation, the conversation between the two ended with that.

Full article here

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EU Affairs Committee: EU Digital Single Market motivated Latvia to perform reforms

European Union’s Digital Single Market strategy offered new opportunities for Latvian businessmen to actively present their services in other member states. The strategy also served as an impulse for the business environment and state administration. The strategy motivates our government to walk the road of reformation more actively and clean up messes that have remained for a long time, said chairperson of Saeima’s European Affairs Committee Lolita Čigāne on Wednesday, 17 January.

Expert: Zhdanok’s decision to leave EP was carefully calculated to revive Latvian Russians Union

The decision made by member of the European Parliament (EP) and leader of Latvian Russians Union (LRU) Tatyana Zhdanok, in accordance with which she intends to leave the European Parliament to instead focus on LRU’s election campaign, was a carefully calculated step to reanimate the party, said dean of Social Sciences Faculty of the University of Latvia Juris Rozenvalds.

Maxima Latvia expects price decline up to 15% in 2018

Following Maxima Latvija’s decision to reduce prices for nearly 1,000 important goods, it is expected that a similar step will be made by other players in the industry. This could mean prices for everyday goods could decline by up to 15%, as BNN was informed by the company.

Latvia’s economy reaches highest peak since 2015

Residents’ mood has improved for most positions of the study. Residents were positive the most about ongoing changes for Latvia’s economy, the value of which has reached its peak since July 2015. In spite of optimistic changes, however, 30% of respondents are critical about ongoing economic changes in Latvia, according to results of the latest Baltic International Bank’s Latvian Barometer.

Riga exchange hopes for new securities issuers this year

There are hopes to see new Latvian businesses release shares on the stock market this year, says chairperson of Nasdaq Riga Daiga Auziņa-Melalksne.

Latvian universities to offer students an innovative grant system

To help develop students’ innovative and business abilities, Latvian Education and Science Ministry has developed a new student grant system, which will focus mainly on supporting innovative projects and research and further improve cooperation between universities and leading businesses to attract human resources, the ministry reports.

Russian sociologists fear closure, quit publishing election polls

Russian leading independent polling organisation Levada Center has stated it has quit releasing results of polls on the country’s spring presidential election citing concern that the authorities could close it down for what they see as meddling in politics.

Court maintains pledge on former LAR leader’s bank accounts and owned property

Court has applied pledge status on property and bank accounts owned by Riga City Council member Mārtiņš Bondars to enforce EUR 15 million from him as part of Latvijas Krajbanka criminal case, as reported by TV3 News.

McDonald’s to use unrecycled packaging for 7 more years

World’s largest catering chain McDonalds has set the aim of ensuring that by 2025 all its packaging would be from either from recycled or renewable materials, which would be an increase current proportion of a half.

Saeima speaker: Judicial Affairs Council’s work should be more apparent

Work performed by the Judicial Affairs Council should be made more apparent, said Saeima speaker Ināra Mūrniece during her meeting with Supreme Court chairman Ivars Bičkovičs.

Mass protests in Greece do not hold back new bailout reforms

The parliament of Greece has adopted a large set of reforms pushed for by international creditors in return for more bailout money, despite approximately 20 000 people protesting outside the parliament and brief clashes with riot police breaking out.

Foster families in Latvia to receive larger benefits

Municipal administrations have a duty to pay larger benefits for child care when children are put in foster families, Latvian Welfare Ministry reports.

Government plans to improve anti-doping measures in Latvia

During a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, a legislative draft developed by Healthcare Ministry on adding changes to the Sports Law for the improvement the country’s anti-doping measures was approved.

Only 12% of workers know their organization’s IT security policy

Businesses around the world still suffer from a catastrophically low level of awareness for IT matters, according to a study performed by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International.

Parents let children on ice in spite of temporary restriction

On Sunday, 14 January, officers of Riga Municipal Police observed with video-recording equipment how two people were skating on the surface of Victory Park’s pond. Because it is banned for people to remain on ice of large bodies of water in Riga, officers were sent in.

Czech President to be determined in duel between Zeman and Drahoš

In the Czech presidential election, no candidate has garnered a half of the votes and its result will be determined in a run-off between the current eursceptic President and a pro-European academic.

Aldaris: non-alcoholic beer market in Latvia grew 9% in 2017

Aldaris concluded 2017 with a significant increase in their non-alcoholic beer category of products. Demand for non-alcoholic beer has increased across all of Latvia – market growth was 9% in 2017, as reported by the company’s representatives.

Politician reports meddling with e-health system; prime minister parries

Last Thursday, 11 January, e-health system ‘suffered malfunctions’, which suggests that it may have been hacked, Saeima’s Social and Employment Matters Committee head Aija Barča mentioned in an interview to Latvijas Radio.

Pension fund cautious about 500-million-euro bridge project to Saaremaa

Commenting on the idea that Estonian pension funds could invest into the ambitious project of building a bridge from mainland Estonia to the country’s largest island, Swedish Swedbank has expressed caution.

Study: more than half of Latvians do not trust other people

52% of Latvian residents believe most people cannot be trusted. Only 5% of residents are ready to trust their fellow man. Less than one-fifth of Latvian residents trust decision-makers, according to results of a study performed by SKDS.

Economic expert: 2018 expected to be good for investors

«This year promises to be good for investors, because global economy is on a rise and profits of businesses have a tendency to grow,» says Luminor economic expert Gints Belēvičs.

Estonia counts more residents for 3rd consecutive year

Registering an increase in the Estonian population for the third consecutive year, Estonian statisticians have estimated that the population has increased by 3,070 people to 1,318,700 residents. They have also warned that this is preliminary data, which could still change considerably as unregistered immigration has not been included.

Russian school struck by teenager knife attack

In a knife attack on a school in Perm, Russia, eleven children and a teacher have suffered injuries.

NA: city council has to consider new partnership approach for Agenskalns market

Riga City Council members have to decide what is more important for Agenskalns market’s development: rate or quality. There are two options: force a closed market development with an auction of long-term lease or consider public private partnership option. Such a proposal was submitted to Riga City Council’s City Property Committee by the faction of the National Alliance.

Romania Prime Minister changed, second since June

Romanian head of government Mihai Tudose has lost the support of his own Social Democratic Party becoming the second Romanian Prime Minister to lose the seat in seven months.

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