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Sunday 18.03.2018 | Name days: Ilona, Adelīna

Former deputy chief of anti-corruption bureau: Christmas lights are more important to Riga mayor than residents’ welfare

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU«Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs focuses a lot on ‘shiny things’ and procurements performed by capital associations in which flow of money is hard to control. For example, Ušakovs has decided to allocate from the budget EUR 200,000 for Rīgas Gaisma to procure Christmas decorations. Meanwhile in Riga there are nearly 50 km of streets with no lighting. This demonstrates that the mayor focuses on ‘shiny things’ instead of improving life for Riga’s residents,» former deputy chief of Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) Juta Strīķe told BNN in an interview.

«Neither Ušakovs nor Ameriks sit in the committee dealing with people’s requests for municipal assistance»

Strīķe is a member of three committees in Riga City Council: Security, Order and Corruption Prevention Matters Committee; Housing and Environment Committee, and Transport Affairs Committee. These committees also manage Riga City Council’s Transport Department.

According to the politician, the largest amounts of money circulate in the Transport Department. She says that money is constantly and irresponsibly increased there, which, according to her, is absurd. «You see, the Mayor of Riga sits in committees that deal with the largest amounts of money. Neither Ušakov nor Ameriks sit in the Housing and Environment Committee, where people need support from the municipality. This also means there is no money to resolve social problems.»

Strīķe mentions as an example that there are approximately 340 orphans waiting in line for apartments in Riga. They cannot continue living in orphanages because they have reached the age of 18. There are also 210 large families waiting for apartments. 37 families with child invalids also wait in line. The number of people that have reported their homes are in critical state is close to 330. «These numbers are not too large that Riga municipality would not be able to resolve vital problems. By making those matters a priority it would be possible to fix problems next week and make sure queues for municipal apartments reduce in the near future. But for some reason even this is beyond Riga’s ruling officials.»

«Ušakovs will only intervene in areas that hold up his interests. Coincidentally, projects that hold up his interests also juggle absurdly large amounts of money. This includes Transport Department’s plan to introduce a parking system and mobile app to help drivers find free parking space. The cost of this plan is around EUR 9 million. It is also absurd that Riga City council pays bonuses worth half a million euros for ‘well-repaired streets’,» Strīķe adds.

The politician says such unfairness in priorities is likely based on the belief that increasing benefits for residents or repairing apartments would make it harder to perform acts of corruption. «We cannot exclude any possibilities,» Strīķe ironically comments.

Another problem the New Conservative party has noticed is that apartments that have no tenants because they are not repaired also receive heating. «Money is paid for nothing. Apartments continue to break down because no one lives in them. Whenever we bring up this topic to coalition members, they act as though they hear nothing – they care nothing for this problem.»

«Conflict with the law is no reason why a person cannot be given a job in Riga City Council»

Strīķe told BNN that she feel no real difference between working in KNAB and Riga City Council – work in both institutions is based on analysis of a great deal of information.

The city council member notes that in the past she had viewed documents about Riga municipality from a different perspective – a criminal one. «I know about the decisions every member and every committee in the city council have made over the years.»

She is particularly confused that there are people working in Riga City Council who were officially accused of corruption. According to her, those people had selfish interests, and the Mayor of Riga is well-informed of that. «I recognize many names. Some of them are not just members of the city council but city officials as well. My question is – what are they still doing here?» said Strīķe, adding that the ones that were interviewed by KNAB in the past are aware that she knows of the ‘misdeeds’ they had committed during their careers in Riga City Council.

«This only strengthens my belief that conflict with the law is no obstacle in getting a job in Riga City Council. It is, in fact, the opposite – if someone was searched, detained, convicted or accused, it means that person will stay loyal to their employer and not go complain to KNAB. This is a kind of guarantee that the chosen person is one of their own,» Strīķe continues.

«The scheme is – one does not have to pay a bribe, it is possible to employ people fictively»

One of the topics BNN has brought up multiple times over the years is officials combining posts. In Latvia, especially its municipalities, the same people can be found working in different posts. The very fact of combining posts can hide fictive employment. In the case of municipal administrations this can mean illegal payment of wages using taxpayers’ money.

Strīķe also says that fictive employment can exist when combining posts. Fictive employment, according to the former KNAB officer, is already a crime. «If the state or municipality pays you money, and you do nothing – it is basically theft,» she says.

The politician also adds that combining posts often hides an entire scheme beneath it – «no reason to pay bribes, you can just employ them fictively». Proving a post is fictive is harder than accusing someone of taking bribes. «It is worth keeping in mind in such situations that such acts are also robbing the state, which is a criminal offence. Law enforcement institutions should pay more attention to this problem.»

According to Strīķe, if such a thing happens in municipalities, then this is proving loyalty to crime by mayors and keeping certain people on a short leash. «If you don’t listen to me, you won’t get a well-paid additional post. This is a very serious problem for municipalities because money is paid from residents’ wallets,» Strīķe told BNN.

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  1. ZC says:

    Damn, with 200000e it would be possible to illuminate remarkable part of that 50km, even without using Chinese or Polish cheap products. But it could be also interesting to see the receipt of that Christmas decoration. Is there some own line for pocket money?

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