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Saturday 19.08.2017 | Name days: Melānija, Imanta

Lembergs hunts Reform Party

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Latest developments in the political life of Latvia give an impression that someone is desperately trying to get rid of the Reform Party (RP). Both Latvian Association of Large Cities (LALC) and the Latvian Student Union have been sharply criticizing RP ministers. But taking a closer look, it appears that someone is orchestrating all the parade. And yet again all roads lead to the same person – Aivars Lembergs, an accused politician and Ventspils Mayor.

It looks like the LALC is highly dissatisfied with the performance of Edmunds Sprudzs, Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister. Let’s take a closer look once again. It turns out the Chairman of the association is Maris Kucinskis – a passionate member of the Greens and Farmers Union (GFU), which has always been associated with Lembergs. He is also a former member of the People’s Party.

LALC raises concern over the reforms initiated by Sprudzs, namely, they fear the changes will not be rational enough and hinder development of municipalities. Local mayors are anxious over the fact Sprudzs has come up with Regional Development Guidelines 2014-2020 and handed them over to the Cabinet of Ministers. Therefore, they have sent an official letter, proposing another plan – a vague description of how all efforts should focus on balanced development of all cities. What effort exactly they have in mind remains a secret, so it seems that local mayors are merely urging to do nothing.

Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs has also signed the letter, but, interestingly enough, as Rezekne Mayor.

Anyway, it appears that there are no disagreements within the LALC, as all its members come from one and the same family – Greens and Farmers Union (GFU), Harmony Center and the fading Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LFP/LW).

The letter was also signed by Daugavpils Mayor Zanna Kulakova (former member of LFP/LW) and Jelgava Mayor Andris Ravins, who is a very “attentive customer” of Swedbank. It was him who helped trigger panic over Swedbank collapse with his decision to transfer over 134 000 lats of the municipality’s funds to the State Treasury. Four months later, his financial transactions put him into the spotlight once again. Ravins managed to get hold of his employee car – 12 000 lats worth Volvo S80 – for half the price.

Also long standing always well tanned Liepaja Mayor Uldis Sesks (from Liepaja Party) criticizes Sprudzs’ work. And so does Aleksandrs Bartasevics, Rezekne Mayor (the real one, not Usakovs), who just recently (on August 28) told his local portal that Sprudzs was one of the best ministers ever. He seems to have changed his mind in the blink of an eye.

Those saying a strict “no” to the reforms also include Inesis Bokis, long-running member of the People’s Party and Valmiera Mayor, as well as Didzis Osenieks , Ventspils Deputy Mayor and member of Lembergs’ party For Latvia and Ventspils.

Experts have already previously pointed out that the fuss around Sprudzs’ reforms must be growing out from somewhere. One of them – Girts Kronbergs once aptly told Rietumu Radio that sensible people see perfectly well – Sprudzs’ reforms have crossed some deep-rooted political and economic interests. Kronbergs is the head of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s branch in Liepaja and board member of Freeport of Ventspils.

He reminded that there is only half a year left until municipal elections and local mayors use the protest as part of their election campaign.

“Looking at the parties that the reform-opponents represent, we clearly see why they raise objections,” he added.

It should be noted that Sprudzs is not the only RP minister currently under fire. Roberts Kilis, Education and Science Minister, has not escaped harsh remarks as well. Latvian Rectors’ Council is scolding him for unprofessional and chaotic management of the sector.

According to the Riga Technical University (RTU) rector, Leonids Ribickis, Kilis has failed the confidence vote of many Latvian rectors, who are now taking this desperate step. Although Ribickis does believe that the letter reflects the current situation in the sector of higher education in Latvia, he particularly highlights the fact that he did not participate in the vote. He says he was on a business trip. Also Marcis Auzins, rector of the University of Latvia, is said to have left the long meeting early.

Edvards Ratnieks, President of the Latvian Student Union, seems to be especially angry with Kilis. Could it be because his mother – Dace Ratniece – is a member of the Greens/Farmers? She also works at Ministry of Education and Science, serving as the head of the Policy Coordination Department.

“Unfortunately, over the past two and a half years since Edvards Ratnieks is in charge of the Latvian Student Union, it has become a full-time group of people, constantly criticizing ministers,” says Armands Leimanis, President of Student Association of Riga Graduate School of Law.

We cannot claim that it is Ratnieks’ mother or “uncle” Lembergs, who are forbidding him to embark on a constructive dialogue with the Education Minister. But what we know for sure is – he has let down the Student Association of Riga Graduate School of Law, which is quitting the Latvian Student Union.

Ratnieks appears to have despised Reform Party all along. He once approached Neatkariga Rita Avize (a daily traditionally associated with Lembergs) with a thriller-like story, where he claimed that the Soros Fund had offered him huge money to promote the new political force.

To sum up, the Reform Party indeed seems to have crossed some serious interests of those not willing to agree to any changes. After all – why should they? They are pretty happy with their long-term influential posts and super-expensive employee cars. Luckily, Reform Party ministers retain a healthy sense of humor. Just recently Education Minister wrote on his Twitter account that Edmunds Sprudzs had texted him – “Welcome to the club”.


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