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Monday 21.05.2018 | Name days: Ingmārs, Ernestīne, Akvelīna
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Opposition deputy: Latvia’s Environment Ministry has mafia-like structure

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU«Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry is abundantly misused. Over the years it has fallen under management of people representing interests of very narrow groups of people. Among them are representatives of the Union of Greens and Farmers, who have received the mandate to manage the ministry in exchange for demonstrating their loyalty to the regime in Ventspils. UGF has become one with Ventspils powers. Other parties, such as Harmony and the National Alliance, are trying to hide this fact,» said Ventspils opposition deputy Aivis Landmanis in an interview to BNN.

He says that those parties often defend old nomenclatures – «servants of the Soviet Union and their ambiguous operations in Latvia’s state power structures». «This is felt quite well in Ventspils. The only positive exception was Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Edmunds Sprūdžs, who was unfortunately ‘eaten away’ by mafia structures present in Latvia’s party system,» Landmanis continues.

He believes an internal lobby has formed inside the ministry. This lobby has served the interests of a very narrow group of people for almost as long as Latvia has had its independence restored. «It is almost a mafia-like structure that operates alongside the state structure. Its power centre, however, is located elsewhere.»

Landmanis also mentions that the ministry is currently led by a representative of the National Alliance, and this party allegedly fights for democratic values. «Municipal matters are made, it seems, by parties that work well with each other – UGF and Harmony – which leaves the minister from NA is an odd position,» says Landmanis.

«Latvia’s environment minister, including the current minister Kaspars Gerhards, should have requested a change of Ventspils City Council chairman a long time ago. Lembergs has been absent since 2007. It is clear he cannot be allowed to be chairman, but the ministry acts as though it sees nothing,» BNN was told by Ventspils opposition deputy.

«Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry cannot allow such madness and absurdity as a situation when a person who has been absent since 2007 to continue take official posts they are not allowed by law, but continue doing that de facto. Ventspils City Council composition has changed four times. And yet the ministry refuses to react to the obvious absurd that has since formed. Ventspils needs a chairman who can legitimately perform their duties – Lembergs’ deputy Jānis Vītoliņš, at the very least. This is the first and foremost act Latvia’s environment minister should do,» says the deputy.

The second most important act, according to Landmanis, is for the ministry to make sure opposition deputies are not discriminated and are allowed to perform their duties and receive appropriate information in full accordance with the law.

«The ministry should also investigate how administrative resources are used in different municipalities and prevent their possible misuse for private interests. For example, Lembergs permits himself to lie and blacken opposition deputies during his press-conferences – the ones organized using the municipality’s finances. In such situations the ministry should immediately respond and punish the ones committing violations. This includes enforcing the losses caused to the municipality from them. As long as there is no action against such behaviour, society will remain fooled and used,» says Landmanis.

The deputy notes that such situations can only form with irresponsible or manipulated ministers, such as minister Gerhards, the deputy says. «How can people not be afraid of a person who holds nearly the entire country in his hands?» Landmanis comments on the situation with Gerhards.

Landmanis adds: «If we want to change something significantly, we should address Ventspils as the first problem. Studying the decisions made in the last four compositions of the city council there, as well as the obvious violations, is the bare minimum of tasks. I say that violations committed in Ventspils are far more serious than the ones in Riga. Dealing with this problem would be a good start for us to change the situation in other municipalities.»

He also adds that opposition deputies of multiple municipalities should consolidate to achieve results more quickly. «This would make it harder for the environment ministry to look the other way.»

As for all the bad committed against Latvia’s society when a situation like the one in Ventspils appears, Landmanis says: «Society cultivates distrust towards its own country. This is why people continue leaving the country – they do not believe anything can be improved here. They say a country or its economy cannot be built on lies. It should not be allowed to keep a person with an enormous list of criminal charges in the post of the city council’s chairman – it gives the wrong signals to investors and society alike. An entire generation has grown up while Lembergs’ criminal case was being processed. Lembergs visits schools and tells everyone that he is the city council’s chairman, even though law enforcement authorities have suspended him. Teachers and the media [in Ventspils, at least] praise him. Just imagine what goes on in the heads of the new generation! Consequences could be far-reaching – we are distorting our children’s very way of thinking!»

BNN had previously reported that the Administrative Cases Department of the Supreme Court of Latvia had viewed in April two pleas submitted by Ventspils City Council opposition 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.

Landmanis comments the situation the following way: «I do hope that with a sufficient amount of evidence and while located in a different geopolitical space than Russia we will be able to move forward. This court process is like a test. I think there are three possible scenarios from here. The first – the court may decline the plea and not submit it to Kurzeme Regional Court for repeated review because a deputy’s dispute with municipal administration cannot be viewed as part of an administrative process, but still accept environment ministry’s and Ventspilc City Council’s side-decision that is aimed at changing the usual discriminatory treatment of opposition deputies. This happened with Jelgava County Council two years ago.»

The second scenario mentioned by Landmanis included the commencement of another litigation – studying this matter at its core.

«The third, and the worst, is for the court outright denying viewing the case without any explanations,» Landmanis said, adding that any one of these scenarios would benefit deputies. He believes that once the rout’s ruling is published opposition parties will know for certain what they have to do, because they will be able to turn to court in the event of the third scenario. «We will provide proof for all instances we have recorded since 2005.»

Landmanis hopes the situation will be resolved in Latvia. If not, opposition deputies are prepared to consider turning to European Court of Human Rights. «For twelve years we’ve been gathering evidence. We have very strong proof – minutes of city council meetings detailing that our initiatives are to be tossed in the trash. We have extensive correspondence with environment protection ministries and other institutions that have confirmed the weakness of the law before mafia groups. It would have been hard turning to court without these documents. But our evidence base is strong enough for Latvia’s and international courts,» says Landmanis.


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