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Tuesday 20.03.2018 | Name days: Made, Irbe

Overnight discussions end with Riga City Council limiting members’ ability to ask questions

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUAfter more than eleven hours of tough talks, Riga City Council accepted amendments to the internal order that limit deputies’ ability to ask questions during meetings. The opposition voted against these changes.

Amendments provide that deputies from now on will have the right to ask no more than three questions during meetings. In addition, only one break will be allowed during viewings of matters. Rapporteurs will have the right for final statement.

Until now the right for breaks was available to every faction. On top of that, they were able to ask questions without restrictions, which is something the opposition often used.

The aforementioned amendments were proposed on Wednesday, 28 February. After nearly three hours of talks the matter was taken from the agenda. An extraordinary city council meeting was organized in the evening at 18:00.

During this meeting, members of the opposition asked for a break to discuss the proposal with leaders of other factions another day. Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs, however, said that 32 members of the city council who submitted this proposal wanted to discuss this matter immediately. The mayor said other discussions requested by the opposition would take place later.

After repeated requests before midnight, Ušakovs declared a short break to discuss this matter with coalition deputies.

After the discussion Ušakovs mentioned that ‘because of emotional tension, the coalition is not prepared to call off its proposal’. Nevertheless, he was given mandate to organize regular meetings of faction leaders to discuss the city council’s organization of work and ideas proposed by the opposition.

Juta Strīķe from the New Conservative Party proposed organizing a meeting for leaders of all six factions this night. Ušakovs supported this idea. Faction leaders agreed and the meeting continued at 01:45 a.m.

Ušakovs then announced that the previous position was still in place: that the ruling coalition is neither ready to cancel its proposals nor allow a break. Leaders of represented factions were invited to gather at the next meeting, which could take place 9 March, discuss the proposal and start working on normalizing the city council’s work.

After a long question session, which included an exchange of opinions and accusations, the city council commenced debates on this matter at around 02:00.

Opposition members mentioned they are open and ready to sit down and discuss ways to improve the city council’s work. Nevertheless, members of the opposition criticized the ruling coalition for rushing amendments, adding they would not support them.

In the end, however, changes were accepted in spite of the opposition voting against.

Opposition representatives mentioned that proposals limit the freedom of speech for deputies and put at risk principles of democracy. None of the opposition members hid their criticisms about this initiative.

As explained by Vyacheslavs Stepanenko from Honour to Serve Riga, each proposal was submitted to «optimize the city council’s work and avoid prolonging meetings». He referenced the meeting during which members of the city council had approved the municipal budget. This meeting lasted for three days, and all because «the opposition wanted to know how many trees there are in Riga». The deputy also explained that such an order is already introduced in Daugavpils, and that the Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry did not oppose it.

«It is possible you find it difficult to accept equality, but that is how democracy works. Democracy includes questions and answers. It seems to me that we are talking about carrots and you – about oranges. We just don’t hear one another. Let’s stop engaging in foolishness,» said Mārtiņš Bondars.

Unity faction leader Vilnis Ķirsis said that «the ruling coalition has nothing to grab on to in order to further suppress the will of Riga’s residents». «You are dishonest and such regulations are illegal. 106,000 residents of Riga who voted for the opposition are being suppressed now,» said Ķirsis, adding that this is the first time when the opposition’s rights are being restricted by means of unfair proportions in city council committees.

Deputy Baiba Broka from the National Alliance did not hide her shock about just how much fundamental values that ensure freedom of speech have been changed so suddenly. She proposed cancelling this proposal.

Riga City Council Legal Office manager Jānis Liepiņš spent the most time answering questions. Opposition members kept asking all kinds of questions about amendments.

He mentioned multiple times that it is not in his competence to evaluate proposals from deputies.

Ušakovs mentioned that Liepiņš has the right to report on the details of the legislative draft, but not on deputies’ added proposals.


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