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Tuesday 20.02.2018 | Name days: Smuidra, Vitauts, Smuidris
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Professor: by taking money away from science, the state shoots itself in the foot

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe matter regarding insufficient funding for science has recently become more topical in the public space. President of Latvian Academy of Sciences Ojārs Spārītis is rather critical of the situation: Latvia has lied to the European Union and European Commission about making sure that funding for science reaches 1.5% of GDP by 2020.

According to the scientist, current funding is only one-tenth of that. This, according to him, once again proves that promises cannot be trusted. In addition, it is necessary to supervise projects that can provide funding for scientists so that money is spent reasonably.

This is where it is worth mentioning the Competence Centres, which are created to raise businessmen’s competitiveness by assisting with cooperation between research and production sectors, notes Prof. Andris Deniņš of the University of Latvia Strategic Research and Management Centre.

Existing rules of the Cabinet of Ministers or other regulations do not have a clearly defined control mechanism to supervise activities performed by Competence Centres. This means centres can freely and without any restrictions set payments for management services. On 3 October, the Cabinet of Ministers approved Economy Ministry’s proposed amendments, which will allocate funding of EUR 63.2 million or EUR 7.9 million for every centre by 2021. Knowing the usual practice, project management rate may reach more than EUR 6 million. This begs the question as to whether or not this non-transparent method is abused for someone’s personal interests.

Deniņš adds that what is particularly interesting is that attention to this matter was pointed by Finance Ministry in 2012. An audit was performed and resulted in certain risks being discovered. Economy Ministry was then asked to resolve the situation. What the audit uncovered is that CC purchases services from its own founders, which makes it a conflict of interests. Once Economy Ministry reviewed the findings, it was promised to perform amendments to regulations. In theory changes were supposed to secure background checks of competence centre employees to improve transparency.

Since then control of companies has become stricter. However, the work performed by the competence centres remains unchecked. Rules like that create the impression that specific centres are not being controlled, making it possible for them to pick companies to provide funding at will. The same applies to allocation of financial support. Under such conditions companies are asked to provide larger payments than what competence centres are authorized to ask.

«Lack of supervision primarily creates fertile ground for sleazy consultants. Secondly, funding provided by EU funds is generally considered a product or service open for bids in certain circles. Talks about unreasonable use of EU finances have been continuing for some time. This could inevitably lead to reduction of funding,» comments the professor.

He continues: «Is there room for such machinations with EU funds on Latvia’s economic development agenda? I hope the new economy minister will immediately tackle regulations and make sure honest and hard-working people are not subjected to norms of free interpretation and other people’s selfish interests.»

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