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Monday 25.03.2019 | Name days: Māra, Marita, Mārīte

Agriculture Ministry moves from Vilnius to Kaunas, some staff leave

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Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

From now on Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city and the interim and de facto capital of Lithuania during 1919-1940, will be known not only for the legendary basketball club Žalgiris, but also as the host city of a ministry.

The relocating the Ministry of Agriculture to Kaunas will certainly enhance its already improved image and boost its trope as a major economic hub. Economically, Lithuania is expected to save yearly around 200 thousand euros from the moving in lower premises maintenance costs and so on.

«Smart people live not only in Vilnius. As we see, they dwell elsewhere too, and in Kaunas, of course,» the minister, Giedrius Surplys, wisecracked last Tuesday commenting the decision.

In his words, relocating the Ministry to Kaunas will also help strengthen central Lithuania economically and execute regional policies more efficiently. The ministry expects this will also help improve the Vilnius-Kaunas interconnection, open up new possibilities for the region’s development and further save public funds.

«According to some scientific estimates, the annual growth of Kaunas economy can consist of one percent from Kaunas’ yearly growth domestic product after the relocation. In addition, new workplaces will be created and more investments will come to Kaunas and central Lithuania,» the minister emphasised.

The planned relocation of the Agriculture Ministry is estimated to cost around 1.13 million euros, with the lessor of new premises in Lithuania’s second-biggest city to be named next summer, Minister Surplys said.

A socio-economic analysis carried out by the ministry has shown that it will need 3,900-square-meter premises in Kaunas, down from the current 9,100 square meters.

«The current premises of the Agriculture Ministry are 2.5 times larger than it needs in terms of the number of employees,» Surplys emphasised.

Around 280 employees of the ministry, the National Paying Agency and the National Land Service, both of which belong to the Ministry, will be moved to the new premises in Kaunas.

A «mirror» ministry with several tens of employees is planned to open in an available building Kaunas in late March.  All public procurement procedures are expected to be finalized by December 2019 so that the ministry could complete the relocation in the first quarter of 2020.

Despite the overall upbeat mood over the relocation, many ministry employees, mostly residents of Vilnius, are reluctant to go to work in Kaunas. Only the daily back-and-forth trip would require them at least four hours.

«The ministry leadership attempt to foist the idea that the departure of people from the ministry is natural, however this is underestimation. Before the change of the personnel was in the range of 1-2 percent every year and, recently, only from the Science and Innovation Department aloneeight people have left. Manyqualified workers want to stay in Vilnius and look for job in other ministries,»Zita Duchovksienė, who has spent 17 years in the Agriculture Ministry, was quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.

She was among those disappointed with the decision to move the Ministry from Vilnius to Kaunas and quit her job as a result.

«I calculated that it would take me around 4-5 hours to get to Kaunas and then back to Vilnius Bus Station. As I live far from it, I would need plenty of time to get to it, too,» she said.

The Ministry so far did not decide if it will reimburse the employees’ daily trips to Kaunas.

Surplys, the minister, did not deny the haemorrhage of the staff at the Ministry, but tended to downplay it.

«I cannot just say that our people are leaving in large numbers. Some are leaving indeed, but others are replacing them. A total of 33 people left the Ministry in the second half of last year and we hired 19 specialists,» he said.

The minister pondered that the ministry staffers could work while on the train to Kaunas and the travel time would be calculated in their workhours.

«I support a flexible approach in the matter. Remuneration of the specialist trips is also being considered,» he emphasised.

The auto trips between the two cities can become soon a whole lot faster, as the Vilnius-Kaunas motorway will be turned into a highway over the next two years and will see the maximum speed increased from 110 to 130 km/h during summertime. The project is valued at around 65.6 million euros.

The idea of moving the Agriculture Ministry along with some others to Kaunas is not new. It first surfaced in 2009 when the-then Agriculture minister Kazys Starkevičius brought up the idea.

Already with the decision last year in the making, it was the Ministry’s vice-ministers Evaldas Gustas who ordered a feasibility study on economic costs of the relocating the ministry to Kaunas.

However, the idea was quenched for unknown reasons and the decision to moved the Ministry to Kaunas was swiftly endorsed both by the Ministry and the Farmers and Greens-led Government.

Some, however, argue, rightly perhaps, that Kaunas under the leadership of mayor Matijošaitis has prospered and boasts excellent economic indicators. Therefore, the decision to delegate Kaunas some of the governmental functions is logic and work well.

Matijošaitis, the leader of the United Kaunas movement, announced already it will next spring run for re-election as mayor of Lithuania’s second-biggest city.

A mechanical engineer by education, Matijošaitis served as a police officer during Soviet times and founded the Vičiūnai Group after Lithuania regained independence. Once elected as mayor in 2015, he resigned from positions at his companies and transferred the management of his business to his son. He has been praised for applying the business model he has successfully employed for many years in his companies in the governance of the city, but some criticise him for being too assertive and paying little attention to what others say.

Lithuania will hold the next direct mayoral and municipal elections on March 3, 2019.

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