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Friday 22.11.2019 | Name days: Aldis, Alfons, Aldris
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BNN summary of the week: budget-cutting; doctors’ strike; SIF posts in sights

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUSome people put on costumes and masks to partake in Halloween festivities, whereas others were forced to slave over piles of papers, calculating next year’s expenditures in Latvia.

Latvia’s Saeima supported in the first reading the country’s budget for 2020. Government representatives reminded that they divided money to ensure everyone would get something, whereas the opposition did what it usually does – remind the government that everyone received not enough.

Meanwhile, Latvian doctors announced plans to take it to the streets on 7 November. Many have taken unpaid leaves to protest outside the Saeima. Prior to the protest, doctors plan to meet with Latvian President Egils Levits to discuss the shortage of funding.

Riga City Council was also busy cutting the budget pie this week. Unfortunately, there is no money for development initiatives. Riga City Council Finance Department’s Municipal Budget Office Uldis Rakstiņš admits that the municipality’s financial capital is not sufficient to afford any surprise initiatives.

Long-standing NGO sector employee Zaiga Pūce, meanwhile, has won the personnel selection process in the Social Integration Fund. She has become a candidate for the post of the fund’s secretariat director. She has no shortage of ideas to improve the fund’s operations and she is prepared to take action. Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has taken notice of this situation and whether or not there is a conflict of interests.

The BNN gives you a summary of the key events of the past week, told in news stories of the following topics: Budget; Development; Strike; Minister’s Wife; Ceiling, Waste Saga; Borders; Burnout and Criticism.

BUDGET:

Latvia’s Saeima approves budget plan for 2020 in first reading

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe Saeima has conceptually approved the 2020 state budget project, medium-term budget plan for 2020, 2021 and 2022, as well as 26 accompanying legislative drafts associated with the budget, as confirmed by the parliament’s press-service.

Next year’s consolidated state budget revenue is planned at EUR 9.9 billion and expenditures – at EUR 10 billion. Base budget revenue in 2020 is planned at EUR 6.9 billion, whereas expenditures – at EUR 7.2 billion.

Budget deficit next year is planned at 0.3% of GDP, whereas GDP growth is expected to be 2.8%, which is the smallest in recent years.

Ministries have reviewed their expenditures, and money saved this year will serve as boost for all sectors. The government plans to increase the lowest wages in the country, as well as maximum differentiated non-taxable minimum to EUR 300. A year from now it is planned to increase minimal wages to EUR 500 a month, as explained by Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee chairman Mārtiņš Bondars.

Next year it is planned to divert EUR 228.7 million to the social sector. One of the main planned activities there is the increase of the state social guarantees. It is planned to be set at EUR 80 instead of the current EUR 64.03. This will also increase benefits for disabled people, as well as minimum amounts of disability pensions.

Full article here

DEVELOPMENT:

Riga City Council’s budget for 2020: no money for new development initiatives

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThere will be no money for new development initiatives in Riga City Council’s budget for 2020, admits head of the city council’s Finance Department’s Municipal Budget Office Uldis Rakstiņš.

Commenting on the municipality’s budget for 2019, Rakstiņš admits that the section for PIT is implemented well, as collected amounts are higher than expected.

As for at whose expense the municipality’s expenditures have decreased, he says the municipality is not doing well with different projects. These include Riga City Council Transport Department’s organized reconstruction of A.Deglava overpass and Brasas Bridge. As a result of this it has been decided to divert money to another year.

Construction of the Eastern Highway has stopped because the city council failed to complete its obligations on time. This is why the money provided by European funds for this project has been instead transferred to Transport Ministry for use on other projects.

Full article here

STRIKE:

Latvian healthcare workers to hold protest in November

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIn hopes of securing larger state funding for healthcare industry’s workers, doctors and other medical staff plant to take unpaid leave and organize a protest outside the Saeima building on 7 November, as confirmed by healthcare workers organizations’ representatives.

Doctors and nurses, who have taken unpaid leave, will gather at the protest. This means all planned medical examinations will not take place 7 November.

Prior to the protest, organizations representing medical personnel plan to organize a meeting with Latvia’s President Egils Levits on 5 November.

If efforts to secure funding bring no results, there will be a Latvia-wide event «Pull down the flag, light a candle!» between 8 and 14 November.

Full article here

MINISTER’S WIFE:

Corruption watchdog to investigate possible conflict of interest at Social Integration Fund

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULatvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) plans to investigate Ascendum manager and Latvia’s Environment Minister Juris Pūce’s wife Zaigas Pūce’s candidacy for the post of director of the Social Integration Fund’s secretariat (SIF).

KNAB has taken notice of this situation and plans to assess publicly available information.

As previously reported, the person who was picked in the personnel selection process to fill the post of the director of SIF secretariat is the manager of Ascendum association Zaiga Pūce, who is also the wife of Latvia’s Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce.

She received the highest score in all three stages of the selection process, as well as unanimous support from members of the personnel selection committee. Her candidacy is under approval by SIF council.

Full article here

CEILING:

Funding for parties: is state pocket money enough for Latvian parties?

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUTogether with the plan for Latvia’s budget for 2020 the idea to increase state funding for political parties next years has caused blood to boil in the veins of many residents. Especially because budget formation this year was accompanied by the phrase «No money!» – no money for doctors, no money for teachers, no money for anyone. Will changes to the law help parties «drop their addiction to sponsors» or will they only increase «pocket change» from the state budget?

Distrust of politics

It would seem the quickest way to lose friends in Latvia is joining a political party. Soon enough, friends, acquaintances and even family members voice their honest opinions about such a person’s personality, work ethic and lacking trustworthiness.

The low indexes of society’s involvement in politics and equally low trust towards parties, the parliament and government paints a picture that Latvian residents are confident – nothing good can come from political parties and people only join them to secure benefits for themselves, not society.

Because of that it is no surprise your average Latvian citizen is not particularly eager to join political parties and pay membership fees voluntarily and support their and the country’s values. Judging by this situation, the belief of Latvian residents is roughly the follows – only wealthy people join political parties to pave the way for their personal interests. It should be no surprise there are parties associated with very specific and powerful groups, such as insolvency administrators and «local rulers».

Full article here

WASTE SAGA:

To improve competition, Saeima supports amendments to Waste Management Law

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUOn Thursday, 30 October, Latvia’s Saeima conceptually supported amendments to the Waste Management Law to help promote competition among waste management service providers, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

«We have concluded that one of the significant factors to help resolve problems associated with waste management is listening to the Competition Council. This is why the legislative draft compiles proposals from the Competition Council to finally resolve one of the most significant tasks in the industry – promote competition,» said chairman of Saeima’s National Economy Committee Jānis Vitenbergs.

«Healthy competition would benefit every Latvian resident. Under such conditions services become of higher quality and prices become more attractive,» adds the deputy.

Amendments to the law state that municipalities or municipalities with shared waste management services whose total population exceeds EUR 50 000 are to divide their territory into at least two zones and have at least two service providers operate there.

Full article here

BORDERS:

Latvia’s Saeima to limit officials’ activities in foundations and associations

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUOn Thursday, 31 October, Latvia’s Saeima supported in the final reading a legislative draft that is intended to ensure officials who have jobs in associations, foundations and social companies are allowed to keep their jobs only if there are not paid wages, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

Restrictions will apply to Seaima deputies, prime minister and his deputy, ministers, and parliamentary secretary.

Legislative amendments provide for the aforementioned state officials are allowed to work in associations, foundations and social company only under the conditions they are not paid wages.

Full article here

BURNOUT:

Lithuanian doctor’s suicide sparks openness over workloads, abusive management

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUA doctor of leading Vilnius hospital has committed suicide prompting colleagues to speak out about systemic problems and their psychological effects on the working conditions of medical workers in the country.

Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reported on Thursday, October 31, that the doctor, a traumatologist in his 30s and a father of two, was found dead at home following a weekend shift at Vilnius University Hospital in mid-October.

A number of the man’s colleagues and doctors from other hospitals have come forward with stories of abuse by superiors, unreasonable working conditions and absence of any support from hospital management.

«Doctors are under a lot of stress at work. Workloads and responsibility are huge, but no one is offering any help,» commented Danguolė Survilaitė, a psychiatrist at Vilnius Psychiatry Hospital. «We’ve been talking about the need of psychotherapeutic help for doctors for a long time.»

Full article here

BURNOUT:

Ratas against Estonian EKRE’s criticism of funding to LGBT+ organisations

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas

Estonian government hotheads, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), have publicly criticised the increase in public funding to LGBT+ organisations, prompting a strongly worded statement from the Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre Party).

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports on Monday, October, 28, that EKRE had a council meeting on weekend, and also issued a public statement slamming the growth in funding for LGBT+ groups and other organizations it described as ideological.

The party’s members and others recently stormed an event organized by LGBT+ activists in Pärnu, forcing the gathering to reconvene at another location, ERR wrote.

Ratas got involved by stating on this social media page:

«Political statements, declarations or petitions on controversial issues in no way contribute to the achievement of shared goals and substantive cooperation».

Full article here


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Court sees personal promotion attempts in claims about delays with Maxima tragedy case

Riga City Pardaugava Court denies claims made by a number of people about slow progress with the review of the criminal case regarding the Zolitude tragedy. On top of that, the court says those are attempts to secure positive personal promotion at the expense of the tragedy’s victims and such claims mislead society.

Lithuania courts idea of establishing a state commercial bank

If you were this week to flick through pages of Lithuanian print and online outlets, the topic of banking will pop up on top. Lithuania’s Scandinavian capital-based commercial banks SEB and Swedbank are closing their regional branches, cash operations are gone in most bank affiliates, there are fewer ATM machines around, mortgage interest rates in Lithuania are higher than elsewhere and I can go on with the list on local banks’ sins. How to rein in the situation in banking sector?

Google, Facebook business incompatible with privacy rights, says Amnesty International

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has found in a study that the «surveillance-based business model» of Facebook and Google's is incompatible with the right to privacy. The U.S. companies disagree.

Latvia’s efforts to achieve climate neutrality may require billions of euros

Latvia has not yet estimated the costs of moving towards climate neutrality, but they may reach billions of euros, said Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry’s deputy state secretary Alda Ozola at the Energy and Climate Plan 2030 – Road towards Sustainable Country forum on Thursday, 21 November.

Ex-president: 13th Saeima is not responsible for previous parliament’s «cuckoo eggs»

Latvia’s ex-president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga believes there is no reason to dissolve the 13th Saeima.If the previous Saeima left some «cuckoo eggs» for the new parliament before leaving, such as something in legislation, this does not mean the current Saeima is to blame, says the ex-president.

If Riga City Council fails to resolve waste management problem, Pūce may initiate dismissal

If Riga City Council fails to resolve the waste management problem by 11 December, Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry will likely initiate the city council’s dismissal, said Environment Minister Juris Pūce in a conversation with journalists on 21 November.

Rats in Estonia cut e-governance services

In Estonia, which sees itself as the world’s first digital nation, has experienced an interruption of state e-services, caused, apparently, by rats in Harju County around Tallinn.

Saeima deputies: bio-economy is a major strategic development direction for Latvia

Bio-economy is one of the main strategic directions for Latvia and the National Development Plan for 2021-2027 needs to have a section dedicated to bio-economy. It needs to detail a specific vision for necessary innovations, labour force resource and capital attraction.

Greece to close overcrowded migrant camps

The Greek government has announced plans to shut down overcrowded open migrant camps to open closed and smaller centres.

Cērps: financial stability should be the main priority for the Bank of Latvia

One major priority for the Bank of Latvia should be responsibility over the stability of the financial system, said potential candidate for the post of the Bank of Latvia and ex-chairman of the Finance and Capital Market Commission Uldis Cērps.

Spanish court points to Ryanair baggage fee excessiveness

Europe’s leading airline Ryanair has been fined by a court in Spain that ruled that asking a fee for hand baggage is excessive.

European Commission positive about Latvia’s budget for 2020

Latvia maintained budget discipline in its next year’s budget plan, the deficit is within acceptable borders, but the tax portion’s decline before the economy generally does not allow for rapid increase of public expenditures, including wages, pensions and benefits, the European Commission admits.

Terrorist attack victim numbers decline, but many countries remain at risk of terrorism

The number of people who died in terrorist attacks around the world had dropped 15.2% in 2018. Nevertheless, the number of countries that are under risk of terrorist attacks has only increased since then, as reported by the Institute for Economics and Peace on Tuesday, 20 November.

Swedish TV: U.S. investigates Swedbank over violations of Russia sanctions

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Saeima’s committee views residents’ request on postponing increase of party funding

On Wednesday, 20 November, Saeima’s Mandates, Ethics and Submissions Committee conceptually supported the legislative draft on the initiative signed by more than 11 000 residents in regards to the significant increase of funding for political parties and its submission to the parliament’s Budget Committee for review.

Estonia sees no alternative to NATO and says it’s strong

Estonia’s top diplomate Urmas Reinsalu has announced prior to a meeting with counterparts from other NATO nations that he considers the alliance strong and sees no alternatives to it.

Supplying all Latvian residents with food would cost nearly EUR 12 million per day

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State Revenue Service employees’ «glances» at sensitive files and symbolic penalties

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Malta arrests businessman in journalist murder case

Maltese authorities have arrested in the murder case of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on Wednesday a well-known entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech. Police and Fenech himself have not yet commented publicly on the operation

Latvia’s finance minister bets on tax reform to find money for healthcare

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Levits: Principle of irresponsibility is entrenched in Latvia

Latvian President Egils Levits, discussing the issue of doctor wages in the country, has said: «We have developed for a long time a mechanism of irresponsibility». The head of state gave an interview to Latvijas Televīzija’s programme Rīta Panorāma on Wednesday, November 20.

Riga Mayor ready to resign, if no new majority in City Council

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Lithuanian firefighters protest over low pay and outdated equipment

Lithuanian firefighters have reminded of government commitments in the field in a protest in Vilnius over the average wage of 430 euros and outdated equipment.

Sweden discontinues investigation into Wikileaks Assange over rape

Swedish investigators have decided to end investigation into Julian Assange, the whistle-blower organisation Wikileaks, over alleged rape that has been upheld since 2010.

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