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Sunday 15.12.2019 | Name days: Jana, Johanna, Hanna
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BNN summary of the week: Cutting a pie. Minimal wage. Dangerous games

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

Is there a pleasant aroma of a fresh pie in the air? Judging by events of the past week, the tasty smell of the 2020 budget has already spread across government corridors even though the dough is not ever ready.

Latvia’s Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča has already told everyone how big a pie piece she wants. National Electronic Mass Media Council member Patriks Grīva has also said the council wants some, too.

The next year’s budget will also have to take into account plans for minimal wages. During the meeting of the coalition’s tax policy committee no one objected to raising minimal wages in Latvia to EUR 500. Although no meeting has been made so far, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš mentioned in the middle of the week that it would be more reasonable to raise non-taxable minimum.

Meanwhile, in spite of experts’ concerns about Russia collecting user data, people continue using FaceApp to see how they might look after they grow old and retire. Security experts say the app is no more dangerous than Facebook. Still, users are advised to be more careful with their personal data.

BNN offers you a summary of the most topical developments of the week, including topics such as: Shame brand; Minimal wage; Pie sharing; Dangerous games; Wedding bells; Great hopes and Funding.

SHAME BRAND:

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

New York Times: stakes are high for Latvia in the fight against money laundering

US newspaper New York Times has published an article detailing problems with Latvia’s finance system, admitting that stakes are especially high in the fight against money laundering in this Baltic country.

«For years, according to the authorities in Europe and the United States, some banks in the drowsy Baltic port city of Riga specialized in helping these and other criminals wipe their fingerprints off dirty money before it was moved to offshore havens,» NYT writes.

As examples, NYT mentions the investment consultant whose financial pyramid had stolen from Russian residents USD 10 million, the Taiwanese businessman who helped North Korea acquire precision tools to advance its nuclear arms programme, as well as the corrupt Ukrainian politician who tried to launder millions stolen from his country.

Recent scandals involving Scandinavian banks Swedbank and Danske Bank revealed that accounts in Baltic States were used to process millions of euros of dubious origin. This is why USA decided to increase pressure against Baltic States to prevent Russian citizens from circumventing sanctions, NYT writes.

Latvian officials have promised to take measures against banks that have breached the law and have «made the country one of the world’s pre-eminent money-laundering centers», NYT adds.

Full article here

MINIMAL WAGE:

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

Latvian tax policy committee not against raising minimal wages to EUR 500

On Monday, 15 July, Latvian coalition tax policy development committee conceptually outlined support for the proposal to increase minimal wages in the country to EUR 500 in 2020. No one objected to this option, journalists were told by Krišjānis Feldmans.

At the same time, the politician said the decision is not yet made as more discussions are planned.

According to the Development Committee meeting chair Ints Dālderis, the meeting addressed Finance Ministry’s scenario on raising minimal wages to EUR 470, EUR 500 or EUR 550. At the same time, no decisions have been made so far.

Dālderis notes that the development does not make decisions, as this task is in the hands of the government. The topic has been discussed in order to pave way for discussions by political parties and the government in September with involvement from social partners.

Full article here

PIE SHARING:

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

Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča

Welfare Ministry requests EUR 54 million for welfare priorities in Latvia

Next year’s welfare priorities in Latvia will require additional funding of EUR 54 million, says Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča.

Among the ministry’s priorities are different initiatives, including the increase of minimal pensions, improvement of the pension indexation mechanism, state support for the poor who have disabled children, and others.

Petraviča admits that most likely there will not be enough funding for all priorities. This is why the first and main priority is raising minimal pensions and improving the minimal state support system.

This will require EUR 27.5 million, for which the minister is prepared to fight.

According to the minister, there are many different needs, including Latvia’s Castle of Light and the expensive bridge. There is also the need for an acoustic concert hall in Riga. Nevertheless, Petraviča believes a situation when pensioners have to survive with EUR 64 a month just because officials want bigger wages is unacceptable.

The minister notes that a conceptual agreement has been reached with municipalities in regards to raising GMI level next year from EUR 53 to EUR 64. On top of that, if minimal pensions and social insurance benefits are increased next year, it may be possible to increase GMI to EUR 99 a year after, said the minister.

She believes increasing minimal pensions is the first step for reducing poverty, because pensioners are the most at risk to the risk of poverty, especially lonely pensioners.

Full article here

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUMedia Council: increased funding will be needed for public media and NEPLP next year

More than EUR 6 million will be needed to finance Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP), Latvian Television and Latvijas Radio, said NEPLP member Patriks Grīva.

Grīva said that NEPLP has submitted to the government a list of the main priorities for 2020. A total of 14 priorities are listed. All of them cover the needs of Latvijas Radio, Latvian Television and NEPLP. One priority requirement is aimed at content creation and distribution for Latvijas Radio. This includes capacity enhancement activities by means of increasing wages of Latvijas Radio journalists and other workers.

He adds that EUR 989 321 is needed to improve Latvijas Radio content and working conditions next year. This amount may increase in the coming years, however.

When asked about the possible wage increase for journalists and other Latvijas Radio employees,

Grīva explained that NEPLP’s main objective is supporting Latvijas Radio and ensuring the government plans next year’s budget amount in a way to afford increasing wages for Latvijas Radio employees.

Full article here

DANGEROUS GAMES:

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUNATO StratCom does not consider FaceApp more dangerous than Facebook

The US Democratic Party is concerned about Russian-made FaceApp, which allows its users to imagine how they might look like when they are old and retired. NATO StratCom, however, does not consider the app to be more dangerous than other apps users entrust their personal data with, as reported by Latvian public media.

Latvia-based NATO StratCom has told public broadcaster LTV programme Panorāma that it is currently not possible to tell if FaceApp supplies its user data to the Russian government or other third parties. The centre does not want to dissuade residents from using the app, but it is still advised to consider if it is worth handing personal data over to an unknown third party.

Cert.lv security incident prevention institute urges users to consider the risks that come from using free apps. Nevertheless, according to specialists, FaceApp is no more dangerous than Facebook.

Full article here

WEDDING BELLS:

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU260 more marriages than last year registered in Latvia so far in 2019

In the six months of 2019, a total of 4 730 marriages were registered, and that is 260 marriages more than during the same period of the previous year.

During the last three years the number of marriages has become stable, and on average 13 thousand marriages are registered a year, according to data from Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

The number of live births in Latvia is decreasing for the fourth year already. In 2018, as compared to 2017, 1.5 thousand children fewer were born. Also, in the first six months of 2019, 8 927 children were registered, which is 891 newborn fewer than in the same period of 2018.

Full article here

GREAT HOPES:

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUOpen arms for Lidl – Estonian competition watchdog predicts lower prices

Expecting the entry of the German supermarket chain Lidl on the Estonian market, the country’s Competition Authority expects healthier competition and lower prices.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports on Thursday, July 18, that Katrin Tasa, deputy director of the Supervisory Department of the Estonian Competition Authority said in an interview with Vikkerraadio that currently, 70 percent of Estonia’s retail market is controlled by four retail chains.

«The retail market is highly competitive, and with the arrival of Lidl, it will become even more competitive,» Tasa evaluated.

«The Competition Authority is happy about every newcomer. Considering Lidl’s concept, they should also be bringing lower prices with them.»

Full article here

FUNDING:

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULatvian government approves funding for procurement of new electrical trains

Latvia’s government has approved state budget long-term commitment of EUR 255 888 753 to finance railway passenger transport company AS Pasažieru vilciens (PV). This means PV might sign a contract with Škoda Vagonka soon, as confirmed by Transport Ministry.

Funding is planned to be allocated from 2019 to 2024. When compared to the funding approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 5 November 2018, it is three million euros smaller. Money will be used for the procurement of 32 new electric trains, spare parts and train maintenance equipment, as well as personnel training with help from Škoda Vagonka.

It is expected the contract will be signed before the end of July 2019.

Transport Ministry notes that the chosen funding model for the new trains is the cheapest available to the country. It will not create additional costs in the form of interest before commercial banks. «This train financing model, according to the clarified business plan project, will not provide compensation from the state budget for PV starting with 2025.»

Full article here


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Week in Lithuania: Conscription age lowered, Klaipėda port’s development plan approved, retail tax delayed

Last week, in Lithuania, the key news stories were the lowering of the national conscription age, the approval of the development plan of the Klaipėda port and the delay of the real estate tax.

BNN summary of the week: end of Lembergs Era? New governor for Bank of Latvia; fight for Riga City Council

The overthrowing of the «old league» in Latvia has caused a domino effect. The most notable event to have taken place this week is the addition of Aivars Lembergs and four of the associations he has influence over to the list of sanctioned persons USA. This has shaken up the established order in Ventspils and Latvia.

Aivars Lembergs leaves his post in Latvian Olympic Committee

On Friday, 13 December, individual member of Latvian Olympic Committee and member of its Executive Committee Aivars Lembergs announced to LOK board his decision to leave the organization, BNN was told by LOK press-secretary Mārtiņš Mālmeisters.

Ralfs Kļaviņš and Edvīns Bērziņš leave the board of Latvian Transit Business Association

Chairman of Riga Commercial Port Ralfs Kļaviņš and ex-chairman of Latvian Railway Edvīns Bērziņš have left the board of Latvian Transit Business Association, according to information from Firmas.lv.

US sanctions will not affect companies in which Lembergs no longer has any influence

The sanctions introduced by USA against Lembergs will not affect the companies over which he no longer has control thanks to a ruling of the court.

Liquidation of discount fares on multiple RMS routes would help save money for Rīgas satiksme

By liquidating multiple discounts for passenger fares on multiple LLC Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme routes, LLC Rīgas satiksme public transport company hopes to save approximately EUR 1.75 million a year.

Tallinn region GDP portion decreases in Estonian economy

In 2018, 65% of the Estonian gross value added was created in Harju county, while the rest of the country is inching closed with Harju county, the official statistics of the Baltic country showed.

EU prolongs targeted sanctions against Russia over Ukraine

The European Union has extended for another six months its sanctions against Russia’s energy, finance and military sectors. The continued restrictive measures are said to remain in full until Minsk peace deal is implemented.

Local government representatives will no longer work at Riga and Ventspils freeport

Following the coming into force of amendments to the Law on Ports, representatives of Riga City Council and Ventspils City Council will lose their respective posts in the board of Riga Freeport and Ventspils Freeport, the law states.

Total tax debts in Latvia at December’s beginning – EUR 869.4 million

At the beginning of December, total tax debts in Latvia, including outstanding, halted and extended debts, were equal to EUR 869.367 million, which is 1.9% less than a month prior, according to data from the State Revenue Service.

In UK’s Brexit election, Conservatives win comfortable majority

In the British snap parliamentary election aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse, the ruling Conservative Party has won gaining a comfortable majority, according to close to complete results.

Riga City Council’s interim administration may be entrusted to VARAM state secretary Balševics

If the Saeima votes in favour of dismissing Riga City Council, the interim municipal administration may be entrusted to Environment Protection and Regional Ministry’s state secretary Edvīns Balševics, according to the ministry’s Riga City Council dismissal legislative draft to be decided on by the government on 17 December.

EU member states commit to 2050 carbon neutrality, Poland opts out

European Union’s 26 members, including the Baltic states, have supported the planned political course to considerably reduce the greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Coal-powered Poland said it could not reach the goal and opted out.

Latvia’s prime minister forms a work group to ensure Ventspils Freeport’s operations

On Thursday, 12 December, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has issued an order on formation of a work group under Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits in order to ensure undisrupted operations at Ventspils Freeport, as reported by the prime minister’s press-secretary Sandris Sabajevs.

Ministry: to prevent damaging Latvian sports sector’s reputation, Lembergs should leave LOK

To avoid letting US sanctions negatively affect Latvian Olympic Committee and spread to the reputation of the country’s sports sector, the ministry can only ask Aivars Lembergs step down as member of LOK Executive Committee, BNN was told by Education and Science Ministry.

Budget Committee declines residents’ request to postpone increasing funding for parties

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has rejected a public initiative signed by more than 11 000 residents. This initiative requested postponing the planned increase of funding for political parties.

Lower election threshold in Lithuania – more democracy or chaos?

The Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, has lowered this week the parliamentary election threshold to 3 per cent for political parties and 5 per cent for coalitions.

Russia expels German diplomats, retaliating to German step over Berlin murder

Russia has asked two diplomats of the German Embassy to leave the country. This is a tit-for-tat measure after Germany declared two Russian diplomats personae non grata as Berlin investigates an international murder in the German capital, TASS reported.

Riga Freeport and Liepaja Special Economic Zone to leave LTAB

Riga Freeport and Liepaja Special Economic Zone will leave Latvian Transit Business Association managed by Aivars Lembergs, as both are subjected to US sanctions.

Lembergs’ influence over Ventspils Freeport needs to end, bank supervisors say

The goal of the US sanctions is reducing Aivars Lembergs’ economic and political influence over Ventspils Freeport and other companies under his control. Sanctions are not meant to paralyse companies, rather seeing how they are used to process deals influenced by the person under sanctions – Aivars Lembergs, said Finance and Capital Market Commission head Santa Purgaile during a press-conference on Thursday, 12 December.

USD 25 million offered in Weinstein sage to 30 alleged sexual abuse victims

In the U.S. movie industry scandal surrounding sexual abuse claims against film producer Harvey Weinstein his lawyers have offered a USD 25-million settlement to more than 30 women, The Guardian reports.

Legal Affairs Committee supports lifting judge immunity for administrative violation cases

Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee supported prior to the second reading legislative drafts to the Law on Judicial Power and Law on Judges Disciplinary Liability intended to lift the immunity of judges in administrative violation cases, as confirmed by Justice Ministry.

Estonian-Finnish gas interconnection unveiled

Estonia and Finland have held ceremonies to unveil the gas pipeline Balticconnector, built to connect the gas transmission networks of both countries separated by the Baltic Sea.

Mārtiņš Kazāks officially becomes governor of the Bank of Latvia

On Thursday, 12 December, Latvia’s Saeima officially approved Mārtiņš Kazāks as the new governor of the Bank of Latvia, as BNN was told by Saeima’s press-service.

What is Ventspils Development Agency and what will its members do now?

Among the organizations against which US Department of Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control has adopted sanctions is also Ventspils Development Agency. In accordance with OFAC issued Global Magnitsky General Licence Nr.1, global partners have 30 days to cease all cooperation with this organization.


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