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Monday 17.12.2018 | Name days: Teiksma, Hilda

BNN summary of the week: Saeima wakes up and UGF deputy drowns in scandals

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Change; Conflict; Deal; Suspicion; Fight; Growth; Question.

CHANGE: Saeima «wakes up» – conceptually supports open election of State President

On Thursday, 6 September, Latvia’s Saeima conceptually supported amendments to the Constitution that provide for open election of the State President.

The legislative draft was supported by 82 deputies. Askolds Kļaviņš from the Union of Greens and Farmers voted against it. Valdis Kalnozols (UGF), Viktors Valainis (UGF) and Juris Vectirāns (UGF) did not participate in the vote.

Proposals for the legislative draft’s second reading are allowed to be submitted until 11 September.

Saeima will need to discuss these amendments in the second and third readings.

As previously reported, Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee will try to push the Constitution amendment project, which provides for open election of the State President, before the upcoming parliamentary elections, said the committee’s chairman Gaidis Bērziņš (National Alliance ‘All for Latvia!’ – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK).

Full article here

CONFLICT: Green Farmers member steps down before the end of his career in Saeima

Latvian Saeima deputy Askolds Kļaviņš from the Union of Greens and Farmers has decided to put down his mandate.

When asked if he has written his resignation, Kļaviņš told journalists that he has.

BNN had previously reported that the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau has commenced a criminal process against Kļaviņš for abuse of official status. After becoming a resident of Liepaja, Kļaviņš started receiving five-times larger transport cost compensation than other members of the parliament.

Full article here

DEAL: Latvian government reaches agreement on teachers’ pay financing from state budget

On Friday, 7 September, by slightly easing initially proposed criteria, Latvia’s Education Ministry and its social partners managed to reach an agreement in relation to financing teachers’ wages from the state budget starting with 1 September 2020.

As journalists were told by Education and Science Minister Kārlis Šadurskis after meeting with partners, the agreement was reached that provision of funding for teachers’ wages will take into account the average compulsory centralized exam index, not the lowest index, as it was originally until now.

The lowest exam index will be taken into account from 2023 onward, when secondary school students are expected to undergo exams formed from new education content.

It has also been decided that quality criteria for the minimal number of students will be applied for 10th class and secondary school student groups.

Šadurskis said that monitoring will be organized to see if there is any need to change criteria in the future.

Full article here

SUSPICION: Two Estonians suspected to have been spying for Russia for years

A court in Estonia has ordered the arrest of two men suspected of spying for Russia, the Estonian Office of the Prosecutor General has stated.

The suspects are Denis Metsavas, born in 1980, who has served in the Estonian Defence Forces for 10 years up to now and his father Pjotr Volin.

Both are Russian-speakers, who have acquired their Estonian citizenships in the 1990s.

Prosecutors believe that both suspects have forwarded state secrets and confidential outside information to the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia, the Estonian neighbour’s military intelligence service.

Full article here

FIGHT: LDz requests EUR 57 million from Lithuania for dismantling Mazeikiai-Renge railway line

Latvian railway company VAS Latvijas dzelzceļš has requested Lithuanian railway company Lietuvos geležinkeliai to pay EUR 57 million as a compensation for the dismantling of Mazeikiai-Renge railway line in 2008.

Lietuvos geležinkeliai, which received the request on Monday, considers it unjustified.

Lithuanian Transport Minister Rokas Masiulis has called this request a part of political pre-election games.

‘We view this step made by Latvia as part of political games prior to October’s elections. I can only say that it is sad Riga did not decide to wait until the end of the case with European Commission. Lithuania has already commenced the restoration of Reņģe line. We are doing everything we can to resolve this old conflict,’ he said.

As noted in Lithuanian Transport Ministry’s released statement, LDz has requested information as to when it is planned to restore railway traffic. LDz has also requested a compensation for lost profits.

Director General of Lietuvos geležinkeliai Mants Bartuška said the company has coordinated the transport restoration plan on Mazeikiai-Renge route. Construction is planned to be completed by the end of next year.

«Estimates regarding allegedly lost profits lack justified arguments, because freight volumes headed in Latvia’s direction remain the same as they were prior to the dismantling of the railway line,» the official mentioned in the statement.

According to the company’s director general, even after the dismantling of Reņģe railway line railway connectivity with Latvia was still possible. However, existing railway lines are not used to their full potential, and some of them have not been used for 15 years.

The statement mentions that LDz has had the opportunity to carry oil products from Lithuania using other directions, but the company has never tried using this opportunity.

Full article here

GROWTH: 90% of businesses may support proposal to stop using plastic straws

90% of businesses selling plastic straws may participate in a special campaign Bez salmiņa [No straw] organized by Latvian Traders Association and waste management company Zaļā josta, sats KTA president Henriks Danusēvičs.

According to him, the initiative was launched 5 September and is expected to gather 90% of traders that sell products that use plastic straws.

He reminds that 1,000 catering companies, restaurants, school cafeterias and small cafes are part of LTA, and it is planned to involve them in this initiative. «We cannot force anyone [to take part], but we do unite socially responsible companies, and we hope they will join us in this initiative,» said Danusēvičs.

LTA president reminds that the European Union has commenced a fight against single-use plastic accessories to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants from plastic items. Although this directive will come to force in 2020, society and businesses may start realizing changes sooner.

The first step towards cleaning up the environment would be stopping the use of cocktail straws. During the event, businesses will be given stickers urging to stop using plastic straws at cafes, bars, restaurants and stores.

According to Danusēvičs, exclusion of plastic straws from trade in the future may be a step towards exacting ecological changes, which could be followed up by refusal to use unnecessary plastic bags, large packages, plastic cups, etc.

Full article here

QUESTION: Why did corruption watchdog chief lie about the information leak? Will he change his strategy now?

Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau chief Jēkabs Straume explains that when journalists had initially asked him about the possible information leak in relation to the criminal case involving Saeima deputy Askolds Kļaviņš he said he knew nothing because he had no idea information from the report to the prosecutor general had ended up in the hands of the press.

Straume also said that no head of a state institution would ever disclose information from restricted access documents. When Straume found out about the information leak, he admitted it and provided an explanation.

CPCB chief also said he is ready to publish the institution’s report addressed to Prosecutor General Ēriks Kalnmeiers regarding the possible information leak in relation to the Saeima deputy’s case if all permits have been received.

Straume mentioned after a meeting of the National Security Committee that he would sign approval for publication of this document. However, this requires permission from the investigator and supervisory prosecutor. He said the appropriate time for the publication of the document is after commencement of criminal prosecution.

When asked if there was an information leak in Kļaviņš’s case, Straume said he is «moderately convinced that it is not as though [Indulis] Emsis had information that CPCB has launched a criminal process for him to tell about it to Kļaviņš». At the same time, Straume said CPCB had requested Saeima to provide copies of receipts in March. «Do you think other ways for information distribution are not possible in this situation?» said the chief of the bureau, responding to the question regarding information in Emsis’ hands. He says the matter regarding information in Emsis’ hands has been checked by the prosecutor’s office.

Straume also told journalists that Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis did not disclose any information about Kļaviņš too early.

Full article here

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Week in Lithuania. Prosecutors mull probe into Russia sanction violations

Lithuanian prosecutors announced this week they were mulling launching a pre-trial investigation in to the purchase by around ten companies of fertilizers from Russia's Minudobreniya, which allegedly violates the EU's sanctions against Russia.

BNN summary of the week: scheme bubble of Rīgas satiksme; Estonia raises wages; government formation in Latvia

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Scandal; Plans; Growth; Protests; Amendments; Fight; Opinion.

Experts: fiscal consolidation is unavoidable next year

The new government will have to perform fiscal consolidation when compiling the state budget for 2019. This opinion was sent to the Saeima and Cabinet of Ministers by the Fiscal Discipline Council in relation to the 13th Saeima’s approval of amendments for the Healthcare Law that provide for a 20% wage increase for doctors starting next.

Ventspils opposition: the Constitution stands above municipality’s opinions on city governance

«For us to work to our full capacity, we require information and stay in the loop. If the work of the city council was organized during meetings of the city council and committees, we would have this opportunity. But because the work of the city council is put under other institutions – committees, in this case – and we [majority of opposition deputies] are not allowed to participate in those meetings and receive documents, this means our rights as deputies and voters are being limited. This, we believe, is the most important aspect to be breached,» said Ventspils City Council opposition deputy Aivis Landmanis said during a hearing of the Administrative Court in Liepaja in regards to Ventspils City Council’s refusal to adopt proportionality principles in committees and other structures.

EU offers Britons clarification, but no renegotiation of Brexit deal

European Union member state leaders and the blocs top officials have stated at a summit with British Prime Minister Theresa May, that the Brexit withdrawal agreement that lacks clear support in UK parliament was not open for renegotiation.

Estonia raises minimum wage

The minimum monthly wage in Estonia has been approved at the level of 540 euros, which is an increase from 500 euros.

This year e-signature was used to sign more than 5.7 million documents in Latvia

This year, e-signature was used more than half a million times a month in Latvia. A total of 5.7 million documents have been signed using this function in Latvia so far. More than 25,000 now use e-signature function on their smart-phones.

Trump distances himself from crimes committed by his lawyer

Reacting to the conviction of American lawyer Michael Cohen over campaign funding violations, U.S. President Donald Trump has distanced himself from the lawyer and accused him of attempts to embarrass Trump.

New Unity starts consultations with parties on forming government with Kariņš in charge

New Unity will insist on getting Finance Ministry in the new government, because it is only logical to have this ministry managed by the prime minister’s party, says NU representative and Saeima deputy Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš.

Strasbourg terrorist «neutralised» after opening fire on police

The attacker suspected of killing two people and injuring 12 more people at a Strasbourg Christmas market has been shot dead by French police.

Next week in Latvia to start off with snowfall

The end of the week is not expected to have any major weather changes in Latvia, whereas next week will start off with snowfall and gradual decline of air temperature, promises Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Court arrests Harmony sponsor and Honour to Serve Riga party member

Riga City Vidzeme District Court issued an arrest to businessman Aleksandrs Krjačeks on Thurday, 13 December. He was previously detained by Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau in the criminal case regarding procurements organized by SIA Rīgas satiksme, as confirmed by the man’s lawyer Valdis Ulmanis.

Saeima: increase of doctors’ wages should be a government priority

When preparing the budget plan for the next three years, the government should allocate money for the 20% increase of doctors’ wages. This is provided by changes to Healthcare Financing Law, approved by the Saeima in two readings on Thursday, 13 December.

airBaltic to perform more flights between Riga and Liepaja

During a visit today in Liepaja CEO of Latvian airline airBaltic Martin Gauss announced that airBaltic will increase the number of domestic flights between Riga and Liepaja from three to five weekly as of summer season 2019.

Court arrests Škoda commercial director; CPCB request arrests for two more people

Latvian court has arrested Škoda commercial director Vladislav Kozak following a request from Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau in relation to the criminal case regarding procurements performed by Rīgas satiksme.

EY: investments in crypto currency offers have largely failed

86% of 141 initial crypto currency offers presented last year have lost value over the course of the first eight months of this year. Additionally 30% of them have lost nearly all of their value, according to Initial Coin Offerings study by EY.

Estonian criminal figure convicted in Ireland

A court in Ireland has convicted Estonian criminal figure Imre Arakas, finding him guilting of conspiracy to murder.

As income increase, housing becomes more accessible in all Baltic capitals

Housing Accessibility Index improved in all Baltic capitals in Q3 2018. The main factor for this was the growth of average net salaries. Additionally, beneficial economic development also improved households’ interest for housing acquisition, which was reflected both in increased activity on the apartment market and household loan portfolio growth.

Lithuanian PM suspects Kremlin-backed opposition behind teacher attacks

The nearer municipal council, presidential and EP elections, the more sparkles Lithuania’s political leadership spews out. With the linguistic weaponry exhausted in the Seimas, the party leaders seek help from intelligence services.

EP proposes stricter monitoring of militants returning to Europe to combat terrorism better

The European Parliament has presented proposals for better measures against radicalization, better data exchange and support of victims of terrorism, as well as several other proposals for European Union’s strategy for terrorism prevention.

Latvian media organizations found Media Ethics Council

On Wednesday, 12 December, Latvian Media Ethics Council was founded. It is a public organization meant to unite media organizations and legal persons associated with the media sector and supervise compliance with the council’s statutes and code of ethics, the council explains.

U.S. President's former lawyer sentenced to prison

The former personal attorney of U.S. President Donald Trump has been handed a prison sentence for violations of the rules of election campaign. A New York court has sentenced Michael Cohen to three years in federal prison.

Latvian parties hear New Unity leader’s offer; opinions on coalition still differ

Political parties in Latvia are prepared to listen to New Unity and its prime minister candidate Krišjāņis Kariņš’s initiative in the government formation process.

British PM stays after no-confidence vote, attends EU summit

British Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a no-confidence vote in her ruling Conservative Party and on Thursday attends a summit of the European Union.

European Parliament ratifies EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement

On Wednesday, 12 December, gave green light for EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which is EU’s all-time largest mutual trade agreement.

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