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Saturday 23.03.2019 | Name days: Mirdza, Žanete, Žanna

BNN summary of the week: when is Brexit? Estonia’s government worries; more problems with Rīgas satiksme

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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: Attempt; Decision; Investigation; Scandal; Legislation; Expectation.

ATTEMPT: Take two in Estonia coalition-building as Centre rejects Reform’s offer

Estonia grand coalition attempt fails after two largest parliamentary parties fail to agree on tax policies. Election winners, Reform Party, are now focusing on their other option with social democrats and national-conservatives.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that late last week, after preliminary talks with the Reform Party, the Centre Party chairman and outgoing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas explained that it was differences of opinion when it came to tax matters that ended up being the red line.

Centre’s Jaanus Karilaid added that Reform’s planned tax reform would not allow for Centre’s planned extraordinary pension hike.

Full article here

DECISION: Russia commemorates annexation of Crimea with coin worth EUR 0.07

The Bank of Russia has issued a commemorative coin to mark five years since Russia staged a disputed referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea, which led to the illegal annexation of the territory and the partial international isolation of Russia.

The Russian central bank wrote in a press release on Tuesday, March 12: «The Bank of Russia issues a base metal coin in denomination of 5 rubles dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the referendum on the status of the Crimea and Sevastopol and the Crimea reunification with Russia.»

The face value of the coin, which also features an illegally-built bridge to connect the peninsular to mainland Russia, is 5 Russian rubles, which equals 0.07 euros.

Full article here

INVESTIGATION: Rīgas satiksme’s fuel supplier’s beneficiary may have ties to criminal world

In the past several years, Rīgas satiksme has been receiving fuel supplies from a company whose true beneficiaries, two Italians living in Monaco, were mentioned in a study carried out by international investigative journalists about the criminal world, as reported by TV3 programme Nekā Personīga.

In the past, there had been information reported by the media that Rīgas satiksme overpays for fuel. On top of that, results of a recent audit prove that fuel procurement at the company is not economically efficient. Nevertheless, RS continues procuring fuel from the same supplier.

Additionally, the research performed by international investigative journalists reveals that businessmen hiding behind offshore companies could have ties to the criminal world in Italy and Russia. Representatives of the company in Latvia deny this, Nekā Personīga reports.

Some years ago there was a petrol station located on the side of a highway in Ieriķi. Ten years ago it was bought out by businessman Māris Āriņš. His business then boomed rapidly. The company then got its hand on an opportunity to supply fuel to RS and sometime after that – to Latvian Railway, journalists explains.

This businessman also got his hands on an oil base. The territory in Sloka was previously owned by RS subsidiary Degvielas apgāds. When Nils Ušakovs was first appointed Mayor of Riga for the first two years, RS decided that oil base that was previously modernized using municipality’s money is no longer needed and sold it to Āriņš. The oil base is managed by RDZ Energy. RS continues procuring fuel from this company.

Full article here

SCANDAL: Unity faction leader asks prosecutor to launch criminal case against Riga’s mayor

The leader of Unity’s faction in Riga City Council Vilnis Ķirsis has turned to the Prosecutor General’s Office, requesting a detailed investigation of the employment of people close to Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga political parties in Rīgas satiksme.

Additionally, he has requested a separate investigation of the level of responsibility Nils Ušakovs, as shareholder in Rīgas satiksme, for the catastrophic financial situation of this company, as confirmed by Unity faction’s consultant Edmunds Jurēvics.

Jurēvics explains that he sent a letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office on 11 March. In it, the head of Unity’s faction in Riga City Council asked authorities to investigate decisions made by the management of Rīgas satiksme and Ušakovs as the company’s shareholder and whether his actions bear signs of abuse of power for personal gain, as well as negligence that cause serious financial damages to the company. On top of that, Ķirsis has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate if there are signs of violations of the law in regards to illegal financing of political parties in the situation with possible fictive employment of several dozen people.

Ķirsis comments: «As a shareholder in SIA Rīgas satiksme, Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs , had no way of being in the dark about the situation in the company, because he is the one who created this uneconomical and corrupt system in the first place. Additionally, he covered for it, and is thereby personally responsible for what happened. Nils Ušakovs should answer not only politically but also before the law for using Rīgas satiksme as ‘feeding ground’ for Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga officials for years. On top of that, similarly to Rīgas namu pārvaldnieks, it seems dozens of people there are employed fictively and receive thousands of euros in wages for doing no work at all. I think Ušakovs’ place is in prison, not the European Parliament.»

Full article here

LEGISLATION: Latvian Saeima committee supports changes to overtime pay

Saeima’s Social and Employment Matters Committee supported in the final reading amendments to the Labour Law, providing for paying 50% for overtime work if a general agreement on wages is signed in the industry.

This regulation applies to signing of general agreement regarding the size of bonus pay for overtime work, setting it no lower than 50% of employees’ set hourly rate.

At the same time, amendments clarify that the general agreement document should provide a section on an increase of minimal wage or hourly rate in an industry – at least 50% of the country’s set minimal wage or hourly rate.

A representative of Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office pointed to the risk of new regulations not complying with the Constitution during the meeting, saying the office would not be able to represent the Saeima in this matter at the Constitutional Court if need be.

During the meeting of the committee, State President Raimonda Vējonis’ constitutional rights advisor Jānis Pleps said that, considering constitutional risks in regards to the legislative process, review of the proposal could be started anew. He referenced the conclusions published by the Constitutional Court regarding the importance of compliance with appropriate law approval process.

Authors of the approved proposal provided their arguments why their proposal complies with the Constitution and not the other way around.

Full article here

EXPECTATION: UK refuses to leave EU without agreement, in non-binding vote

The British Parliament has made Brexit process even more confusing as the majority of the country’s legislators have both rejected the only withdrawal deal the European Union can offer and refused to leave the bloc without a deal.

British public broadcaster BBC reports that on Thursday, March 14, members of the country’s Parliament will vote on whether to ask the EU for permission to delay the date for departure.

The British government has stated that there could be a short extension – or a much longer one – depending on whether MPs backed the government’s existing withdrawal deal that has been agreed with the EU by 20 March.

In the evening of Wednesday, March 13, the House of Commons rejected a no-deal withdrawal in a series of votes. Their decision is non-binding, therefore the UK can still leave the EU without a deal on March 29, if the bloc refuses to grant the country an extension.

Full article here

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Crumbling buildings and the future of Riga’s slums

There are many empty buildings in Riga at the moment. However, Riga’s slums have a way to be reborn. One option is Rail Baltica, which could potentially change the situation with jobs in the city centre. Developers might have many complicated objectives ahead of them, considering that more and more people may decide to relocate to Riga’s central districts, said Riga city’s chief architect Gvido Princis in a conversation with BNN about Riga’s slums.

EC Vice-President: like other countries, Latvia has limited progress with EC recommendations

Latvia has limited progress when it comes to implementation of recommendations from the European Commission. Nevertheless, Latvia does not fall from the general EU context, when most member states have a small or limited progress with recommendations, said EC Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis during a joint meeting with Latvian Saeima’s committees.

Comparing abortions to killing affects Estonian government talks

After figures of the Estonian Conservative People's Party compared abortion to killing of people, the party's partners in coalition talks have voiced criticism.

Latvian Olainfarm minority shareholders urged to attend shareholder meeting

Co-owners of Valerijs Maligins inheritance Nika Saveļjeva and Signe Baldere-Sildedze, as well as Annas Emīlija Maligina’s mother invite Latvian pharmaceutical company Olainfarm minority shareholders to attend an extraordinary shareholders meeting and actively propose their candidates for the council.

Social workers’ wages in Latvia to grow by average of EUR 145 a month

Latvian government has decided to allocate an additional amount of EUR 4.8 million to increase wages for state social care centres starting from 1 April 2019. This will allow increasing their wages by an average of EUR 145 a month. This is provided by the 2019 state budget that has been approved by the Latvian parliament in the first reading, as confirmed by Welfare Ministry.

Germany pushes for funding cuts to EU members violating core values

Germany's federal Foreign Minister believes the European Union should start reducing its solidary funding and introduce sanctions on member states that adopt legislation contrary to European values, for example, free press, rule of law and independent courts.

Association reports Latvia suffers the most from emerging HIV cases

In 2018, 326 new HIV infection cases were registered in Latvia, according to information from Disease Prevention and Control Centre. Inga Upmace, chairperson of Baltic HIV Association, says that even though this is less when compared to 2017, Latvia remains an unfortunate leader among Baltic States for emerging HIV infection cases.

Poll: 40% Britons have felt powerless or angry over Brexit

About 40 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom have been feeling powerless, angry or worried by Brexit in the past 12 months, a mental health poll showed.

Riga City Council wants a large loan from Latvia’s State Treasury for bridge project

To finance the reconstruction of Krasta Street and Brasas Bridge, Riga City Council plans to take a EUR 14.23 million loan from Latvia’s State Treasury, according to documents added to the working agenda of Riga City Councils Finance and Administrative Affairs Committee.

EU postpones British withdrawal to April 12 or May 22

The United Kingdom has been given two extra weeks by the European Union to decide for the third time on its withdrawal agreement and to leave on April 12 if it is not passed or to leave on May 22 if it is passed.

Less precipitation expected in Latvia this week and more sunlight expected next week

On weekends the sky will be equally cloudy and sunny. Some rain is expected only on Saturday and the night to Sunday. On the night to Saturday, there will be clear sky and air temperature will drop to 0° C… -4° C, according to Latvian State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Producer price level in industry in Latvia up 0.6% in February

Compared to January, the level of producer prices in Latvian industry rose by 0.6 % in February 2019. Prices of products sold on the domestic market grew by 1.2 %, but prices of exported products remained the same.

Latvian president proposes giving citizenship to all children born in Latvia

Latvia’s President Raimonds Vējonis has submitted to the Saeima a legislative draft On Ceasing Provision of Non-Citizen Status to Children. This draft suggests giving children born to non-citizen parents Latvian citizenship upon birth starting from 1 January 2020 unless parents have decided on giving their child citizenship of another country, as reported by State President’s Chancellery.

Expert: Latvia has not accomplished with reduction of inequality

In the past seven years Latvia’s government has not properly implemented the recommendations provided by the European Commission on reduction of inequality, European Anti-Poverty Network’s EAPN-Latvia board chairperson Laila Balga told LNT programme 900 seconds on Thursday, 21 March.

Ruling LFGU’s presidential hopeful Skvernelis unveils key foreign policy points

Lagging in the presidential polls behind the frontrunner Gitanas Nausėda and MP Ingrida Šimonytė, Lithuania’s prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, the presidential hopeful of the ruling Farmers and Greens Union, LFGU, is ready to move heaven and earth in attracting voters on his side.

Banks in Estonia adopt increased anti-money laundering regulations

The Estonian Banking Association has decided to task its member lenders to fullfil anti-money laundering due diligence measures in an attempt to further heal Estonian banking reputation scarred by the Danske Bank money-laundering scandal.

Penalty to be applied to people for causing trouble for whistle-blowers in Latvia

Additions to the Latvian Code of Administrative Violations provide the application of a fine of up to EUR 14,000 to a legal person for causing trouble for whistle-blowers or their family members, as reported by Latvian State Chancellery.

New Zealand bans sales of semi-automatic weapons after Christchurch shootings

Assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics have been banned in New Zealand in a government reaction to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Latvian parties submit 15 candidate lists for European Parliament elections

Five more Latvian political parties and party associations have submitted candidate lists to the Central Election Commission for upcoming European Parliament elections. So far participating parties include the National Alliance, Latvian Association of Regions, Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, New Conservative Party and KPV LV.

Study: 55.6% of businessmen complain about high taxes in Latvia

Looking at the amount of taxes companies pay, 55.6% of businessmen and CEOs said there are too high, 36.5% said taxes are a bit too high, whereas 7.2% said taxes are as high as they need to be, according to data from Turība University’s Business Index.

Brussels: EU to support short Brexit postponement, if London passes deal

In the Brexit saga, a no-deal withdrawal is possible again as Donald Tusk has warned EU leaders will only agree to a short delay if MPs back Theresa May’s deal in March.

Allowance for people suffering from serious disability to be increased by EUR 100 in Latvia

From 1 July the Latvian government plans to increase the allowance for children and adults who require special care and who suffer from serious health problems from childhood.

Latvian minister: we should work with convicts, not isolate them

People who are currently isolated from society in prisons should not be kept isolated – they should be allowed to re-socialize, said Latvian Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns at a press-conference about the study on former inmates’ abilities to re-socialize.

Brexit extension: Theresa May won’t as for more than 50 days

British Prime Minister Theresa May wants only a short Brexit term extension that will not exceed 50 days, as reported by The Guardian.

Business Index: 56.7% of businessmen in Latvia believe government hurt businesses

When asked about the influence Latvia’s government has on the country’s entrepreneurship, 56.6% of interviewed businessmen said the government interferes with the sector, whereas only 7.3% said the government provides assistance, according to results of Turība University’s Business Index.