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De Facto: «relations with God» and «normal work» – Latvian ministers explain government’s farewell gifts

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIs there a recovery of deputy quotas? Government in Latvia rushed to divide state budget funds in the last couple of weeks, providing money to different projects: from race licenses to the renovation of hotels for pilgrims in Aglona.

Both the prime minister and finance minister claim the government acted responsibly, because it helped relieve the next year’s budget by allocating money to priority directions in advance. Nevertheless, certain cases resemble the urge to provide money to projects that might not get money next year, when the government is set to change, as concluded by De Facto programme of LTV.

The money saved in unpaid childbirth benefits to be used for rally, motocross and speedway race licenses. Money unused for grey economy combating project will be provided to churches. The money diverted from the uninitiated Salaspils nuclear reactor dismantling project will be used to finance procurement of equipment and furniture for Ventspils Music High School. These are but some of the examples for the division of state budget funds decided by Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis’ government in the past couple of weeks, De Facto reminds.

The influence the current coalition might have in the next government in Latvia will be much smaller. This is likely the reason for the sudden surge in activity. Although the government makes decisions regarding budget appropriation in autumn every year, this time it seems ministers are unusually active, De Facto notes.

Education and Science Minister Kārlis Šadurskis, whose ministry is in charge of the money unpaid in child support, now wants to spend money on grants for sports. He denies any particular haste in this: «Do you know the exact day the new government will be formed in Latvia? Technically, the old government continues its work until a new Cabinet of Ministers has been formed. The only restriction is that the government that steps down 6 November is no longer able to submit the budget plan to the Saeima. The government needs to perform all other functions, however. If the government did not perform its functions, the question would be why the government does not function as it should.»

The prime minister, on the other hand, is more open to this, De Facto says. He was the one who ordered Culture Ministry to review letters sent by the church. As a result, the government decided to use the Culture Heritage programme to finance renovation work of a number of important objects worth nearly EUR 1.4 million. «How am I supposed to know what relationship the next government may have with God? The sacred heritage fund has not even a cent for next year’s activities. Financing promises had been discussed a long time ago – both Jacob’s Cathedral and Dome Church require money. These matters have been on our agenda the entire year,» the prime minister told LTV.

The programme adds that Justice Ministry had allocated EUR 375,000 for the renovation of Aglona Basilica pilgrim accommodation last year from the budget for emergencies. The request for funding was explained by the community with Pope Francis’ visit, which had attracted many pilgrims. Now another EUR 270,000 is needed. The immediate need for renovation of said accommodation is explained by Culture Ministry the following way: pilgrims in Aglona recover spiritual power, and this helps strengthen bonds in families, as well as develop spiritual culture of members of society and further improve integration of different nationalities.

«Without a doubt, Aglona Basilica and the entire complex represent sacred heritage. […] The communication centre needed to visit Aglona Basilica and receive pilgrims is part of the way residents can visit sacred places,» Culture Minister Dace Melbārde comments on the need for renovations.

Culture Ministry will receive EUR 1.1 million to finance Culture Education programme. The old building of Liepaja Music, Art and Design Secondary School and the hundred-year-old building of National Arts High School also require some serious renovations, De Facto reminds.

Nearly EUR 700,000 will be provided to Ventspils Music High School, which is in the process of building concert hall, LTV programme explains.

The programme notes that the director of the school wrote in the request that new equipment is needed for the chamber orchestra for the opening event next January. EUR 450,000 is intended to be used to procure new furniture. Melbārde defends the rushed allocation of funding: «The school year commenced in September, but the school needs to prepare everything in the first half year. This is why we have to provide the school with everything it needs in January so that children are able to commence their studies without restrictions. […] Our fiscal space will be smaller in 2019. Because of that, Culture Ministry wants to use the opportunity to finance the school this year.»

In relation to the government’s rushed appropriations this week, the so-called deputy quotas were mentioned – in past practices for budget formation, there was a practice to outline finances that would be used by ruling parties to finance different projects based on deputies opinions. This practice was criticized for its lack of transparency and unfairness, De Facto reminds.

Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola denies this comparison: «It is exactly the opposite – this is the government that abolished deputy quotas. Every year in the past, governments would divide considerable finances for deputy quotas. Ours is the government that finally abolished this practice. Activities financed now were previously outlined by Culture Ministry as priority directions. At the time, however, there was no funding available for them.»

However, Finance Discipline Council is critical about the government’s decisions, saying that the decision to divide money saved on state social benefits worth more than EUR 5 million on other activities of Welfare Ministry, as well as sports activities, does not comply with Fiscal Discipline Law, because this funding is not allowed to be used to reduce budget deficit. The council also notes that this kind of practice is systematic. «Together with the four years Fiscal Discipline Council has existed so far, this is the thirteenth report on non-compliance,» says FDC secretary Dace Kalsone says.


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