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Tuesday 18.02.2020 | Name days: Kintija, Kora

Exclusive: in spite of courts declaring opposition’s requests valid, Lembergs continues appealing them

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUDeputies of Ventspils City Council opposition have initiated multiple litigations against the municipal administration – for denying opposition members access to committees and for denying them the right to publish opinions on the municipality’s official internet portal, as well as in regards to the administration’s general practice of not providing information to minority deputies.

However, in spite of district court of justice and the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic of Latvia declaring on multiple occasions that requests from the opposition are valid and justified, Ventspils City Council remains indifferent to court rulings and continues appealing them, which has become akin to a roundabout dance with no end. To discuss the situation in Ventspils and how court verdicts could echo in the corridors of Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry, BNN contacted Ventspils City Council opposition member Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis.

«Basically it is clear Ventspils City Council should admit its illegal actions and take immediate steps to fix everything, which means providing the minority deputies with freedom held by Aivars Lembergs and majority deputies,» explains Kristovskis.

«Unfortunately, so far developments both litigations against Ventspils City Council show that the municipal administration as a state governance institution has no plans to make any steps,» the deputy says, adding that «if Ventspils City Council was interested in legal governance, had any understanding and desire to prevent problems in the city council’s work», it would have rushed to fix the problems outlined in court verdicts, commence a discussion with the opposition, take into account opposition’s recommendations for improvement of the municipality’s work, as well as finally provide opposition with proportional representation in committees, councils and work groups.

Kristovskis stresses that the violations allowed by Ventspils City Council have to be fixed immediately, because it is no private company governed by the principle – if not caught, not a thief.

Ventspils City Council has a short response to decisions and verdicts made by courts of justice to exact changes to the existing illegal order – verdict is not in force. Then the city council continues as usual, notes the opposition deputy. This is the case in regards to providing equal access to Ventspils municipality’s internet portal. Ventspils municipality has already appealed Administrative District Court’s ruling in the Supreme Court in spite of the fact that it was the Supreme Court that had defined the principle and declared it necessary to provide minority deputies with access to the municipality’s media as far back as 2018. Kristovskis is certain the Supreme Court will take his side, and the day when the ruling of the Administrative District Court comes to force is not far away.

Does Pūce have any political will?

Ventspils City Council deputy explains that as ministers replace one another one may ask if they even want to enhance democracy and compliance with the Constitution. It is the task for politicians to initiate legal processes and make decisions dishonest politicians are unable to make on their own. As for Latvia’s new Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce, Kristovskis said time will tell if the new minister has sufficient political will to take on the illegalities in Ventspils.

«Officials simply look the other way and play by the rules established by the political majority. Of course, there are exceptions. However, in most cases officials refrain from getting their heads up,» says Kristovskis, adding that some of them may be bribed.

The politician recalls how in his first correspondence with Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry officials told him straight that the city council has breached the law. However, they added, it is important to keep in mind that «it is Ventspils, and it has its own order».

According to Kristovskis, the previous environment protection minister Kaspars Gerhards was ‘passive and inert’ and was of no help to minority deputies to fix the situation in Ventspils. Pūce has not been in his post long enough to be certain. However, his current priorities include Riga City Council and the administrative territorial reform, which is why the opposition in Ventspils City Council is unable to tell for certain if Pūce has political will to fix the situation in Ventspils.

«If he decides he wants to, he will. I have no doubts,» Kristovskis says, adding that minority deputies have provided the ministry with enough evidence for the minister to act and restore legal power in Ventspils administration. He admits that the situation in Ventspils requires studying. The minister has been offered the simplest road – read through court rulings and decisions and then conclude if opposition deputies’ requests are justified.

Democracy’s improvement

Ventspils opposition deputies plan to turn to environment protection ministry not only with a compilation of both court cases but with proof of other illegal activities committed by municipal administration.

Kristovskis stresses – the ministry can take action now. The only thing the ministry needs to do is read through court rulings and admit the case is clear. After that, the Saeima will have to make specific political decisions in regards to changing the situation in Ventspils.

«Uncovered violations are so serious that we believe Ventspils City Council should be dismissed,» Kristovskis says.

The deputy explains that democracy, rule of law and justice represent a process that needs to be maintained and improved all the time. He says that when the Law on Local Governments was first created, its authors may not have fully understood the principles of democracy in the function of municipal administrations well enough, which may be the explanation as to why the majority of rules that govern local governments is not described in detail.

Kristovskis notes that court practices in municipal affairs should have been changed, because it does not provide deputies the right to turn to court in relation to violations committed by municipal administration. Ventspils opposition deputies’ requests in court on compliance with rule law in the municipality have stimulated changes in court practices, the politician says. Over the course of the past year, administrative courts have started viewing pleas from municipal deputies even though one and a half year ago they refused to do that.

The politician recalled that his initial pleas in regards to illegalities committed by Ventspils administration were declined by the district court, commenting that the deputy should resolve the problem on his own with the local administration, adding that the court is unable to resolve this issue. Ventspils City Council has defined its actions, which are aimed at limiting the rights of minority deputies, as political will, which, according to Kristovskis, is illegal arbitrariness. The politician is confident his and his colleagues’ case is not the only one when it comes to restriction of rights of minority deputies. «It is likely there are other deputies who were forced to turn to court because their rights were limited.»

Municipal media is the «Wild West»

Kristovskis stresses that the city council’s opinion should be neutral when reporting information about the municipality’s activities. If the municipality’s resources are used to voice opinions, there should be proportionality – if the majority can speak out, the minority should be allowed as well.

Kristovskis allows that when presenting amendments to the Law on Press and Other Mass Media, which are meant to prohibit local government from founding and releasing printed press and other mass information materials and register websites and mass media resources, minister Pūce should take into account what the court has decided in regards to pleas of the opposition in Ventspils – proportional access for majority and minority to media financed by municipal government.

The politician also believes Ventspils experience could serve as a good source for new ideas.

According to Kristovskis, aside from Ventspils there are other municipalities in Latvia ruled by political parties that use municipal newspapers and other media for their own interests, which is why it is highly important to maintain a principle of proportionality and allow the minority to speak.

Kristovskis also points to the problem that Ventas Balss, which receives hundreds of thousands of euros every year in funding from the municipality and Ventspils Freeport authority, not only promotes Lembergs’ opinion but also distorts mass media competition.

«This newspaper has never interviewed me as a minority deputy. It has, however, reported misleading and defamatory information about us – opposition deputies. The latter was especially beneficial for Aivars Lembergs and his political party. This means there is not pluralism of opinions – there is only absolute distortion of the truth using Ventspils municipality’s financial resources,» says Kristovskis.

Lembergs’ pathological desire for power

Ventspils city council has appealed the ruling of the Supreme Court on equal access to the municipality’s portal. The decision to provide minority deputies access to the municipality’s committees, councils, board and work group teams will be appealed in the near future.

Nevertheless, the two-year litigation is inevitably coming to a conclusion, rulings come to force, and Ventspils’ illegal administration will be liquidated, the deputy says.

Kristovskis allows that Lembergs may have «a pathological desire for power, which is why he is using all possible methods. In the past he used the judicial weakness and lack of commitment from courts».

«It is worth reminding people that Lembergs was an ideologist of the Communist system. The Communist system was totalitarian. It practiced a cult of personality and at the same time crushed differently-minded people and spread lies for decades. We can see that the principle of preservation of power is maintained all the time,» explains Kristovskis. «30 years was not enough for this person to change jobs.»

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