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Ceturtdiena 20.02.2020 | Name days: Smuidra, Vitauts, Smuidris

Latvian parliament dissolves Riga City Council

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Saeima, Riga City Council, dismissal, Harmony, Honour to Serve Riga, ZZS, opinions, legislation, waste managementThe Saeima has decided to dissolve Riga City Council. The city council remains active, however, because the law on its dismissal will come to force the next day after its promulgation. Now President Egils Levits has ten days to make his decision on the promulgation.

Although only four coalition parties had voted in favour of the legislative act and only the minimal number of votes was gathered in the first reading, all political parties represented in the ruling coalition voted in favour of Riga City Council’s dissolution on Thursday this week. 62 deputies voted in favour and 22 voted against.

«The situation in Riga is, mildly putting it, not good,» said Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce in his speech to the Saeima. He said the time has come to dissolve the current administration of Riga City Council and tidy up the capital city.

«After transferring to Brussels, the ex-mayor of Riga sees no fault of his own in what is currently happening in the city council. [Ex-mayor of Riga Nils] Ušakovs had created his own kingdom with vassals in Riga. We could feel this for a long time, but it only became clear when the mayor was forced to flee,» said the minister, adding that Ušakovs had secured the approval of people close to him in different important posts in the municipality.

The minister also stressed that after evaluating the municipal administration’s work it was concluded that dissolution is in order because it is not possible to make the city council perform its functions by other means.

Pūce said breaches of different regulations were observed in Riga City Council’s work through the entirety of the current composition’s term.

«The crisis did not form in the city council overnight. Unfortunately, the only way to put an end to it is dissolving this city council and organizing snap elections. Under such conditions the city council is not able to function for the rest of its term,» said the politician.

Parliamentarian Valērijs Agešins from Harmony said nearly every lawyer is careful with using categorical rulings. He added that it is necessary to determine the legislative draft’s legitimate goal, stressing the reference included therein regarding the crisis with waste management in the capital city. «The illegitimate reason for dismissal remains wedged in the text,» he said, adding there is room to discuss constitutional risks.

«I would like to remind all those preparing to celebrate that the city council’s dissolution is the final solution – the city council was elected through fair elections,» said the politician, stressing that dissolution of the city council means a major restriction of voters’ will.

«A city council that does not want to work and demonstrates as much with its actions should be dissolved, but it needs to be done legally,» stressed Saeima deputy Ivars Zariņš from Harmony, asking coalition members why no effort is put into avoiding possible constitutional risks.

He says he does not understand why the coalition did not want to develop a new law on Riga City Council’s dissolution, adding only the fact of three failed meetings in the existing draft. «It is a gross violation of democracy,» said Zariņš, adding that the coalition’s chosen path to dissolve the city council is not democratic because the reasons for the dissolution were not properly discussed. He also urged «using proper names», outlining in the legislative draft that the «waste management saga» is used to create a new «political roof» over Riga.

Saeima deputy Viktors Valainis from the Union of Greens and Farmers said Riga City Council has provided the government with a legitimate reason for dissolution. Nevertheless, currently the legislative draft contains statements regarding reasons for dissolution that are rather questionable. «We have to ask the Constitutional Court for its opinion of the parliament’s demonstration of power,» said Valainis, reminding that the court also looks into the procedure the parliament uses to adopt laws.

«Had you submitted an alternative law, the Saeima would have unanimously voted in favour of Riga City Council’s dissolution. Instead you decided to violate all established procedures,» said the deputy.

Valainis allowed that members of the coalition may be too excited over an opportunity to finally dismiss the municipal administration. He also voiced concerns about the government’s legal analysis in relation to the legitimacy of the legislative draft, admitting that he trusts Saeima’s lawyers who warned about constitutional risks.

Saeima deputy Sergejs Dolgopolovs from Harmony reminded that this is the first case of the capital’s city council being dissolved, so no one should have any doubts about the process’ legitimacy. «We shouldn’t insist on illegalities or amoral decisions at any cost,» he said.

Parliamentarian Jūlija Stepaņenko stressed that Riga City Council’s dissolution story will go down in history and will be taught to emerging lawyers as a curious legal accident. «The only good this legislative draft will bring is its value as material for research, because lawyers have never before seen such a poorly put-together mess as the one prepared by Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce,» she said.

Saeima deputy Aldis Gobzems said he understands why such a legislative draft is needed. According to him this way the New Conservative Party wants to cover up corruption. «Although I agree Riga City Council should be dissolved, it is clear why elections will be won by those who need to win,» the politician concluded. He also said members of Saeima’s ruling coalition are also to blame for the problems in Riga City Council, as two years ago they had left the municipal council to work in the Saeima.

«I am convinced the majority of society does not believe changes will come to Riga City Council, that scheming, corruption and distribution of posts will stop. You are fighting only for the right to scheme in Riga City Council,» said Gobzems.

Mārtiņš Bondars, chairman of Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee, said the parliament’s Legal Office’s representative has confirmed to him that the expanded text added to the legislative draft detailing Riga City Council’s inability to organize meetings is correct. Bondars also said he is confused why there is opposition towards Riga City Council’s dissolution if the mayor – Oļegs Burovs – and opposition representative Viesturs Zeps both support the idea. The head of the committee also urged not to prolong the process – have the city council dismissed and organize elections quickly.

Saeima deputy Dana Reizniece-Ozola from the Union of Greens and Farmers suggested that Pūce demonstrates a lack of good management, stressing that there was no need to compose a new legislative draft. «If the city council’s opposition truly cared about Riga residents’ interests, they would have tried to compose a new coalition a long time ago. No, instead they want to fit in sociological predictions and get more seats,» said the politician.

«Had there been a new, shiny legislative draft, we would have forgotten about it. You are too wrapped up in your mastery with the legislative draft, and you might also get too wrapped up with snap elections, because you have once again failed to unite,» said Reizniece-Ozola.

Saeima deputy Regīna Ločmele-Luņova from Harmony said she hopes at least some Saeima deputies will consider stepping down. She also criticized the early pre-election promotions. She also said the coalition’s lack of interest in composing a new legislative draft, considering the Saeima’s experience in approving entire laws in one day, is confusing.

«This is proof it is only about change of power in Riga. This is clear to everyone – even voters. Don’t thing voters are fools,» said Ločmele-Luņova, addressing the coalition.

Following the city council’s dissolution, the reins over the capital will be taken over by an interim council, which will perform duties until the day a newly-elected city council gathers for its first meeting. The legislative draft mentions that members of the interim administration are picked based on their previous experience working in state administration, personal reputation and level of education.

Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry’s state secretary Edvīns Balševics will serve as the head of the interim administration. Finance Ministry’s Legal Department director Artis Lapiņš will serve as vice-chairman of the city council, and Justice Ministry’s Legal Department’s vice-director Aleksejs Remesovs will serve as a member of the administration.

The head of the interim council will perform the duties of the city council’s chairman, and the vice-chairman will perform duties of the vice-mayor. The member of the interim administration will perform duties of the head of committee. Wages paid to them will be equal to wages of actual city council chairman, vice-mayor and committee head.

Because no committees are planned to be composed within the interim administration, responsibilities will be divided among members of the interim administration.

The law states that snap elections are to be organized within two months after a city council’s dismissal. It is planned that snap elections in Riga will take place 25 April.

According to estimates from the Central Election Commission, snap elections may cost EUR 571 582.

The legislative draft on Riga City Council’s dismissal began its way through the Saeima in December 2019. In spite of the general positive position of the coalition, however, KPV LV ministers are against the city council’s dismissal, saying they do not agree with arguments regarding the existence of a waste management crisis in Riga.

The version supported by the government justifies Riga City Council’s dismissal with the local administration’s failure to perform one of its autonomous functions – ensure management of household waste.

Throughout its review in the Saeima opposition deputies have actively said waste management problems being used a reason to dismiss the city council was poorly explained and that this approach is more of the coalition’s attempt to settle the score with winners of past elections and it is intended to take over power in Latvia’s largest municipality. Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce was criticized for artificially blowing the waste management crisis out of proportion and using it as an excuse to dismiss the city council. VARAM and the minister’s arguments about Riga City Council’s dismissal failed to convince both the parliament’s opposition and Saeima’s lawyers, who pointed towards constitutional risks multiple times over the course of the law’s approval.

Although initially it was planned to dismiss Riga City Council earlier, the process tool longer because the opposition had initiated signature collection on the organization of a referendum. In spite of coalition parties denying coordinating amendments with Riga City Council’s dismissal law, the next city council will be elected for more than five-year term.

During one «pause», Riga City Council coalition partners – Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga – were split by a conflict. Then Oļegs Burovs was elected mayor. Conflicts continued until he and the opposition reached an agreement on three no-quorum meetings to secure legal reasons to initiate the city council’s dismissal.

The conflicts within Riga City Council, including between Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga started when once the mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs became a member of the European Parliament.

After Nils Ušakovs departure for Brussels, Burovs applied for the mayoral post. Dainis Turlais had initially become the new mayor, but he was forced to step down a mere three weeks later. Once Turlais had stepped down, Burovs took his place as acting chairman of Riga City Council. He was later approved officially.

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