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Wednesday 08.04.2020 | Name days: Dana, Dans, Danute, Edgars

Linkaits on port management model: we have to look forward, not back

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Ventspils Freeport, sanctions, OFAC, government, Aivars Lembergs, corruption

Latvia’s Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits

Saeima’s approved law amendments that provide for the foundation of a new state company – Ventas osta – represent a step towards a new port management model, Latvia’s Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits told LETA.

He stressed that the removal of Ventspils Freeport from US Department of the Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) is a positive signal for Latvia’s transit business industry.

«This means our country’s second largest port is able to continue operations. All ship owners, agents and insurers know for certain they can enter and work at the port without problems,» said Linkaits, adding that this also shows there is trust in the work the government has done and it is enough to ensure Ventspils port is no longer under sanctions.

When asked if there are any signals for sanctions to be removed for Ventspils Development Agency, Business Development Association and Latvian Transit Business Association, Linkaits said there aren’t any, but the decision for Ventspils Freeport is enough for the industry to continue operating normally.

Read also: What is Ventspils Development Agency and what will its members do now?

The minister noted that the amendments approved by the Saeima on 18 December and the decision made by the Cabinet of Ministers regarding the foundation of Ventas osta is a step towards a new port management model.

«I believe these decisions could be something of a pilot project we can use to test the things we have to prepare in relation to the port management concept by 1 July,» said Linkaits, adding it will be possible to test matters about property rights, functions, responsibilities, mutual relations, etc.

When asked if there is a possibility to return to the old Ventspils port management model, Linkaits said «we should look forward, not backward».

The minister explained the primary goal why it was necessary to create Ventas osta was the need to guarantee businessmen with a free structure capable of processing transactions for Ventspils port services. This need has faded and it is possible to process transactions through Ventspils Freeport authority again.

«This is why it is no longer needed to create any new parallel structures. We will move forward and look how we can use Ventas osta as a pilot project in relation to the port management reform,» said Linkaits.

He also stressed that recent events have proven the government is capable of functioning and cooperating under a crisis situation. «I want to extend gratitude to the Justice Ministry and Finance Ministry for their operative and pro-active involvement in resolution of different problems. We did not expect such responsiveness. Cooperation between the government and the Saeima was also very good these past several days,» said Linkaits.

When asked if documents have been submitted to the Enterprise Registers for registration of Ventas osta, the minister said no. «We only reached the stage of signature authentication. It is possible we may have to review something here, because, if we have to prepare for very intensive work, we need a whole team, but now we have to look if we need to change anything on an executive level,» explains Linkaits.

The minister could not say if this task could be finished before the end of the year or if it could take longer, but he did say everything outlined in law amendments remains in force. This includes working on Riga Freeport’s operation rules and offering the same for Ventspils Freeport by 1 February.

«It was planned to submit to the Cabinet of Ministers amendments to existing regulations for all three large ports for review, now it has been decided to clarify changes associated with recent amendments to laws. We will submit them so that the Cabinet of Ministers is able to approve them by 1 February,» adds the minister.

On December 9, the OFAC, based on the so-called Magnitsky law, imposed sanctions on a number of persons and their organizations in Europe, Asia and Latin America, including on Aivars Lembergs.

In response to Ventspils Freeport’s addition to the list of sanctions, Latvia’s Saeima amended laws to put both Riga Freeport and Ventspils Freeport under state management. On 17 December the government supported Transport Ministry’s proposal to create a new state company to manage Ventspils port’s territory and operations.

On 18 December, OFAC announced removal of sanctions from Ventspils Freeport and Ventspils Freeport authority.

Sanctions were removed from Ventspils Freeport after Aivars Lembergs stepped down from the freeport’s board and Latvian government executed measures to put an end to his influence over the court, according to the press-statement from the US Department of the Treasury.

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