Latviski English По-русски
Wednesday 20.02.2019 | Name days: Smuidra, Vitauts, Smuidris

Lithuanian authorities mull expanding lobbyist list to NGOs and legal persons

(No Ratings Yet)

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Although Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, opted not to include non-governmental organisations (NGO) in the list of lobbyists last year, the Ministry of Justice is revisiting the idea anew. It wants not only to add NGOs to the lobbyist list, but also allow legal persons to become lobbyists.

Representatives of several ministries and NGOs were invited this week to a meeting in the Ministry and asked to analyse and provide their opinion on the amendments to the Law on Lobbying Activities. According to the ministry’s spokesman Audrius Kutrevičius, these are only preliminary draft amendments.

Their initiators say lobbying activities will become more transparent following the adoption of these amendments. Critics say however it would be wrong to attribute NGOs to lobbyists as they often represent the public interest and do not seek a profit.

Should the Ministry move with the proposals forward, even flower growers and a gathering of amateur knitting enthusiasts could be potentially deemed lobbyists, the critics say.

The proposal to allow legal persons to become lobbyists has come under fire too as it would reduce legal persons’ responsibility for lobbying activities.

Why the Ministry wants to expand the list of the country’s lobbyists is unclear, however media sites that Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis himself has backed up the idea.

According to Audrius Kutrevičius, of the Ministry‘s Communications Division, representatives of different ministries as well as nongovernmental organisations will convene next week and will be asked to voice their notions on the draft amendments.

To date, 64 legal and physical entities registered themselves as lobbyists in the country.

Martynas Nagevičius, one of them, told BNN that the idea to put NGOs on the list is not «bad» , as most of them exert to influence the politicians, he says.

«Greenpeace and the Catholic Church are not any exceptions in the regard. With the expanded list, we would avoid indefiniteness – who is lobbyist and who is not, where lobbyism starts and where it ends. In a nutshell, every person and every organisation, regardless of its kind, should be seen as lobbyists if they attempt to influence the decision-makers,»  Nagevičius emphasised.

He also argues that with the expanded list, the image of all of the lobbyists would improve.

«Unfortunately, now it is not the way it should be,»  he added.

The Ministry suggests that only those who submit more than five lobbyism proposals per year should be considered lobbyists.

However, not all embrace the proposal, saying that the number of initiatives does not matter, but the influence (of the lobbyist) does matter.

Žilvinas Šilėnas, president of Lithuania’s Free Market Institute (LLRI), says that the intentions of the Ministry are «understandable and justifiable», however the methods through which it seeks to make lobbyist activities more transparent raise doubts.

«Both the current law and the draft amendments contain one big problem. There is danger that authorities will start to divide people and organisations in lobbyists and non-lobbyists without clear criteria. There is a possibility that those in favour of authorities will continue to operate without given the name of lobbyist. Meanwhile those disliked will be attributed the name,»  Šilėnas cautioned.

The determinant who should be deemed lobbyist and who not is who the initiator of a proposal was. If it stems from the authorities and, say, an NGO weighs in on it, then the nongovernmental organisation should not be considered lobbyist, according to one of the proposals. However, if the case is vice versa, the organisation risks being attributed to lobbyists.

«The pretty free interpretation who and when proposed one thing or another poses many dangers. Especially that the draft law envisions alternative definition to those who give authorities advice. I mean the term «public interest defender». However, those who oppose the Government and its structures risks of obtaining the title of lobbyist,» the LLRI head underscored.

«Those on the lobbyist list simply risk of being excluded from the legislative process at the end of the day,» he added. “There is much opaqueness so far that has to be cleared,»  he accentuated.

Povilas Urbšys, member of the parliamentary State Governance and the Municipality Committee, also disapproves of the proposed amendments.

«The nongovernmental sector has never been tantamount partner of Government. Neither on the state nor the municipal level. Alas, NGOs are often seen (by state institutions) as second-hand organisations, which are effectively eliminated from the legislative process. Leave alone their ability to do influence on it,» the MP said. «With the inclusion of nongovernmental organisations on the lobbyist list, their situation will become just worse».

Meanwhile, experts agree that the lobbying community in Lithuania is underdeveloped, often corrupt and mostly negatively perceived by society. Lithuanian interest groups do not usually use sophisticated lobbying practices and access is largely based on personal connections and corrupt practices.

These pessimistic public attitudes towards lobbyists are amplified by the fact that the Lithuanian Lobbying Law, amended several times over the last years, still presents significant obstacles to the formation of interest groups due to the extensive registration processes. Thence the difficulties in implementing lobbying activities.

Meanwhile, the business community, which has been a powerful lobbyism force in the country, made transit to sophisticated interest group and lobbying systems a while ago. This is due to its extensive resources and contacts that businesses have developed with Lithuanian Parliament and Government, the executive branch.

MG Baltic, a business holding which owns a major TV channel (LNK), several news portals and which executives now fight corruption charges in court, embodies the latter kind of lobbyist.

According to experts, the lack of a professional lobbying community in Lithuania may persist in the future because the use of personal contacts to contact public officials makes the development of a lobbying bodies redundant, the lack of knowledge among groups about sophisticated lobbying tactics may include a lack of knowledge about the value of professional lobbyists, and the small population of Lithuania infers that informal politics prevails as a result of personal contacts.

Another factor that should be considered is still pretty weak civic society in Lithuania, and many citizens know little about the importance of legal means aimed at influencing governmental institutions, according to analyst Alvidas Lukošaitis.

«These factors encourage tolerance of corrupt behaviour and the use of illicit methods to influence political decisions. The socio-cultural standards inherited from the Soviet system have conditioned the corrupt societal mentality that in political process is manifested in a variety of corporate corruption, like guidance by narrow interests, clientelism, illicit lobbyism and so on,» he pointed out.

Leave a reply

Risky projects that are «under watch» in Latvia: electrification, Krievu Island and Rīgas tramvajs

«Latvia’s biggest mistake getting its hands on finances to afford EU projects is that these projects are more often than not organizes specifically to use said finances, and no though is put into work on achieving results or even if results of said projects could even turn out positive for the country in the end. We see this with railway electrification, Krievu Island and Rīgas tramvajs project,» said Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits in an interview to BNN.

Putin warns U.S., Russia could target Washington with missiles

Assuming Washington could deploy short or intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, Russia would target with nuclear weapons not only the countries where they are stationed, but the United States itself, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated.

In spite of austerity measures, Rīgas satiksme’s grants could reach EUR 134 million

In spite of ongoing austerity measures, grants needed for SIA Rīgas satiksme may grow by another EUR 12 million and reach EUR 134 million, admits the company’s temporary board chairman Anrijs Matīss.

Cemex announces sale of its Baltic and Nordic assets

Cemex has made the decision to sell assets in Baltic and Nordic countries worth EUR 340 million to Germany company Schwen, as confirmed by Cemex representatives.

Swedbank refrains from commenting information about its possible involvement in money laundering

Citing confidentiality, AS Swedbank has decided to refrain from commenting on information reported by Swedish television regarding the bank’s involvement in money laundering, said the bank’s Risk Management Office in Latvia Juris Bogdanovs.

UK's May to give another try in Brussels, as EU doesn't expect breakthrough

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, returns to Brussels on Wednesday, seeking to convince European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to save her Brexit deal. A representative of the British PM for May called the Brussels trip «significant» as part of a process of engagement to try to agree on the changes her government believes parliament needs to pass the deal.

Dutch soldiers in Lithuania go ice diving as part of NATO winter training

Lithuania, Dutch and Czech forces from one of NATO’s battlegroups undergo cold weather training in February, experiencing winter diving and acquiring other skills for survival in extreme weather conditions.

Brussels: Hungary lying about Juncker, Soros and mandatory migrants

Hungarian government has been criticised by European Commission officials for putting up election campaign posters with claims that EU headquarters has weakened on purpose European Union's external borders to allow in more migrants.

airBaltic to cease using Boeing 737 in autumn 2019

Latvian national airBaltic airline plans to cease using Boeing 737 in autumn 2019 or a year earlier than initially planned, as confirmed by the airline’s representative Alise Briede.

Prime Minister: Latvian teachers are hostages of municipalities

Teachers are hostages of municipalities, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, commenting on teachers’ wages subject in an interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma.

Minister: Latvia needs a new housing policy

Latvia needs a new housing policy, says Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro. He says most of Latvia’s residential houses were built during the Soviet regime. This is why a number of subjects related to the housing policy have become topical.

Levits: the state president must not serve as executor to any party

«The state president must not serve as executor to only one party,» believes Judge Egils Levits of the Court of Justice of the EU, adding that it is because of this reason it is so hard to find a president that would meet the requirements of all political parties. ‘The president needs to have sufficient metal capacity and authority to convince politicians about common state interests,» said the only presidential candidate to have had been publicly discussed by the ruling coalition in Latvia so far.

Danske Bank to quit Baltic states, Russia, after asked to leave by Estonia

Danske Bank has been asked to leave Estonia amid a large-scale money laundering scandal. Denmark's largest lender has also decided to leave the markets of Latvia, Lithuania and Russia.

Minister: Latvia is dissatisfied with reduced EU funding for agriculture

«Funding reductions for the General Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy are unacceptable for Latvia. In accordance with European Commission’s proposal, Latvian farmers will have reached 77% of the average direct payment level in the EU by 2026. Latvia is also dissatisfied with funding reduction for rural development,» said Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs during the 19 February meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.

UN: 200 families encircled by Islamic State fighters in Syria

In Syria, around two hundred families are currently trapped in a small area under the rule of Islamic State terrorist group, which is preventing some civilians from fleeing the territory, according to the UN.

Saeima committee: adoption of deposit system is an investment in cleaner environment

Adoption of a package deposit system is an opportunity to invest in a cleaner environment, said members of Saeima’s Economic, Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Policy Committee and Environment and Climate Sub-Committee on Tuesday, 19 February.

Lursoft: nearly 32,000 Latvian companies have disclosed true beneficiaries

31,800 Latvian companies have disclosed their true beneficiaries. Of those businesses, 28,300 had registered this information last year. Among the most frequently mentioned names of beneficiaries in Latvia are Aigars Kesenfelds, Guntis Rāvis and Ernests Bernis, according to data from Lursoft.

Lasting drought caused the lowest yield of cereals in recent years in Latvia

In 2018 harvested production of grain constituted 2.1 million tonnes, which is 635.2 thousand tonnes or 23.6 % less than a year ago and the smallest harvested production recorded over the past five years.

Criminals in Latvia planned to kidnap a bailiff and kill him after receiving ransom

According to what Latvian State Police reported during a press conference on 19 February, criminals in Latvia planned to kidnap some court bailiff, demand ransom of EUR 350,000 and kill him after receiving the ransom.

Russian warplanes intercepted four times near Baltic borders last week

Allied fighters from the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltics have been scrambled four times over the last week as Russian military aircraft neared the borders of the Baltic states as they moved between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia.

Estonian ex-Eurocrat convicted of rape in Brussels

A court in Belgium has found an Estonian man, who is a former high-ranking official of the European Union, guilty of rape and sentenced to four years in jail.

BTA: number of insurance claims up by more than a quarter

The number of insurance claims in Latvia at the beginning of 2019 has increased 28.4% when compared to the same month of 2018, and by 55.3% when compared to January of 2017, as reported by BTA Baltic Insurance Company representative Elīna Rasmane.

Latvia’s budget has received at least EUR 1.5 million paid in bail money in past five years

In the last five years, Latvia’s state budget has received EUR 1,535,000 in the form of bail money paid in different criminal cases, according to information from the Court Administration.

16 U.S. states oppose Trump's border wall emergency in court

16 U.S. states have opposed at a federal court the national emergency declaration over border security announced by the U.S. government as its President Donald Trump seeks to fund a border wall from military budget.

Minister: we need to reject the two basket healthcare system’s funding model

Currently the main topics in healthcare include rejecting the two basket healthcare system’s funding model and instead stick to a single basket system in which ‘doctors don’t have to take responsibility for playing with people’s lives’, said Latvian Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele in a phone interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma.