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Tuesday 25.09.2018 | Name days: Rauls, Rodrigo

NP: Riga’s public transport services more beneficial to Russian, not Latvian pensioners

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RURiga City Council’s expenditures for Rīgas Satiksme (RS) increase with each passing year. Last year, expenditures reached EUR 86 million. This year, however, they have grown to EUR 108 million. In addition, Latvian citizens and non-citizens can use public transport services in Riga free of charge starting from the age of 63, whereas Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian pensions – from 55.

The management of Riga City Council sees no problem with this. When asked, however, why citizens of other countries are given larger benefits, officials of the city council were unable to provide any clear explanations, as reported by Nekā personīga programme.

Expenditures include fees for discounts provided by the municipality to schoolchildren, seniors aged 75 or older, and other passenger groups. Discounts are also provided to retired pensioners, and not just Latvian citizens at that.

It should be added that only a small number of Riga’s residents pay the full price when travelling using public transports in Riga – all other groups are provided with discounts of some sort. Pensioners from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are provided with the largest benefits, because they are provided the option to not pay at the age of fifty five.

Rules of Riga City Council state that a 100% discount is provided to pensioners living in Riga, regardless of their citizenship. This means RS also applies the discount to residents with retirement certificates of other countries.

Nekā personīga reports that Latvian citizens and non-citizens are eligible for pensioner status at the age of 63 years and 3 months. Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian citizens are able to retire earlier than that – women at the age of 55 and men – at 60. This means they are able to use public transport services in Riga free of charge eight years earlier than Latvian citizens and non-citizens.

RS press-secretary Viktors Zaķis comments: «At this moment there are 61,399 retired pensioners in Latvia with this status. We can determine how many times they have used public transport services since becoming pensioners. It is a very precise number, but rounding it puts it at 24 million.»

He was asked if it is fair that pensioners who are also Russian citizens are provided with a discount at the age of 55 form women and 60 for men, whereas Latvian citizens and non-citizens are provided with the same discount at the age of 63.

He told journalists: «We are not the ones who make decision, we only execute them. We rely on what is written in Riga City Council’s regulations. First of all, a person has to be a pensioner – there are no specific requirements for nationality. Secondly, the person has to have his or her residence registered in Riga.»

The programme could not find out from Riga City Council if the municipal administration has considered differences and has calculated the costs of carrying pensioners of other nationalities free of charge. Riga City Council’s Transport Affairs Committee says the municipal administration has no right to divide pensioners based on their nationality.

The head of the committee Vadims Baraņņiks (Harmony) told the programme: «I think Riga City Council cannot in any way divide pensioners, because by and large pensioners that legally stay in Latvia all have their personal codes. It is not important if they are citizens of Russia, Latvia, Georgia, Ukraine or any other country. They live here. We have no reason to divide them into groups. There can be no politics here. It is a political position. One that exists in Riga municipality.»

Olga Veidiņa (Harmony), chairperson of the Public Affairs Committee, told ar Nekā personīga programme that Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian pensioners have earned the right to receive discounts earlier because they are especially poor.

She comments: «We live in a democratic country. Those old people are the ones who carried Latvia on its road towards independence with Russian or Latvian citizenship. They all worked for the good of Latvia. Let’s not take away the last chance for those old and sick people to live a normal life. They have already lost a lot, if not everything, with all the taxes and fees.»

The programme reports that, in accordance with the city council’s regulations, even Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian pensioners provided with residence permits in exchange for investments in capital or businesses are eligible for discounts.

Journalists asked Veidiņa to comment on regulations. She responded by saying: «I believe it is fair for people in their late years to be provided a discount. This should be done across the entire country. They have earned it. It is unfair to take away even more from them in taxes. I don’t care if a person is Russian or Latvian… They earned their pension and they worked here, in Latvia. I am a democrat and I don’t care if a person is Latvian, Russian, Jewish, Latgalian, German, Finnish – those are pensioners, and they have the right to some benefits. I’m sorry, and let’s not divide people. Shameful!»

It should be mentioned also that the Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry says that «it is not possible to prohibit municipal administrations from providing discounts to different groups of people. There is only one restriction – it is not allowed to provide discounts based on a single criterion – whether or not a person is registered in the municipality in question.»

The programme reports that neither RS nor Riga City Council have information as to how many foreign citizens there are in Latvia who have yet to reach a specific pension age. According to data from Nekā personīga, this number could be as large as several thousands.

Information from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs shows that there are 28,000 Russian citizens and a couple thousands with Ukrainian and Belarusian passports registered in Riga. During the economic crisis of 2008-2013, the number of non-citizens who applied for Russian citizenship had increased dramatically. Most of them were women aged 55. Russian citizenship ensures Russian pension. Most of the people who picked Russian citizenship are not retired.

Santa Jonāte, head of Interior Affairs Ministry’s Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, told Nekā personīga the following: ‘In 2015 and 2016, for example, nearly half of non-citizens decided to apply for citizenship of another country, in this case – Russian citizenship. Most of those people were 55 then.’

5,763 non-citizens applied for Russian citizenship in 2010. This number declined to 1,618 in 2015 and 873 in 2016. This is likely because of the decline of Russian rouble’s value, which makes pensions offered by Russia twice as lower.

Journalists mention that if we estimate that discounts are provided to five thousand Russian citizens under the pension age established for Latvia, this costs Riga’s budget EUR 2.3 million annually.


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