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Tuesday 23.04.2019 | Name days: Jurģis, Juris, Georgs

Opposition fights «Lembergs’ regime». Case submitted to court

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU«An authoritarian and illegal regime is present in Ventspils City Council – only majority deputies from For Latvia and Ventspils party, who do not object to the suspended mayor are allowed to speak,» said opposition deputy Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis.

He says that Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry is not at all worried about illegal organization of work at the port, and usually mentions in its responses that there is a special order established in Ventspils municipality.

Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis tells BNN the reason why Administrative Court has commenced a case regarding Ventspils City Council and its «special order».

«They can pave roads and dig flower beds in Ventspils, but when it comes to administrative affairs this kind of thing is unacceptable in a democratic country,» Kristovskis said. He says Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry’s objective is maintaining the rule of law in municipalities and preventing violations, but so far the ministry has done nothing of the sort. Because of that, four Ventspils City Council deputies – Ivars Landmanis, Aivis Landmanis, Dace Korna and Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis – have submitted a plea against the municipality and its failure to comply with the principle of proportionality in city council committees and councils, which thereby denies opposition deputies the right to participate in the city council’s work. For the first time in the history of Latvia’s legislation, and administrative court views such a complaint from deputies.

Until now, only private persons (residents) were allowed to submit claims against municipalities, whereas deputies dealing with violations uncovered in work performed by municipal governments had to turn to Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry. However, since summer 2018, the situation has changed: the Constitutional Court of Latvia has ruled in the case regarding the ministry’s decision to Salaspils municipality that cases dealing with subjective violation of deputies rights are in the competence of the Administrative Court. Kristovskis says this case gives him hope that a similar ruling will be made in his case.

The case in question details violations committed by Ventspils City Council, including withholding information and access to the city council’s official media. Since autumn 2017, he has been fighting in courts to make authorities cease this municipality’s illegal activities. Kristovskis has already convinced the court about his rights having been violated.

What is the current situation?

«Work in Ventspils City Council is poorly organized, opposite to the order detailed in the Law on Local Governments,» says the deputy. Kristovskis says that minority deputies are allowed to become members of committees, but work there is purely formal – members vote either in favour or against, without discussing decisions. «All work and discussions of policies and specific decisions take place in committees and councils, but minority deputies are not allowed access in spite of countless requests to the municipality’s management or the ministry. Such a mechanism was created specifically to isolate minority deputies and deny them access to valuable information regarding important matters discussed by the city council. Deputies from Lembergs’ For Latvia and Ventspils party have seats in five committees and councils, but not a single one of them includes three minority deputies – Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, Aivis Landmanis and Ivars Landmanis. It is possible this is targeted discrimination. It is present in one form or another in one or two other municipalities. So far, however, very little has been heard about deputies finding ways to prevent such lawlessness from majority deputies,» Kristovskis continues describing the situation.

The opposition deputy explains that the case currently viewed by the Administrative Court details subjective violation of rights of four minority deputies and non-compliance with the principle of proportionality. «The Constitution states that the state has to maintain rule of law, equality and good governance. Therefore, the rights of minority deputies cannot be more limited than the rights of majority deputies,» says Kristovskis.

He adds that the Constitutional Court had ruled in July that the principle of proportionality must be maintained not only in municipal committees but also commissions. The court had also ruled that deviations from this principle cannot be justified with a reference to political decisions. In addition, it has been made crystal clear that municipal deputies are public figures. «It has also been ruled that evaluation of violations of subjective public rights is the responsibility of the Administrative Court. Meaning it holds judicial power.»

How did Ventspils municipality end up turning to court?

Kristovskis says that nearly a year ago he had to submit to the Supreme Court’s Administrative Affairs Department a side claim with proof that deputies in Latvia have no mechanism that would protect their subjective rights, because Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry does not act against lawlessness and negligence in municipalities, especially Ventspils. Administrative Court’s first instance institution had simply rejected the deputy’s application, saying that the law does not permit it. After receiving a side complaint, the Supreme Court admitted that there is no mechanism for protecting deputies’ subjective rights. «Nevertheless, to make the ruling [regarding commencement of a court process] carry more authority, the Supreme Court decided that the ruling should be declared by the entire Administrative Department’s staff. Likely to make sure Lembergs and others would not be able to wiggle their way out and cast doubts over it. It is no surprise that Ventspils City Council attempted to make sure on 25 April that my claim is not accepted and instead attempt to justify their illegal activities,» says Kristovskis.

The deputy stresses that judges of the Constitutional Court have implied to him that «it has been decided that the Administrative Court has to view cases if municipalities offend deputies, limit their rights and degrade the meaning of democracy, as it is in Ventspils». «This decision gave us the opportunity to prepare a list of violations and commence the second case regarding the non-compliance with the principle of proportionality in commissions and councils,» says the deputy.

Were there other cases when deputies turned to court against city councils?

Kristovskis mentioned a case when a member of Jelgava City Council turned to court in 2016, because the municipality did not allow him access documents of some procurement. «Jelgava City Council had applied some status of secrecy to the document. The deputy turned to court, but his plea was rejected because the Administrative Court does not view and has no rights to view deputies’ complaints against state structures. This deputy later turned to the Supreme Court with a side complaint. The Supreme Court concluded that the district court, saying that the administrative court had no right to view the case because a deputy is part of the state structure. The Supreme Court confirmed that it [what the deputy complained about] was a violation, but chose not to interfere. The Supreme Court had informed Environment Protection and Regional Ministry of what happened. It is this ministry’s duty to control the rule of law in municipalities and prevent violations when they are uncovered. Whether or not the ministry addressed the problem – I do not know. Knowing how toothless the ministry is, I would say – no,» said Kristovskis.

«As far as I am aware European countries have not dealt with such cases»

Kristovskis says a year ago, after the Administrative Court’s negative stance, he researched if other countries in the European Union have had to deal with similar cases in the past. «I could not find a single one. It would seem that democracy is a value no one dares to raise a hand against in the European Union. Something like the authoritarian regime currently present in Ventspils is something unimaginable for people in Europe. But it is possible in Ventspils, because Ventspils is under an authoritarian, illegal, non-democratic and totalitarian regime. Yes, the people in power can organize road paving and flower bed digging. But this is only a blanket to distract people from the lawless and illegal behaviour the city council performs every day,» said Kristovskis.

«It is important for Lembergs to hold a monopoly on information in his own and his loyal anti-democrats’ hands. Free access to information is a threat to his authoritarian regime in the city. This is why control over the city is maintained at any cost, including by managing the city and its resources anti-democratically. They are still very prominent in Ventspils when compared to other cities,» adds Kristovskis.

Complaints submitted in parallel to Ventspils City Council and Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry

The opposition deputy says that after the Constitutional Court’s ruling in Salaspils municipality case, four Ventspils City Council minority deputies immediately submitted a request to Ventspils City Council to ensure compliance with proper proportionality requirements in committees and councils. Ventspils City Council responded that «laws and all good management principles have been complied with, and that there would be no changes,» said Kristovskis.

He continues: «We then submitted a request to Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry to cancel Ventspils City Council’s illegal decision regarding the composition of its committees and councils.» He adds that until now the ministry has always referenced Ventspils’ special management model, basically saying ‘yes, we don’t agree with it, but we will not punish anyone regardless’. There was hope that after the ruling by the Supreme Court the ministry would not be able to respond in such a way again, but the ministry’s response, according to Kristovskis, was nothing sort of shocking. The ministry decided that Ventspils City Council’s decision of 29 September 2017 on disallowing opposition deputies to work in committees and councils is to remain in force. ‘We are now considering appealing this absurd decision in court,» said the deputy.

Court sees a violation there

When asked when the ruling from the Administrative Court may come in the case against Ventspils City Council, Kristovskis said that it may come no sooner than the end of October. «There is nothing complex about it. Everything is clear and there is evidence. The city council has already provided its response to the court. The Supreme Court has clearly formulated the requirement for compliance with the proportionality principle in committees and councils. There are no reasons for delays. I expect the Administrative Court to handle things quickly and present us with results this autumn.»

What now?

When asked what will follow after the case, the opposition deputy said: «There is a long list of other violations committed by Ventspils City Council that breaches our [opposition deputies’] subjective rights, preventing us from fully participating in the municipality’s work to the full extent». He adds that deputies will request those restrictions to be lifted.

At the same time, Kristovskis asks ‘who is responsible for denying four opposition deputies the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of a democratic country?’

«We were elected by one-third of Ventspils residents. If our rights are violated, so are the rights of those voters. Now we should consider bringing those responsible for this to justice.»

He adds that there are sections in the Criminal Law regarding crimes against the state administration, which is a criminal offense. The Law on Local Governments states that the chairman is responsible for the organization of work in the city council. In this case the person in question is Aivars Lembergs. «He should carry responsibility for this injustice. But there are also officials and lawyers of the city council who are responsible for this. They not only submit to illegal decisions, but also search for ways to justify them.»

In conclusion, Kristovskis asked: «Is it possible to continue working in this municipality? Shouldn’t the municipal administration whose illegal decisions are so strong that they defy rulings of the Supreme Court be dismissed? If yes, then we should consider early elections.»

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