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Wednesday 20.03.2019 | Name days: Made, Irbe
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President vetoes two bills over consecutive days, still enjoys high support

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for BNN

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has used her presidential powers in full swing this week, vetoing two bills over two consecutive days. First the head-of-state vetoed amendments paving the way for a far-reaching overhauling of the country‘s healthcare facilities. And the next day, on Wednesday, July 11, she scrapped amendments to the Referendum Law, which, if implemented, would have lowered the threshold for a dual citizenship referendum. President cautioned that the bill was potentially not in compliance with the Constitution.

Although some speculated that President with the vetoes retaliated the ruling Farmers and Greens Party leaders for their criticism following the revelation of the private conversations between Eligijus Masiulis, former Liberals’ leader charged of political corruption, and Grybauskaitė, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a Lithuanian political analyst, is firmly convinced that this is not the case.

«Both bills were very controversial, especially was so the overhauling of the health system, so what Grybauskaitė did was very logic and deserves praise,» he told BNN.

The Seimas has been introduced the healthcare system overhaul last spring and it has sparked a big backlash both from medics and patients.

According to the plan, drawn up by the Lithuanian Ministry of Health, the rural hospitals would have provided only essential care and nursing, with the focus being on out-patient care, if the reform had been implemented.

«The regions are losing part of their population, the rest of the population is older, thence these services need to be somewhat different…If we agree to provide different medical services in each of the municipalities, the quality of medical services would improve and the medics‘ salaries would go higher,» Veryga defended his plan in spring.

The minister believed that optimising the network of medical institutions in the country would not push small hospitals out of business.

However, many Lithuanian mayors and heads of hospitals disagreed and bristled against the planned reform, lobbying to avert or derail it.

«Currently, about 80 per cent of the population of the district receives urgent necessary assistance in the hospital admissions section. It would be inconvenience for people because, with the reform completed, they would be transported several kilometre to the hospitals,» Algirdas Miklyčius, director of Varėnos Hospital, told BNN in March.

«We optimised the network, the number of beds, the staff and work on the plus… The policy of paying for services could be more rational and also support areas where the secondary level of health care is relevant. This will solve the problems,» echoed mayor of Varėna, Algis Kašeta.

If the hospital reorganisation plan had been greenlit, hospitals in such small municipalities like Lazdijai, Druskininkai and Varėna, would have been added as divisions to the Alytus County Vincas Kudirka Hospital, a major medical hub in southern Lithuania.

The Health minister did not conceal that that amendments were drawn up and are pursued in order to allow the ministry to become co-founder of the hospitals.

The amendments would have authorised the health minister to decide on a network of health facilities that would have been given priority in signing agreements with Territorial Health Insurance Funds for the costs of health services to be covered by compulsory health insurance.

«Since municipalities are the only founder of municipalities, we are in such a situation that the ministry does not have any tools to form the network. Our desire is to become one of the founders and participate in the process,» the minister argued for his hospital reform plan.

Grybauskaitė, however, cited incompatibility of the draft amendments with the Constitution and pointed out to certain procedural violations made by the Seimas as the reasons for returning the package back to the legislature.

Rasa Svetikaitė, advisor to the president, emphasised that it is necessary to establish by law qualitative criteria that healthcare providers would have to meet to be eligible for funding from the Compulsory Health Insurance Fund.

«I want to underline that the president supports the reform of healthcare facilities which is necessary, because the current network of hospitals is inefficient, expensive and fails to ensure top-quality services. However, constitutional principles can’t be compromised, not even for the purpose of achieving the best goals,» the advisor said on Tuesday.

The President’s office says that the laws could be amended without postponing the launch of the reform, now planned for January 2019.

Refusing to ink the dual citizenship amendments, Grybauskaitė underlined however that although she’s in favour of granting dual citizenship to a larger number of people but feared that the Seimas’ chosen way ran counter the Constitution.

In late June, the Seimas of Lithuania adopted the amendments to Article 7 of the Referendum Law, thus lowering the threshold for the referendum on amending Article 12 of the Constitution, which is connected to citizenship.

The Referendum Law changes were thought to create a situation of a «winnable referendum» on dual citizenship. Lithuania’s officials said that it could be held in tandem with next year’s presidential election next year.

The leaders of Lithuanian expats praised the decision, calling it a possible breakthrough in the long quest to adopt dual citizenship through plebiscite, however the opposition politicians expressed their disapproval.

«In light of the emerging political consensus to solve the citizenship question with a referendum, the decision by Seimas to equate citizenship regulation to other human rights protected by the Lithuanian Constitution is sensible and reasonable. By passing the amendment of the Referendum Law, Seimas has used its constitutional right to pass laws and showed the responsibility to tackle the decades long citizenship problem with a winnable referendum,» Rimvydas Baltaduonis, Chairman of the Joint World Lithuanian Community and Parliamentary Commission and Doctor of Social Sciences, Associate Professor in the Economics Department, Gettysburg College (Pennsylvania, USA), told BNN last week.

However, Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of  Lithuania‘s opposition Conservatives (Lithuania’s Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats, TS-LKD), argued disagreeing that Lithuania was poised to apply the new law letter not only to law on dual citizenship, but others too.

The Seimas Chancellery‘s Law Department also warned against the drawbacks of the amendments.

«The reducing of the legislative safeguards of the Constitution‘s Chapter 1 is rather dangerous,» said Ona Buišienė, a representative of the Department.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the LVŽS leader, has promised that the parliament will turn to the Constitution Court on the constitutionality of the adopted amendments as early as the start of the Seimas’ new session in the fall.

However, the President did not wait so long, discarding the bill and warning that the parliament’s proposal to specifically lower the threshold for a citizenship referendum from 1.25 million to 840,000 votes raised constitutional doubts and thus was very risky.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that dual citizenship cannot be a common phenomenon and granting it to people who left Lithuania after it restored independence would run counter to the Constitution.

Although  Karbauskis expressed dissatisfaction over the presidential vetoes, Grybauskaitė still enjoys high ratings of approval in the Office.

According to an opinion poll released by the Delfi.lt news website on Tuesday, on a 10-point scale where 10 is the best score, Grybauskaitė was given 7.94 for her overall performance as president. Her term is up next year.


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