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Monday 19.11.2018 | Name days: Liza, Līze, Elizabete, Betija

Riga City Council adopts new restrictions for internal order

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUAfter members of the opposition left an extraordinary meeting of Riga City Council, members of the coalition once again changed rules for internal rules, cancelling the restrictions criticized by Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry in regards to the number of questions deputies are allowed to ask.

Instead the ruling coalition adopted a time limit for the Q&A session during meetings.

On Monday, 26 March, Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Kaspars Gerhards issued an order, in accordance with which the previously adopted restrictions on the number of questions members of the city council are allowed to ask during meetings. A couple of hours later, Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs announced an extraordinary meeting to lift the restriction off the number of questions and instead introduce a time limit.

In accordance with the decision made by the city council on Monday, 26 March, a 20 minute time limit will be applied to Q&A sessions when discussing legislative drafts and a time limit of 1 hour and 30 minutes – for questions regarding the budget. It is planned that the new amendments will come to force on Tuesday, 27 March, when the city council plans to discuss budget amendments, increasing the city’s expenditures by EUR 42.38 million.

At the beginning of the extraordinary meeting, members of the opposition invited Mayor Nils Ušakovs to stop the meeting, saying that there are multiple legal obstacles and that the meeting itself was basically illegally organized. The discussion itself was loud, with opposition sharply criticizing the ruling coalition and the coalition trying to calm down their colleagues.

After the break, members of the opposition announced their intention to leave the meeting that was, according to them, illegal. Juris Pūce from the party For Latvia’s Development said the meeting was organized in breach of regulations that govern the internal function of municipal administrations. According to him, the decision to leave the meeting of the city council was made after consulting with officials and legal advisors of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry.

After members of the opposition left, the ruling coalition announced a short break and continued the meeting after that.

Ušakovs asked deputy chairman Andris Ameriks to repeat the need for amendments. Ameriks explained that in the past it was hard to come up with a way to establish a limit on the number of questions allowed to be asked during meetings. ‘So we decided to look at other municipalities, their experience. Many of them do not have a limit on the number of questions, rather the time period during which it is allowed to ask questions. This is a measure we plan to adopt. I believe such changes will improve decision-making processes. However, if members of the city council are able to explain how 20 minutes are not enough to report all information, it will be allowed to pull matters from the agenda and delegate it to the next meeting,’ as explained by the vice-mayor.

He added that the gap between meetings is enough for deputies to acquire the necessary information from departments and specialists. «The matter in question will always return to the debates table in the end,» said Ameriks.

Deputy Mihails Kameņeckis from Harmony added that restrictions will only apply to city council meetings – there will be no such restrictions present for committees.

Oskars Putniņš wanted to find out the time limits in other municipal councils. Ameriks said the average is ten minutes. Putniņš also asked if the 20 minutes was also the time limit for answers. Ameriks said 20 minutes is the total time limit for the entire Q&A session. «If the chairman sees there are many unclear questions in relation to a specific matter, it will be pulled from the meeting and a separate explanation procedure will be organized,» said the vice-chairman.

Putniņš asked if the vice-mayor is certain the Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry does not decide to cancel the new restrictions as well, Ameriks responded by saying that he is not, because «any kind of political pressure can be applied on the minister». «Our opposition colleagues agree with us that democracy should not have any borders. Opposition had complained in other municipalities as well, and yet the ministry found their rules acceptable in the end. If there is one law and one truth for all, it should be so in Riga’s case as well,» said the vice-mayor.

Deputy Ainārs Baštiks asked why amendments are adopted only now. Ameriks said that until now the city council has never faced the kind of length of discussions and questions as it had during the latest budget talks. «We have seen different meetings, but if it takes three days to approve the budget, and with constant questions about bushes – it is not a normal procedure. This was the reason behind our decision to study experiences of other municipalities,» said Ameriks.

During debates, the mayor of Riga mentioned the budget discussion, which lasted three days and during which questions were asked if trees are bushes and if bushes are trees. He also mentioned that budget amendments were discussed by the Finance Committee before their approval by the city council.

«The word destructive was used in every second sentence. Honestly, I cannot recall a moment when the opposition had behaved like that in the past. On top of that, they threatened to become even crazier. We tried working with them, but they refused. They did briefly promise to work with us again. In the end they put up ultimatums again,» said the mayor.

Dainis Turlais added that the situation in Riga City Council is nothing new, because, members of the parliament in Ukraine, for example, often openly use fists. Still, you will not see such behaviour in European countries. He also mentioned several points of the municipal order, saying that today’s meeting was completely legal.

At the end of the meeting, Vjačeslavs Stepaņenko said that «the minister woke up only now, but such restrictions have been in place in other municipalities for years». «Only when we started sorting out the city council’s work did the minister start reacting to so-called illegal decisions. Meanwhile, we are supposed to allow others to torture us with dumb questions. Now it seems he will have to cancel similar restrictions elsewhere. I am sorry for him to end up in such a situation, but my conscience is clear, because were not the ones who waste time during meetings,» said the deputy.

Amendments were approved unanimously by members of the coalition.

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