NOTHING’S CHANGED: Despite the suspension, Aivars Lembergs says he remains chairman of the city council.
VENTSPILS - Despite Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Edmunds Sprudzs’ (Reform Party) decree on the suspension of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs (For Latvia and Ventspils) from his post, the Ventspils City Council held an emergency meeting on Oct. 26 to conclude that Lembergs is still the mayor of the city, reports LETA. Eleven city councilmen participated in the emergency meeting. Nine supported the motion to keep the mayor, one was against, while one city councilman abstained.
The Ventspils City Council has requested Sprudzs to send documents and evidence to prove the allegations against Lembergs.
Sprudzs’ decree on relieving Lembergs from performing his duties of office as the mayor of Ventspils for several violations of the laws and regulations of Latvia was published in the government’s official newspaper Latvijas Vestnesis on Oct. 23.
The decree states that, pursuant to Section 93 of the Law on Local Governments, Lembergs has been relieved from performing his duties of office as the mayor of Ventspils for several violations of the laws and regulations of Latvia.
Lembergs insists that Sprudzs does not have the authority to suspend him. Lembergs emphasizes that relieving someone from performing his or her duties of office and suspending someone from his job are two completely different terms.
According to the decree, the minister has the right to relieve a local government head from performing his or her duties of office if the minister suspects that the given local government head may be in a conflict of interest.
The decree emphasizes that Lembergs has committed multiple serious violations over a long period of time. Therefore, if Lembergs continues to work as the mayor of Ventspils, this will pose a threat to democracy, the rule of law, and the transparency and legitimacy of public administration, explains the ministry.
According to the Law on Local Governments, ministers can suspend mayors from their duties if the said duties are not fulfilled.
Saeima Speaker Solvita Aboltina (Unity) believes that Sprudzs’ (Reform Party) actions in suspending Lembergs, even though correct from a legal perspective, were “boyish.”
In an interview with the LNT morning show ‘900 sekundes’ on Oct. 25, Aboltina said that Sprudzs’ actions cannot be described in any other way since the reasoning behind them is still unclear and Sprudzs himself has not been able to properly explain his decision.
Asked about Lembergs’ influence over Latvia’s political arena, Aboltina pointed out that it is minimal since Lembergs is currently busy defending himself in various court proceedings where he is facing serious charges.
On Oct. 19 Sprudzs dismissed the controversial Ventspils mayor from his post.
The minister also tried to answer a question on how Lembergs can be dismissed, when he is already suspended from his post. Sprudzs said that with this order, he has made it clear that Lembergs has been dismissed for good. “He is not the mayor of Ventspils anymore,” Sprudzs said.
“I am a politician, and it is my task to make political decisions,” Sprudzs said, adding that it is his goal for local governments in Latvia to be governed responsibly and honestly, including Ventspils. At the same time he said that this dismissal also can be seen as a signal to all local governments.
On Oct. 12, Sprudzs demanded the mayor’s explanations after receiving “shocking” information from the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding Lembergs’ actions. Sprudzs was not satisfied with the answers he received.
Even though Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) emphasizes that it is in the competence of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Sprudzs to decide on an issue related to local government, he is bewildered by Sprudzs’ attempts to suspend Lembergs.
“I am bewildered that the minister is discussing the suspension of Lembergs, even though he has already been suspended after a court ruling,” the prime minister said.
Sprudzs countered that “A thief must be imprisoned, just like in the movies. Lembergs is a furuncle in the system of local governments. How can I demand anything from other local governments if his actions demonstrate that all are not equal before the law.”
“Lembergs is one of the biggest problems in the system of local governments. He clearly demonstrates that it is possible to manage a local government like his ‘personal pocketbook’ and get away with it. As a minister, I cannot allow such a situation,” pointed out Sprudzs.
Lembergs has not acknowledged the decision made by Sprudzs. “My life does not change in any way. I was and remain the chairman of the Ventspils City Council,” Lembergs said after his dismissal on Oct. 20.
“These are his [Sprudzs] fantasies. I am more of a mayor than he is a minister. A minister does not have the power to dismiss. He can suspend me, but not dismiss me,” Lembergs pointed out.
“Only a majority in the Ventspils City Council can dismiss me. Sprudzs has the right to call an emergency Ventspils City Council meeting, where city councilmen can decide on my dismissal,” Lembergs allowed.
Lembergs said that he will turn to the courts to appeal Sprudzs’ decision. A city council chairman has 30 days after a Cabinet minister orders a suspension to file an appeal, and, as Lembergs said on Oct. 22 upon being asked if he will appeal: “Is there any doubt?”