FLAWED: Inspections of buildings in Riga are exposing numerous problems.
RIGA - Estimates show that the amount of funds needed to ensure an unbiased and transparent investigation into the Maxima tragedy will reach 150,000 lats (214,200 euros). This is required for the Zolitude tragedy commission to prevent all suspicion of the government or the Riga City Council affecting its operations, affirmed the commission’s chairman, Janis Kazocins, on Dec. 16, reports LETA.
Salaries will be paid to four commission members and their assistants. To focus on his work in the commission, Kazocins will leave his posts at the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.
Kazocins hopes that half of the required funds will be allotted by the government, the other half by the Riga City Council.
The Cabinet of Ministers approved Kazocins, the former Constitutional Protection Bureau director, as the head of the Zolitude tragedy commission on December 10. Its goal will be to assess the direct and indirect causes of the tragedy, the rescue process, efficiency of rescuers, police officers and doctors, officials, as well as construction regulations in civil defense. The commission will submit interim reports to the prime minister once per quarter. Its final report will be submitted to the government.
Fifty-four people died and several dozen were injured as a Maxima supermarket in Riga’s Zolitude neighborhood collapsed on Nov. 21.
More flaws discovered
Ongoing inspections by the Riga Construction Board of public buildings over the past several weeks have shown cracks of various sizes, specifically at 18 Rimi and 13 Maxima supermarkets in Riga, Riga Construction Board head Inguss Vircavs said last week.
Overall, the Riga Construction Board has carried out inspections at more than 200 public buildings in Riga, including 100 Rimi, Supernetto and Maxima supermarkets, establishing “certain problems” in 31 of them.
Several years ago, the Riga City Council eliminated the local government’s Construction Supervision Department, the functions of which were largely the same as the previously-eliminated State Construction Inspection, while the function of supervision of the construction process was completely handed over to local governments, Latvian State Television’s program ‘De facto’ reported Dec. 8.
The department, then part of the Riga City Council Construction Board, was liquidated in 2009 when the local government, run by Nils Usakovs (Harmony Center) and Ainars Slesers (Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way) passed the 2010 Riga budget. Riga City Council said this was due to a shortage of funds.
It is notable that construction of the Maxima supermarket in Zolitude that collapsed began in 2010.
Riga Construction Board deputy chief Andis Cinis, who resigned in the wake of the Zolitude disaster, says that the Construction Supervision Department’s functions were not taken over by any other unit of the Riga City Council.
However, Riga City Council member Vadims Jerosenko, who was expelled from Harmony Center after the last local government elections, told ‘De facto’ that it was a “political decision by the Riga City Council” to weaken the Construction Board so it would not impede the various construction projects implemented in Riga.
See you in court
In late November a 100 million lats lawsuit was filed in Riga Regional Court against Maxima Latvija, construction company Re&Re, the company Tineo - the owner of the collapsed Maxima supermarket building, real estate developer Homburg Zolitude, and Riga City Council. Attorneys at the law office Aldis Gobzems and Aldis Alliks said that the Riga Regional Court had also been asked to arrest the movable and immovable property of the defendants, except Riga City Council, in order to secure the claim.
The attorneys, representing the “Don’t Be Indifferent, Be Responsible!” movement, said that they could not disclose data on the claimants, that is, the victims, as it was sensitive information. Gobzems said that, nevertheless, one of the persons on behalf of which the lawsuit was filed in court stated that he would step up and reveal his name to the general public. Currently the families of the victims are under pressure: there have been attempts to intimidate them, convince them not to take action, said Gobzems.
The attorneys said that this would not be the only lawsuit and more would follow, and that the total amount of these lawsuits could ultimately exceed 1 billion lats.
The attorneys have said that in such a case they would not seek remuneration for their work.
“In this case, those who are responsible for the tragedy, including high-ranking officials, will not be able to evade responsibility. If the police and the Prosecutor General’s Office do not act swiftly, we will do everything in our power so that officials who try to impede the process are called to account, too,” explained Gobzems.