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LONG LIVE GRAFT

  • 2004-06-03
"I want to make sure than no body gets the idea to use [the anticorruption bureau] as a political tool."

These words belong to Indulis Emsis, speaking in February before his confirmation as prime minister, and they will probably be immortalized as the single most disingenuous set of words spoken in Latvia this year. Everything Emsis has said and done vis-a-vis the Corruption Prevention and Control Bureau can be used against him to prove that he and his allies in the Greens and Farmers Union want to use the bureau as a political instrument. Or more precisely, a political "non-instrument" - an agency that will be docile and subservient and generally leave political parties and their crooked system of finance alone.
Without detailing all of Emsis' statements and deeds to this affect, it is sufficient to mention that three of the six individuals on the expert commission he formed to review candidates for the bureau's top spot selected acting head Juta Strike. But this wasn't good enough for Emsis. It wasn't "a majority," as he explained. So he proposed three candidates to the Cabinet, and - surprise! surprise! - his man, Aleksejs Loskutovs, got the job. Now Latvians can rest assured that no significant inroads will be made against partisan corruption for the next five years.
To be sure, part of the blame for the CPCB fiasco needs to be placed at New Era's door. Instead of building a consensus on one candidate while he was in power, former PM and New Era leader Einars Repse, a very stubborn individual, kept Strike in place despite her candidacy being rejected twice by Parliament. For the party that markets itself as the anticorruption force, this was a myopic miscalculation that will be felt for years to come.
But then again, one could even go further back, to 2002, when the bureau was created, and pin some of the blame on Latvia's Way, who ruled the roost at the time. Realizing it could become the target of the future law enforcement agency, the nation's leadership at the time, including former Prime Minister Andris Berzins, undertook maximal effort to ensure that the process of nominating the bureau's chief would be maximally politicized. When in fact, the ideal solution would have been to allow a team of experienced foreigners to head the bureau for a transition period of two - three years, during which the local staff could have been trained to take over. Had that been done, we would have seen a handover sometime later this year if not in the beginning of next. Instead, the bureau now has its fourth leader in less than two years, and politicians are still wrangling over how much independence the law enforcement agency should have.
It's often mind-boggling how self-defeating politics in such a small country like Latvia can be. The only time politicians seem united is when a foreigner straggles in and mentions something inappropriate about the occupation or World War II; they immediately band together under a common banner. But when it comes to something as fundamental as battling corruption, they lose all cohesion.