Lithuania's 'sadomasochistic' Parliament 'always ready to help' businessmen

  • 2004-07-28
Since last month, Lithuania's Parliament has been quaked by a corruption scandal implicating several MPs who allegedly promoted laws favorable to Andrius Janukonis, head of the Rubicon Group. After lawmakers refused to revoke the immunity of three of their colleagues, Chairman Arturas Paulauskas sent a request to Parliament's anti-corruption commission to investigate the MPs' actions. But the scandal refuses to go away. Last week Milda Seputyte met with head of the anti-corruption commission, Nijole Steibliene, to discover where it may go next.

Having read the transcripts of the telephone conversations, how do you regard them? Would you interpret what happened as lobbying?
Lobbying is enshrined in the law. However, not a single fragment of [the taped conversations] reflects the nature of the law. Now that the scandal has broke, lots of people began criticizing the lobbying law for failing to work properly. But the law is not to blame. Simply, managing business through assailable MPs appears to be more effective than following legal procedures when a person has to register as a lobbyist and act officially. Why register as a lobbyist when you can handle things more easily?

What struck you the most while listening to the telephone conversation transcripts?
I noticed an incomprehensible attitude of the MPs that shows they are "always ready to help." This submissive and "always-ready-to-help" tone in their voices was very unpleasant to me as a member of the Seimas [Lithuania's parliament].
Considering relations between [Vytautas] Kvietkauskas and Janukonis, who appear to be very close friends, their telephone conversations tend to be more offensive. The offensive element has certainly evoked the most negative reaction from Kvietkauskas' colleagues.
On the other hand, despite the fact that the conversations are unpleasant to our ears, we must take in consideration that they are friends. However, no one forced Mr. Kvietkauskas to gossip about party colleagues, which is absolutely inexcusable.
Another striking point was that some [MPs] were swearing to God that they had nothing to do with Mr. Janukonis. Yet just after the commission studied the recordings, a Parliament member comes to the commission and claims to have only spoken twice to Mr. Janukonis. Therefore, it is very difficult to believe in the innocence of the politicians who are constantly lying.

The governing comittee of the New Union has decided to remove Kvietkauskas from the party. What stimulated the dismissal?
The dismissal from the party was a sign showing how the party assesses Mr. Kvietkauskas. He does not obey the rules of ethics or correctness and no one forced him to humiliate party colleagues in front off some businessman. The decision does not surprise me.

Kvietkauskas has expressed a wish to renounce his mandate in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament), as did Andriukaitis. How do you judge their intentions and what would be the best solution in the situation?
Unfortunately, Andriukaitis keeps repeating his intentions, but they have not been carried out yet. While postponing his resignation, Andriukaitis has decided to rest and go on a trip on the Sesupe River. In this context, his actions seem a bit comical.
In my understanding, it would be better for them to renounce their parliamentary mandates, which would help to finalize the story.

Is the commission aware of how the MPs involved in the scandal voted on laws related to the Rubicon Group?
We have not raised that question yet in the commission. Voting can become a tricky game if you know that the final outcome will favor your intentions. For instance, you may always leave the Seimas session hall if you have other obligations. Voting should not be the guiding star of the investigation. We are more interested in the circumstance up until the voting day because the conversations determine the essence of the matter.

What will happen to the MPs after the commission pronounces its conclusion on Aug. 16?
It's too early to make any predictions. After hearing the [commission's] decision, the Seimas will have to react accordingly.

Would it have been easier if the Seimas had agreed to revoke immunity from the three MPs?
I particularly agree with the description of the Seimas that some political analysts give - "sadomasochism." They are absolutely right. The Seimas has chosen a sadomasochistic death. If the Seimas had given permission to revoke immunity from the three MPs, everything would have fallen into its right place: The MPs would have been interrogated as ordinary citizens, and legal institutions would have brought the case into the open. This would have been a civilized way of solving the problem.
After hearing the final results of the Seimas vote, I have experienced shock and stress failing to understand the outcome.

The Seimas' reputation is constantly declining. According to the last opinion poll, only 10.9 percent of Lithuania's population trusts the Seimas. What must the Seimas do to regain its reputation?
In the upcoming parliamentary session, the anti-corruption commission will give conclusions on the scandal, as well as a few proposals to amend laws enshrining the financing of parties and political advertising as well as the standards of ethics. We have to assure that the atmosphere in the following session of the Seimas becomes more transparent.