Cabinet formation sparks liability debate

  • 2004-12-01
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas submitted his list of proposed Cabinet ministers to the president on Nov. 29, including names of individuals that have been blasted both in the media and by President Valdas Adamkus himself.

The proposed list has sparked a disagreement between the two sides of the executive branch, with the president warning that the prime minister would have to bear responsibility for the entire Cabinet and the prime minister responding by saying that each minister would have to be responsible for his or her actions.

On the morning of Nov. 29 Adamkus had expressed hope that the list would eliminate a couple of the controversial candidates. Spokespeople from the Presidential Palace mentioned that the president had doubts over Labor Party candidate Viktoras Muntianas and Social Democrat Rimantas Vaitkus.

But Brazaukas said that consultations over the nominees with coalition partners did not produce any results. "All coalition partners are firm about their position, and to change something essential is practically impossible," he said.

Brazauskas added that the Special Investigation Service, which was inquired by the president last week to examine some of the people seeking positions in the government, did not provide any controversial information on the particular candidates.

The president said he intended to spend all 15 days provided by the constitution to meet with each candidate in person and to ensure that the nominees have an irreproachable character and a high degree of competence.

The prime minister himself was reluctant to answer directly whether he is satisfied with all the nominees. The Social Democrat leader, who has headed the government since 2001, acknowledged that the question is difficult since this is the first time the government was formed out of four parties.

Victor Uspaskich, leader of the Labor Party, also admitted that the biographies of some candidates to the ministerial positions had stains. "If you want to ask whether people make mistakes in their lives - yes, they do," he said. Uspaskich is slated to become economy minister.

However, when asked in a press conference whether the report of the Special Investigation Service was enough to guarantee suitability for a ministerial position, Uspaskikh answered in the affirmative. Political analysts estimate that the Social Democrats' obstinate demand to have seven out of 13 minister portfolios was not accidental.

"Brazauskas and his colleagues intended to form a core from the members of an old government. This was intentional, so that if some of the ministers were changed, they wouldn't have to form the government from the start," Alvidas Lukosaitis, professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said.

The constitution states that if half of the Cabinet is modified, the government must be overhauled entirely.

According to unofficial information from the Presidential Palace, Adamkus is likely to propose that the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) approve the Cabinet without Muntianas and Vaitkus.

The opposition questioned the integrity of the alliance that brings together the Social Democrats and Labor Party's populists. The Conservatives, Brazauskas' traditional rivals, insisted that he would take full responsibility over the performance of the coalition government and each minister apart.

But Brazauskas tried to shield himself from potential fallout, making it clear that he would not take personal responsibility either for the performance of Labor head Viktor Uspaskikh, a nominee for the office of minister of economy, or for the use of EU funds, which many fear will be abused wholesale once they kick in the next fiscal year.

Adamkus reacted saying that the prime minister would have to take responsibility for the whole Cabinet. "The government cannot go in all 14 directions," he told journalists on Nov. 24.

Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas jumped into the fray, saying "a head is first of all responsible for the overall situation, for common work but is also, in some sense, in charge of every subordinate in general." He also said, "It is impossible to escape responsibility in the legal sense and out of the question in the political sense."

In fact, the talk of responsibility reached such a climax that Brazauskas reportedly addressed lawyers as to the scope of personal liability that the head of the government must bear. Coming after three years of acting as head of government, the move showed how precarious Brazauskas knew his position had become.

"The Conservatives have created havoc in the minds of the people - no one is shrugging off responsibility," the prime minister said.

Nevertheless, on Nov. 24 Parliament approved him as the nominee for prime minister. Andrius Kubilius, head of the oppositional Homeland Union, remarked that Brazauskas "was, and remains, the chief landlord of the state without the skills of a political leader."

After the meeting with the president, Brazauskas said that the Social Democrats proposed the current heads of the Environment Ministry, Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of Finance to retain their positions. The SocDems also proposed MP Gediminas Kirkilas as minister of defence and Rimantas Vaitkus as minister of science and education.

Under the coalition agreement, the Labor Party took the ministerial portfolios of culture, health, justice, interior affairs and economy. The Social Liberal (New Union) party will have two ministerial posts - Antanas Valionis at the Foreign Ministry and Vilija Blinkeviciute at the Health Ministry.

The Union of Farmers and New Democracy Parties received the Ministry of Agriculture, which would go to the Union's leader Kazimira Prunskiene.