RIGA - In the near future Latvia could make teachers and medics who accept and demand bribes criminally responsible, the heads of the Health Ministry and the anti-corruption bureau said this week.
Health Minister Gundars Berzins and anti-corruption bureau chief Aleksejs Loskutovs agreed that a task force, which would include the Education and Research Ministry, would be formed next year to draft legislative amendments mandating criminal offense of educational and medical staff found demanding or accepting bribes.
Loskutovs told reporters that accepting undue payments would warrant administrative punishment, and demanding them would be a crime. Berzins predicted the amendments could be passed in three to five months. The minister said he would leave the issue regarding the gravity of punishment for the law enforcement agencies to decide.
He said he believed that the rampant bribery could be eliminated not only by introducing these amendments but by raising doctors' and nurses' wages as well. Medical workers' ethics would also need to be invigorated, he added. "A person without ideals is a zombie-type money machine," said Berzins.
The anti-corruption bureau last week told Parliament's anti-corruption committee that it was unable to launch a crusade against medical workers who demand undue payment since medics are not state officials (and thus such incidents can not be qualified as bribery). Instances of bribe-taking can not be qualified as extortion either, said bureau officials, because the medics, while taking the money, are not expressing any threats to person's health or life but are just informing patients about their health condition, which is the medics' obligation, bureau officials said.