Skele resigns top post for third time

  • 2000-04-13
  • Valters Medenis
RIGA - Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele resigned his post Wednesday morning April 12 after the party Latvia's Way pulled out of a three-way ruling coalition. Skele did not elaborate after announcing his resignation in Parliament.

"He has seen no point but to resign," said his spokesman, Jurgis Liepnieks.

Skele took his action after the center -right party told him they did not like the way the game was going after Skele put the coalition in an impasse by sacking Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs of the conservative coalition party For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and nullifying Makarovs' sacking of privatization agency chief Janis Naglis, a long-time friend of Skele.

"The resignation of Skele was not our decision," said Andrejs Pantelejevs, chairman of Latvia's Way. "The decision was his own. We voiced our opinion to Skele that we weren't happy with the functioning of the coalition parties," he said.

Ramona Pitana, a consultant speaking for Skele's Peoples Party said the party hopes the coalition will survive Skele's departure.

"Skele's talks with Latvia's Way resulted in the demise of Skele. Skele had no choice but to resign for the sake of the government," she said. "Latvia's Way said that they see no solutions to the problems currently surrounding the government's coalition parties."

Pantelejevs declined to name a nominee to replace Skele. "It's a ticklish question that does not have an answer," he said. "It is too soon, and it will take a couple of days to think about a successor."

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's spokeswoman, Aiva Rozenberga, said Wednesday morning the president planned to meet with the coalition later in the day.

The chairman of For Fatherland and Freedom said the party simply could no longer support Skele.

"Last night we came to a decision concerning the moral leadership style of Skele. We could not stand behind the prime minister with the hardship the government is experiencing," Andrejs Pazarnovs said.

Skele sacked Makarovs on April 6. The deposition of Makarovs ostensibly rested on his trip to the state register of enterprises where he revoked the signature rights of the Latvian Privatization Agency's general director, Janis Naglis, making him ineffective in approving the privatization of state property.

Before the resignation, Skele's people said Makarovs was a loose cannon in the three-party coalition running the government.

"It is impossible for an economics minister to work in a government without borders," said Jurgis Liepnieks, spokesman for Skele. "He [Makarovs] is a thorn in the government's side and he can not go on with his own wishes when the government had endorsed and voted for the retention of Naglis."

Marcis Bendigs, Skele's assistant, said that Skele had warned Makarovs last autumn that he could not work secretly behind the government coalition parties' backs.

"The official reason Skele dismissed Makarovs is that he secretly went to the register of enterprises and withdrew the signing rights of Naglis," said Bendigs. "Makarovs worked without the government's knowledge and only the media knew of his plans. He had no right to take away the signing rights of Naglis."

"It was a valid vote for the continuation of Naglis as LPA general director and Makarovs overstepped the law when he revoked Naglis' signatory rights," Bendigs said.

Pozarnovs, said the law is behind Makarovs, and he had worked within the law regarding the revocation of Naglis' signature rights.

When Naglis' proxy expired March 12, Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs of Latvia's Way said at a press conference that Makarovs had no legal right to remove Naglis from his office because Naglis' third work contract stated his term as general director of the LPA was indefinite.

Makarovs decision defended

"The director of the LPA is a government official and the term of office is for three years. Naglis needed the backing from Makarovs to stay in his position and another three-year proxy to continue as the director of the LPA," said Pozarnovs. "Makarovs did not nominate Naglis for another term, and the justice minister's viewpoint that a work contract is higher than a government contract is pure bull.

"It is logical that Makarovs did what he did, Naglis had to withdraw from his post March 13 and Makarovs worked properly within the law," Pazarnovs said.

Latvia's president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has said she was nonplussed by the actions of Skele, her spokeswoman, Aiva Rozenberga, said before Skele's resignation.

"The president feels very surprised about Skele's decision to depose Makarovs. She met with Skele on April 3, and he had not touched the topic of removing Makarovs from office," said Rozenberga. "Even when the For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party met on the same date, Skele attended and did not mention anything about his decision to remove Makarovs."

Concerning the stability of the Latvian government during the controversy, Vike-Freiberga said on television April 6 that if the motor does not work we need to fix the motor or buy a new one.

The comment is aimed at the unstable coalition parties running the government: center right Latvia's Way, right-wing People's Party and conservative For Fatherland and Freedom. Latvia's Way was waiting for an explanation of Skele's dismissal of the economics minister, ignoring the 24 hour period set by law before such action can be undertaken.

Latvia's Way deputy, Dzintars Kudums, said his party does not understand why Skele sacked Makarovs and was waiting to meet with Skele to receive a satisfactory explanation.

"Our party has sent a letter to the prime minister asking his motivation for sacking Makarovs," said Kudums April 7. "The government can not work in a haze. We have to take the peoples interests into account before such hasty decisions are made."

The prime minister met with Latvia's Way on April 10 to explain his motives for sacking Makarovs. Skele's party, the Peoples Party, is backing Skele. Their deputy, Maris Sprindzuks, said that Makarovs has over-stepped the law and worked against the coalition parties' backs.

Not a team player

"Makarovs has often publicly criticized Skele to the press and has shown the perception of not being a team player," said Sprindzuks. "Makarovs has worked without consulting the government on his decisions and often does not inform ministers of his future plans.

This sort of minister has no place in a government with his repeated lack of cooperation," Sprindzuks said.

Janis Jurkans, the chairman of the party For People's Rights in a United Latvia, said before Skele's leaving that For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK is not a solid partner in the coalition.

"The whole party should be thrown out, not just Makarovs. They are not a team player as shown when Kristopans was thrown out of office," said Jurkans. "It is politically incorrect to make waves as Makarovs has done, and Skele has done too little by just removing Makarovs."

Some of Parliament's parties see in the Makarovs flap the demise of the present government because of the coalition's instability.

"Skele has put coalition government parties in a very uneasy situation and compromised the coalition," said Janis Adamsons, deputy from Social Democrat Workers Party. "This Thursday [April 13] I foresee the end of the government."

Adamsons has spearheaded an attempt to connect Skele to an ongoing scandalous pedophilia investigation over the last two months.

Pozarnovs said Skele has a say in the running of the LPA and is only looking after his own interests regarding the retention of Naglis as general director of the LPA.

"Skele's interests have to be questioned surrounding his $29 million from the [sale of] Ave Lat Group and his continual support of Naglis," said Pozarnovs. "Before we nominate a new economics minister to replace Makarovs, we shall see the end of this government."

The Parliament leader from the Social Democrat Workers Party, Egils Baldzens, said that Makarovs has done his work with secrecy but his sacking shouldn't have happened.

"There is no motivation behind Skele's removal of Makarovs and Skele has only his own personal interests at stake concerning the LPA," said Baldzens. "Naglis and Skele are good buddies. Skele should not let friendships interfere with the running of the country."

The New Party deputy Jevgenija Stalidzane sees Skele's step of dismissing Makarovs as hasty and a rash decision.

"The dismissal should not have happened and the question should have been settled through discussions," said Stalidzane. "Naglis' term has expired and Skele has put his priorities in the wrong place. We can not have exemptions when someone's government term of office has expired."

Until a likely successor to Makarovs is found, Skele was to carry out the functions of economics minister. Liepnieks could not answer when a suitable candidate would take over the post.

A spokesman from the ministry of economics, Kaspars Palpe, said that Skele had planned to fill the role of economics minister and the ministry's work will continue.

"Every change brings discomfort to the ministry. Whether it is right or wrong, the work of the ministry must go on," said Palpe.

The LPA spokesman, Talis Linkaits, said the agency was working well with Makarovs, and it's a shame that economics ministers change so often.

Meanwhile, the second in charge of the LPA, Viktors Sadinovs, was to control the signing rights of the agency.

Before Skele stepped down, government coalition parties were facing a nervous wait to see the outcome of the cabinet ministers meeting April 13. Pressure was placed on the coalition with government opposition parties calling for a vote of no confidence against Skele, Minister of Finance Edmunds Krastins and the Minister of Education and Science Maris Vitols.

At the same time, For Fatherland and Freedom declared its intention and prerogative to renominate Makarovs to his post as economics minister, and with Skele declaring he would move to reinstate Naglis as director of LPA on April 11, forcing the coalition into a showdown.

Vike-Freiberga invited Skele to the prime minister's post in July 1999 after the previous prime minister, Vilis Kristopans of Latvia's Way stepped down after a weekend coup by Skele pulled out a junior member of Kristopans' coalition.

According to news service LETA, Kristopans contacted Skele Wednesday morning after his announcement, advising Skele to follow his footsteps into the business sector. Skele may have some business tips to pass on himself, having just sold his food processing cluster Ave Lat Grupa for a $29 million in promissory notes.