Police bonuses cut short at last minute

  • 2005-08-31
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons terminated cash bonuses to top policemen on Aug. 30, after Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis criticized the practice earlier in the day.

The decision came amid increasing media attention over police commanders' high wages at a time when the average officer reportedly brings home about 200 lats (285 euros) per month. Bonuses for department heads have been known to be nine times this amount.

Jekabsons called an end to the bonus system, which is financed from excess funds. Meanwhile, the state police must submit a project for establishing internal pay controls by Sept. 5.

The bonuses, which have reportedly run as high as 1,800 lats per month, were mainly allocated to the chiefs of local police departments and their deputies.

Jekabsons promised that personnel changes would take place, but has so far declined to say who would be removed.

"It seems that chief police officers benefit from the situation when average policemen leave work because they can earn bigger salaries themselves," Kalvitis said on the radio station SWH the morning before the decision.

"These striking facts make one think that police chiefs live in some other world and do not want to change anything at all. The state funds to police are, of course, insufficient; however, their fair distribution may be the first step toward investment of state resources in the development of personnel policy," the prime minister added.

The latest incident is merely one in a long line of problems facing the country's law enforcement, where low wages have lead to unrest and departure for many employees.

Policemen have been clamoring for more pay in the run-up to government budgetary negotiations, with some even threatening to strike. Others have warned about an exodus of talented investigators and officers - one that will leave the country's laws all but unenforceable.

Calling for higher salaries, hundreds of police officers took to the streets in a protest earlier this month, with firefighters joining along. Protestors reportedly asked why the Defense Ministry's budget increased dramatically while Interior Ministry resources have stagnated.

Jekabsons, a member of Latvia's First Party, was quick to take up their indignation in interviews, the contents of which Defense Minister Einars Repse called "misleading."

Some 750 people have left law enforcement this year 's over half were police officers. The situation will become catastrophic if something is not done to stem the flight of employees, claim law enforcement members.

Jekabsons said he was prepared to step down if that would solve the problem.

A steady growth of inflation has been pinching the pockets of law enforcement, and indeed many of the country's residents.

On top of this, salaries in many public sectors are low-paying. Kalvitis recently proposed increasing Culture Ministry employee salaries three-fold over the next five years.

The budget is expected to see spending increases of over 100-million lats next year.

Despite the high level of inflation, which some economists have attributed to currency exchange and a falling dollar, the economy is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. Yet international financial institutions have warned the government against steep increases in public-sector wages, since these budget expenses are one of the main causes of inflation.

Latvia had the highest rate of inflation last year in the EU25 's almost 7 percent 's and is likely to lead the union again this year. Unless the government manages to rein in consumer-price growth, the country could miss the deadline for joining the eurozone.