Fearing graft, New Era sacks three Jurmala officials

  • 2006-07-05
  • Staff and wire reports

ENDANGERED? Jurmala residents are outraged that the city passed a development plan allocating hectares of natural landscape for construction purposes.

RIGA - The board of New Era, a right wing party and one of Latvia's most popular according to recent polls, has expelled three members of the Jurmala City Council over suspicions of corruption after the MPs voted in favor of a controversial city development plan. Jurmala Mayor Inese Aizstrauta and two other New Era representatives on the city council, Zigurds Starks and Girts Trencis, were expelled from the party during an emergency party meeting on June 30, New Era leader Einars Repse told the Baltic News Service.

Adoption of the controversial city development plan 's which would reduce much of Jurmala's green territory for construction purposes 's was originally postponed until Oct. 31 to allow for more public discussion. Yet the City Council ignored this deferment and passed the plan on June 29, causing an uproar among Jurmala residents.
The Jurmala mayor has showed no intention of resigning, nor has she considered joining another party. Starks and Trencis share her position. "I have been elected by the people of Jurmala, and I must keep working," Aizstrauta told the press. "I haven't done anything that goes against people's interests and my conviction."

According to Repse, the three MPs failed to justify their actions during the extraordinary meeting. He described the Jurmala council's decision as "incompetent, unacceptable, drafted in great secrecy and incompatible with the interests of Jurmala's population."
Agnese Lesinska, acting director of the Center for Public Policy Providus, a non-governmental organization, told The Baltic Times that "The council members' hasty action seems to suggest corruption, although nobody can say for sure right now. The situation is definitely strange."

She pointed out several complications behind the issue.
"During the development plan process, the municipality is required to consult with the public. But the problem is that the city council is not legally obligated to base their decision on the public's opinion," Lesinska said. "Therefore, the situation can get quite messy."
In addition to ignoring public discussion on the issue, the city council even kept development plan amendments secret from New Era's Jurmala branch, Repse pointed out.

"This looks like a decree from some gray cardinals," the New Era leader said, suggesting that the plan had been amended to secure someone's financial interests. "There's money 's big money 's involved."
Although he expressed regret over losing party members and seats on the Jurmala City Council, Repse emphasized the need for those accused to step down.
"If they are honest, they will resign," he said. But when asked whether he considered Aizstrauta an honest politician, the leader refused to answer.

The Jurmala mayor underscored that "the city cannot do without" a development plan, as its absence would delay ongoing projects and prevent the drafting of next year's budget.
As for the proposed Oct. 31 deadline, Aizstrauta said the date was scheduled too close to parliamentary elections for council members to deal with the subject appropriately.
Whatever the circumstances, New Era says the situation smacks of corruption. Already this year a scandal in Jurmala caused major political fallout, including the firing on former Transport Minister Ainars Slesers. On July 5, New Era's board said it may ask the Corruption Prevention and Combatting Bureau (KNAB) to launch a probe into the incident.