• 2006-10-25

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

News that Latvia's outgoing government ministers decided to pay themselves a hefty bonus came as no surprise. It only confirms what Latvians already know. Prior to the recent parliamentary elections, voters acknowledged that they would grudgingly have to cast their ballot for the lesser of 19 evils. Lo and behold, the three-party government they re-elected 's the People's Party, the Greens and Farmer Union and Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way 's thanked themselves with a hefty remuneration at a time when a large part of the population is scrapping to get by. Just goes to show that Latvian politics is a basket of rotten apples, and you can only hope that you pick the one with the least amount of worms.

One can't help wonder what ministers were thinking when they made this generous self-congratulatory gesture 's reportedly equal to one month's salary, or about 2,000 lats (2,900 euros) per minister. They certainly weren't thinking about the pensioner who must live on 90 lats per month in an economy with 6 percent inflation and rapidly rising communal and food prices. One might say the ministers weren't thinking at all, but this would be false. They were thinking quite clearly. We know because, for starters, they made the decision in secret, and second, the decision was kept from the public for as long as possible. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and Co. were fully aware of the ethical implications of their action, but they went ahead and did it anyway. They took money from the taxpayer and put it in their pockets. Thieves know how to be quiet.

As expected, justification of the move was not forthcoming, and ministers dodged the hard questions. One allegedly explained that he hadn't been aware that the vote on a bonus was taking place, as he had become distracted by a colleague. (This begs the question: are all Cabinet decisions taken in this manner?) But the true reason was soon revealed. As Janis Dzanuskans, a spokesman for Kalvitis, was quoted as saying, "It is no secret that the government has done a good job, and voters also showed their appreciation in the parliamentary elections."

Perhaps one day soon someone will explain to the naive Mr. Dzanuskans that just because people vote for a politician or party doesn't mean they want to give him or her a raise.
But let's be honest: Latvia's outgoing government has not done a good job. It has only done a less bad job than any other government to date. Just because economic growth is in double-digit territory doesn't mean the country is blessed with benign, talented leadership that deserves overtime and bonuses and sundry pecuniary forms of gratitude. No doubt, a complete list of the ugly deeds of and mismanagement by the outgoing/incoming government is long, and would easily fill an issue of this paper. We won't even bother. Like true politicians, Latvian ministers acted solely on behalf of their own interests, and not the state's. That's the moral of the story. Otherwise, be prepared for four more years of the same selfishness.