Vike-Freiberga criticizes all branches of government

  • 2007-01-17
  • By Gary Peach

BITTER-SWEET SMILE: It may take more than a genuine smile for Economic Minister Strods (right) to earn back Vike-Freiberga's favor, after the president chastized the Cabinet of Ministers for their poor work.

RIGA - In the span of two days, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga criticized the Cabinet of Ministers, Parliament and the judiciary 's all for various shortcomings 's and by doing so raised questions about overall competence of governance in Latvia. On Jan. 10, the president expressed consternation at the government's sudden decision to pass "emergency" amendments to a law on national security given that the prime minister failed to raise the issue at a meeting of the National Security Council in December.

Vike-Freiberga told journalists after meeting with Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis that she had expressed surprise to the head of government, considering that the amendments were submitted for consideration on Dec. 29 and passed on the first workday of the year, or Jan. 8.

"I would like the issue to be considered and assessed in parliamentary debates, and I think it would be desirable to discuss and finalize those revisions that appeared after consultations with the security services," the president said.
The government used Article 81 of the Constitution 's which states that the government has the right to pass laws while the legislature is on recess 's to pass the amendments.

In accordance to the changes, the prime minister will head the Council of National Security Agencies, in which four other political positions 's the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, internal affairs and justice 's will also have a seat.
In addition, the council will now have the power to launch probes in to security institutions, and more controversially, lawmakers on the national security committee will also have the right to investigate national security agencies.
The amendments also elicited outrage among opposition politicians and pundits, but Kalvitis defended the measures, saying they were necessary to "coordinate activities" among the security institutions.

However, when asked why the Cabinet rammed through the amendments while Parliament was in recess, Kalvitis was evasive: "Because normal coordination of the security institutions is necessary," he said.
On Jan. 11, the president dressed down the judicial branch, suggesting that judges' work was sluggish and ineffective.

"It is surprising how often court hearings are being postponed due to incomprehensible reasons 's either the lawyer has not arrived, which is his core job, or any of the defendants fail to show up," she said.
Vike-Freiberga said she received a complaint about a hearing that had been postponed 15 times. The case is still pending, she said. "Such a system is unacceptable 's both the Justice Ministry and judges have to address it," she said.

The president also pointed out discrepancies in the criminal code that allow "one law for the rich and another for the poor."
Finally, on the same day [Jan. 11] Vike-Freiberga lashed out at Parliament for failing to appoint an ombudsman, a new position that the president had been instrumental in establishing, despite enjoying a 58-seat majority.
Lawmakers failed to support either Ringolds Balodis, a University of Latvia professor, or Rasma Karklina, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois.

Saying Parliament behaved like "a dog in a manger," Vike-Freiberga called the failed vote "a fiasco."
Two coalition partners 's the People's Party and For Fatherland and Freedom 's proved incapable of agreeing on a common candidate. The People's Party, of which Prime Minister Kalvitis is a member, threw its weight behind Balodis, a party member, while the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom supported Karklina.

Responding to a suggestion that neither of the candidates was qualified for the job, Vike-Freiberga said that the candidates should have been selected on experts' advice from the start.
"As president, I was willing to assume the responsibility," she said.
Last year, Parliament passed a law on the position of ombudsman, who is to serve as a go-between in conflicts involving the state and its residents and mediate disputes. The office by law became functional as of Jan. 1, 2007.
Analysts were reluctant to see a common denominator in the president's criticism of the branches of power, saying each case was unique.

"I don't think this is something extraordinary," said Janis Ikstens, a political scientist at the University of Latvia. As far as the slow process of court cases, he said "we've heard these comments over the last seven-and-a-half years time and time again."
The other two objects of criticism 's the government and Parliament 's are different, Ikstens explained, in that the ombudsman's post is important to the president and the "inexplicable" national security amendments raise eyebrows among Latvia's allies, and these are relations that Vike-Freiberga, as head of state, is supposed to nurture.

Karlis Streips, a political commentator, said that the president's criticism about the judiciary, the government and parliament "has been true always," and that Vike-Freiberga is likely to use her last months as president to make some comments that she may have been reluctant to do in the past for political reasons.
"I hope she takes advantage of her remaining four or five months and lets everyone have it," said Streips. "She's a wonderfully wise woman, and she certainly sees what's going on in this country."