RIGA - Parliament overrode a presidential veto on March 1 on a series of crucial amendments to security laws that aim to strengthen the prime minister's control over the national security forces. Parliament passed the amendments to the national security law by a vote of 57 to 32, and the changes to the law on state security forces by a vote of 53 to 32.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga will now have to promulgate the amendments.
Previously she vetoed the amendments, saying they were forced through the legislature without proper debate and discussion. Vike-Freiberga also criticized the substance of the amendments.
"[The amendments] endanger the successful and professional performance of national security institutions, as it increases the risk of revealing state secrets and classified information by enlarging the range of people who will have access to information on operational activities," the president said.
The bills allow the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, interior affairs, and justice to become involved in the National Security Council's work. They also allow other ministers and the heads of security institutions to attend the security council's meetings if invited. The amendments additionally give the members of the national security committee the right to not only review the results of security institution inspections but also to conduct their own.
Arno Pjatkins, spokesman for Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, explained that the purpose of the amendments was to "improve co-ordination among the institutions. Previously this was not working very well, and we need the best possible co-ordination among these institutions."
The president, however, feels that these bills are a mistake. "In the president's opinion, it is absolutely clear 's security agencies must, indeed, have their own control," said presidential spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga.
The president pointed to a variety of problems with the amendments, arguing that by shifting the balance of power they will adversely affect both domestic politics and Latvia's international relations. She asserted that the procedures and criteria of investigations into security institutions need to be clearly defined and co-ordinated at the highest level in order to preserve the trust of allies such as NATO and the EU.
Vike-Freiberga also raised objections surrounding the somewhat vague number of people who will have access to national security institutions.
"It is not clear to me, as the head of the National Security Council, why one state institution together with other persons, whose relations with the state security institution system are not defined by the law, are given the right to investigate security institutions, what kind of investigations these will be, and what are the criteria and aims of these investigations," the president wrote in a letter to Saeima.
Vike-Freiberga feels that such a vague circle of people being so closely involved in the work of national security institutions could lead to the divulging of state secrets. "It is not acceptable to have such an indiscriminate circle of people who will have access to security agencies' data," Rozenberga said.
The president has also voiced concern over the hasty manner in which the bills were pushed through Parliament. The bills were originally decreed with the use of a constitutional provision that allows the government to push a bill through while Parliament is in recess. Vike-Freiberga objected to the use of this special law because it meant that all interested parties would not be involved in amending the laws.
She has stressed that it is unacceptable to amend the laws without allowing time for specialists and experts to evaluate the initiatives and prepare counter-proposals.
Opposition leaders have also expressed surprise at the haste in which the bills were passed through Parliament. Moreover, opposition leaders have levelled accusations of lawmakers harboring ulterior motives.
Karlis Sadurskis, deputy chairman of the opposition center-right New Era, accused the ruling coalition of using the bills as a way to consolidate power. He claimed that the ruling coalition was only adjusting the laws to serve their own interests.
Linda Murniece, also of New Era party, has labelled the coalition as an "orange dictatorship," referring to the color used in People's Party logos.
The People's Party responded to these accusations with a certain amount of disdain. "It is normal opposition rhetoric, there is no serious argument there," Pjatkins said of New Era's accusations.
Pjatkins also addressed the president's concerns over the availability of information. "There are a very limited number of people who have access to the information. It is still by a very strong order that this permission is given," he said.
In any case, Pjatkins notes that whatever criticisms she might have, the decision is not really in the president's hands anymore. "It's the Parliament's decision to make changes or not, it's not the government's decision," Pjatkins said.
Of the 35 bills the president has vetoed since taking office, this was one of only a handful that have returned to her desk unchanged.