Of Mice And Men

  • 2007-09-05

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

In July this paper opined that Latvia has arguably the worst governance in the European Union, a statement for which we received a fair amount of criticism. Unfortunately, events of the past two months only bear out this opinion and have us wondering how low one country can actually sink into a morass of lousy leadership and impropriety.

Last month the transportation minister, Ainars Slesers, castigated the Competition Council, an Economy Ministry division, for having the gall to have an opinion other than his (on discounts for airlines launching new routes to and from Riga) and suggested that the regulator be abolished. The council, he said, is filled with lackeys "crawling on their bellies" to please Brussels.
Culture Minister Helena Demakova, upon learning that President Valdis Zatlers expressed skepticism about the timeliness of the national library 's Demakova's 165 million euro "pet project" 's displayed a complete lack of culture. She said the president was engaging in "populism" and had "shot himself in the foot." Amazingly, she even suggested his position was "pro-Moscow."

Even though dating from 1998 - 2000, a number of illegally taped phone conversations, published in a book last month (see interview on Page 14), attest to highly unethical coziness existing between lawyers and judges in Latvia. The book blows a hole in the theory of an independent third branch of power, yet the ruling coalition's reaction was largely to dismiss the bestseller as a work of fiction.

Finally, there's the strange case of Indulis Emsis, which, if he were around, the American writer O. Henry would've enjoyed thoroughly. Emsis was schlepping $10,000 in his briefcase last October when 's surprise, surprise 's he leaves it in the Cabinet of Ministers' dining hall. When he returned for it, the money was gone. At first he told investigators 10 grand was missing, then he changed his statement to $6,500. Why was that? Does he not know how much he is borrowing from whom?

The entire episode stinks of venality. Most commonsensical, law-abiding people believe Emsis should resign from the post of parliamentary chairman, the third most powerful office in the country. But no, not the righteous Indulis Emsis, a member of the increasingly compromised Greens and Farmers Union. He has professed innocence and, comparing himself to a humble mouse, said the ball is in the prosecutors' 's or the "cats'" 's court.

If Emsis had any honor or dignity, he would've immediately resigned the chairman's post (but keep his parliamentary seat) to wait until the fog has disappeared and his name is cleared. Yes, the presumption of innocence applies to all equally, but it is an ideal designated for the courtroom, not the arena of public perception. In politics, perception is king, and men and women who strive to hold public office understand that they waive part of the sacred presumption in exchange for (even more sacred) constitutional power. It's a fair deal 's an unwritten rule in the many checks and balances of representative democracy.

Only in Latvia, politicians are increasingly inclined to behave with an appalling sense of impunity, as if they've never matured from the "good ole' days" of the Soviet Union. They do what they want, say what they want, and disregard the consequences. Worst governance in the EU? Hands down.