A View From The Dungeon

  • 2007-09-26

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Just when we thought that governance in Latvia had reached a nadir and the only direction remaining was up and forward, somehow the ruling elite managed to find a hole in the floor, a sub-cellar into which it apparently has decided to push the nation. In one day the coalition elected a legislative neophyte chairman of Parliament and the prime minister suspended the head of the anti-corruption bureau for what appear to be dubious violations. Latvia, it appears, is on a crash-course with ignominy.

The antecedent to the events of Sept. 24 was the sudden announcement three days earlier that state prosecutors had opened a criminal case against Indulis Emsis, the now former parliamentary speaker who, according to law enforcement officials, is suspected of having provided false testimony in at least two investigations. One probe involves the so-called Ventspils affair, which threatens to take down that city's current mayor, Aivars Lembergs, and several businessmen. The other concerns a wad of cash 's $6,500 to be exact 's that was stolen from Emsis' briefcase after he left it in the dining hall of the Cabinet of Ministers. Here too prosecutors believe Emsis gave them contradictory information.

Emsis had little choice but to resign, and will now have to wait for prosecutors' conclusions. In the meantime, coalition lawmakers appointed a fellow party member of Emsis, Gundars Daudze, to the speaker's post. Daudze, a former doctor, is not qualified for the job, and judging by his initial statements he appears to be a lackey for the Greens and Farmers Union. It is highly unlikely he will bring any sense of initiative to one of the most powerful jobs in Latvia, whose parliamentary democracy can now be described as a puppet democracy.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, whose grip over 's and grasp of 's events in the country is increasingly tenuous, decided he needed to fire Aleksejs Loskutovs, head of the anti-corruption bureau. The reason: a state audit that uncovered shoddy bookkeeping in one of the bureau's departments. Even the state auditor, Inguna Sudraba, expressed surprise at the move. In her words, she issued many a harmful report about Latvian ministries and departments, yet this is the first time anyone ever acted.

It's astonishing, really. The bureau has, even in Latvian dimensions, a paltry budget, and finds itself under fire, while in the meantime departments that handle enormous sums of money 's such as the Transport Ministry 's are not scrutinized (or they're scrutinized, but their transgressions ignored).

The two events 's Daudze's sudden rise and Loskutovs' sudden fall 's are related, though there is every reason to believe that, even if Emsis remained in his position, Kalvitis would have still dismissed Loskutovs. As is known, Latvia is in the primary stages of a crackdown on corruption against major political players. One oligarch is under house arrest, and another, former PM Andris Skele 's Kalvitis' boss 's is feeling the pinch. An investigation into a scam involving digital TV hangs over Skele's head, while a probe into the finances of the People's Party, which is nominally run by Skele's wife, could result in massive fines.

In short, we are witnessing the last stand of a corrupt regime. Thankfully, there is reason to maintain hope that justice will prevail. The fact that prosecutors displayed the exemplary bravery to go after Emsis shows that Latvia, despite its pitfalls, has matured in terms of independence of the law enforcement agencies. Such judicial audacity would have been unthinkable five years ago. The reaction from a large swathe of society also demonstrates that the populace is not indifferent to what is taking place. We believe that the results of some upcoming opinion polls will show how isolated the regime is.