VILNIUS - Liberal Centrist Regimantas Ciupaila officially became Lithuania's new Interior Minister after taking his oath of office in Parliament Dec. 18.
In a press conference the day before, Ciupaila said his main priority as minister would be to reform the police system top-down, selecting a new police commissioner, providing more officer training and centralizing all police departments.
Ciupaila addressed his goals to the media on Dec. 17 immediately after President Adamkus signed a decree appointing him to head the ministry.
"The president considers him an expert in the field," presidential spokeswoman Rita Grumadaite said at the press conference.
The 51-year-old had been serving as deputy interior minister until he officially replaced Raimondas Sukys, who resigned along with Police Commissioner General Vytautas Grigaravicius a few days after a Nov. 8 automobile collision in Skuodas in which a police officer killed three ten-year-old boys.
The Liberal Centrist Party, the same party to which Sukys belonged, nominated Ciupaila to fill the vacancy.
During a private meeting with Ciupaila on Dec. 17, Adamkus called upon "immediate reforms" to tackle police misconduct on the highways, the police department's inability to cope with contraband, illegal migration, and the society's own lack of confidence in police officers, the president's spokeswoman said.
The president said now is the time to initiate reforms because Lithuania would then be eligible for additional funds from the European Union, Grumadaite said.
Laws calling for stricter punishments for road offenses are already in Parliament ready for the president to sign.
Ciupaila said that in 2006 he presented the parliament with a document with almost the same wording as the current draft law on the Code of Administrative Offenses, but his version was rejected by one vote.
In recent weeks, a draft amendment to the Code of Administrative Offenses was approved by Parliament. Some details of the draft law set out the responsibilities of all ministries to handle traffic safety cases, and for the parliament, not the government, to act as a single force in controlling the nation's traffic safety policies.
"I guess it's better late than never," Ciupaila told The Baltic Times.
The driving culture of police remains unchanged, however. Moletai police confirmed that on Dec. 15 another off-duty police officer had swerved off the road and overturned his car.
"Police should not feel like eagles flying on the road and neither should any one else," Ciupaila said.
"Driving on the roads should be improved as should the education of drivers. It's also immoral [with regards to] the values and management of people. Kids should tell their parents to drive well, teachers [should better] educate drivers, and lawmakers should follow along [with legislation] â€¦ Police officers should set an example of good driving and be very visible and, of course, not corrupt," Ciupaila said.
Once an Interior Minister is officially appointed, he proposes a candidate for police commissioner to the government, which then passes the name to president for a formal decision.
Ciupaila's political party already made a request to the prime minister for holding an informal selection process that does not involve the sole responsibility of the Interior Minister to pick the names. Instead, his party wants someone who has had at least three years as head of a police department or educational institution, is a law graduate and is older than 35.
"The informal selection is possible, but the credentials of a person have to be strong," Ciupaila said. "It's quite tough; so many people don't fulfill such requirements."
He declined to publicly announce any names at the Dec. 17 press conference.