VILNIUS - Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas resigned on Jan. 7 after enduring continued criticism of his job performance by political opponents and repeated attempts to remove him from his post.
In his resignation letter, which was released to the public and posted on the ministry's Web site, Kundrotas cited as the reason for his departure attacks by the opposition, which he said were unduly interfering with the ministry's work.
Kundrotas has survived three interpellation proceedings in the seven years since he came to office, two of them last year. The most recent no-confidence vote, held on Dec. 7, came just one voter shy of removing the minister.
"The experience of last year shows that various clarifications and explanations take increasing amounts of time and effort on the account of real work. The worst thing is that because of this the people working at the ministry are inevitably involved, which leaves them with insufficient time to make new quality decisions, as explanations of the previous decisions made by the ministry take up most of their time," he said in the letter.
Kundrotas announced that he sees no prospect for continuing to work at the ministry and claimed that without the "disturbance" revolving around him the ministry's activities might be implemented faster.
Five opposition parties had criticized Kundrotas for poor management of EU cohesion funds earmarked for municipal projects, waste reduction, water and air quality systems, landfills, recycling programs and the financing of Lithuania's eco-friendly projects.
Andrius Kubilius, leader of the Homeland Union, a party that participated in both of last year's interpellations against Kundrotas, used the resignation to further attack the minister and the government.
"The minister's resignation reminds me of fleeing from a sinking ship, because the government's activity over the recent months has had a seeming resemblance to the image of a sinking ship. On the other hand, the minister should have clearly realized the courtesy of the interpellation, that his and the government's activity in the domain of environmental protection are lacking support in Parliament," Kubilius said.
The Lietuvos Rytas daily suggested on Jan. 8 that Social Democrat Kundrotas' resignation could be a result of a secret agreement between the Kubilius and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas. Both men immediately denied the existence of such an agreement.
"There were no agreements with Gediminas Kirkilas regarding the Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas and I am sorry that by such intrigues the prime minister and media in his support increasingly discredit politics in Lithuania," Kubilius said in a press release.
Some of Kundrotas' colleagues are still hoping he will change his mind.
"I see no reason to step down after the survival of interpellation... Besides, not so much time is left until the end of the termâ€¦I think he could continue with his work," one of them told News Radio on Jan. 8.
Prime Minister Kirkilas, for his part, says he had tried to convince Kundrotas to change his mind but was unsuccessful. The prime minister said that pressure of groups interested in construction projects at the Lithuanian seaside could be another possible reason for the minister's resignation.
"In my opinion the minister upheld his principal beliefs, because there is always pressure involved when talking about construction at the seaside, and withstanding this pressure is not easy," Kirkilas said in a Jan. 8 interview on Lithuanian National Radio.
He claimed there were persons seeking to control the seaside, but refused to give details. Their hopes to do that by the removal of the Environment Minister, however, are futile, he said: "Regardless of whether the minister changes, a new one comes, there will be control."
One of the Social Democratic Party leaders, Ceslovas Jursenas, claims that Kundrotas must have simply had enough of opposition attacks, justified or not, BNS reported. Jursenas and Social Democrat parliamentary group's forewoman, Irena Siauliene, also denied the existence of any agreements between Homeland Union and Social Democrats.
President Valdas Adamkus said he wants to hear Kundrotas personally explain the reasons for the resignation. He claimed he could not evaluate the minister either positively or negatively.
"There were moments when he solved really difficult problems of environmental protection and then in other times he could have shown more initiative," Adamkus said.
According to resignation procedures, Prime Minister Kirkilas has five days from the day he receives a resignation letter to forward it to the president. During that time the minister can still change his mind and withdraw his letter of resignation.
Although Kundrotas is the Social Democrats' third minister to resign, the current minority government should be able to stand until the upcoming elections this fall.