The current local Latvian economic and financial crisis is deeper than in most of Europe. Why? As many would agree, first of all it's more a moral crisis triggered by greediness of some financial circles and political irresponsibility of the two last Latvian governments, the former one and this one. Unfortunately, there was very little change. As we know, last December the government said that there would be cuts across the board, reducing expenditures on average by 15 's 20 percent and substantially increasing VAT, either from 18 to 21 percent, from 5 to 10percent, or from 5 to 21 percent, for instance in hospitality services and publishing including books and printed press.
But as we saw on Jan. 26 in Diena, the wage of the Prime Minister in January was 2,385 lats, compared with 2,162 lats in January 2008. The same goes with regards to the average salaries of Ministers 's this January 2,147 lats, but a year ago 's 1,944 lats. At the start of February it was said the State Treasury was to blame for the negligence.
On Dec. 22, 2008 the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Culture passed a decree ruling that the funding for music and art schools is to be slashed by 29 percent. In an open letter, these school teachers said it was equal to a death blow to their system. They might be right. Further, the government increased from Jan. 1 the VAT for books from 5 to 21 percent, while at the same time on Dec. 30 the Minister of Culture signed an agreement on the building of new concert hall which would cost around 8 million lats, but fortunately the deal was later cancelled. How would you deem such government steps?
In times of distress the culture should be last thing they lay their fingers on. By cutting funding for state radio and TV, they are going to save some 5 million lats, or a bit more, but is it really a responsible measure? As we see in France and Israel and S.O. countries, right now their governments are increasing spending on culture, and they are right. In hard times it's the right thing to do. Because if there is no culture, there is no nation. During tough times the culture can be the source of inspiration and a relief for everybody.
Secondly, is it good solidarity to cut expenses across the board? We can't compare Ministers salaries to the ones of ordinary residents. It is not the same to cut 15 percent off the wages of 2,000 lats or 200 lats. But our Cabinet of Ministers apparently holds another view on this. Today our Latvian government does next to nothing to protect the most vulnerable strata in society. On the contrary, it seems they don't care at all. I don't know how much they are expecting to get on the increase of VAT on medicine but it is really hard hitting for the pensioners, disabled and other needy people. It must be noted that the cost of medical care after joining the EU has virtually skyrocketed, it beats all the other living costs. It's very tragic for the most poor.
When there is a crisis like this one, first and foremost task of political leadership is to take care of the ones who themselves are not able to do it. The hard times show how morally and mentally healthy is respective society and if the stronger and wealthier 's and especially the leadership 's fail to be responsible, then it's real tragedy for the whole people. In our case it's all about Latvia.