Ministry slashed amid government reshuffle

  • 2009-04-29
  • By Kate McIntosh
RIGA - The Latvian government has announced it will abolish the Ministry of Children, Family and Society Integration Affairs and redistribute its functions under the umbrella of three existing ministries.
The government announced on April 28 its decision to reorganize the Ministry of Children, Family and Society Integration Affairs, dividing its functions among the Welfare Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Education and Science Ministry.

The government has ordered the Children and Family Affairs Ministry to hand in a report at the next government meeting detailing funding necessary for the ministry's functions, including information on the ministry's staff.
The ministry will also have to present a detailed timeline outlining the transfer of its functions to other ministries.

Outgoing Minister Ainars Bastiks expressed disappointment at the decision, saying he feared issues around children's rights and social protection would now take a backseat.
He also expected the ministry's 100 strong staff to be trimmed in light of the planned reorganization.
"It's quite hard to say some positive words about the changes. It looks very strange when in these times of crisis we start to hit children and families [with budget cuts]," Bastiks told The Baltic Times.
"Every country and every smart politician knows the future is connected to children; with birth and demographic issues. If we do not support these sorts of issues then it's a dead end in the future," he said.

Bastiks said cohesive child and family policies remained crucial, particularly given soaring unemployment rates and the increased economic pressure on families and young people.


Under the planned reorganization, the Welfare Ministry will assume responsibility for children's rights protection and child and family affairs in Latvia.
The Justice Ministry will take charge of the society integration policy; the development of civic society; promoting intercultural dialogue and integration of immigrants.
The ministry will also be responsible for implementation of international agreements on children's rights that are binding for Latvia.

Meanwhile, responsibility for government policy on youth and distribution of budget funds for catering in schools will now rest with the Education and Science Ministry.
Bastiks named the establishment of family alimony payments and a crisis hotline for children at risk among his greatest achievements as minister.

He said the ministry had also been active in devising strategies to help raise birth rates in Latvia, previously the lowest in the European Union, as well as improving conditions throughout the country's orphanages and the development of a foster care system.

The number of registered foster care families in Latvia has grown to more than 400 today, up from just 15 in 2003. The number of children housed in orphanages has also dropped by 30 percent.
Bastiks, a member of Latvia's First Party and Latvian Way has signaled his intention to remain in parliament. He is also listed as a candidate for European Parliament behind former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis.

Bastiks also vowed to continue highlighting child and family issues, which remain close to his heart.
"Actually I think these issues of family and demographics are quite important throughout Europe if we want to keep social protections in place," he said.

The previous Latvian government, headed by Godmanis, abandoned plans to reduce the number of ministries and eventually collapsed amid wilting political and public support.
The current Valdis Dombrovskis-led government tasked ministries with cutting their spending between 20 and 40 percent in a bid to steady Latvia's continued economic decline.
Planned budget amendments are expected to come into force on June 1 this year.