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SPACE FOR REASON

  • 2000-09-21
The Latvian Parliament's failure last week to appoint ex-Finance Minister Edmunds Krastins, one of the main figures in the powerful People's Party, to the influential post of head of the finance and capital markets commission should be considered a sign of deeper conflicts within the ruling coalition.

Although the ruling coalition's big guys - the People's Party and Latvia's Way - have reached an agreement regarding the nomination, (sources say, incidentally, that it was agreed to before the forming of the current government, dividing the two new jobs - head of the finance and capital markets commission to Krastins and yet-to-be-formed unified registry of services to a representative from Latvia's Way), the Fatherland and Freedom party was left with nothing this time.

Another obstacle to Krastins' way to this high-profile job is his antagonism with the mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs. As the then-finance minister he refused to guarantee the loan for Ventspils port, he once again took sides with his party boss Andris Skele, whose bad relationship with the Ventspils group is widely known. And Fatherland's MPs, which allegedly have bragged around Parliament saying they have had another payday Sept. 14, are known as Ventspils' faithful supporters. One doesn't need even Skele's inspired quote of a "political family with a foster father down in Ventspils swamps." It is easy enough to trace Fatherland votes that collide with their political theoretical opponents from the opposition - the Social Democrats - in issues important to their "foster father." Fatherland's squashing of plans to privatize electricity utility Latvenergo jumps to mind.

Although Krastins has declared that he is free and able to distance himself from the influences of his party, he still might have a conflict of interest. It was not long ago when Krastins as finance minister was accused of lobbying his former employer, Latvijas Unibanka, for a tender held by the Finance Ministry over civil servants' payment cards. Other banks, left out of the list, protested the FM decision and alleged Krastins' eventual conflict of interest.

So, in Latvia's complicated political environment (some would say corrupt political environment) the ex-minister of finance might not be the most appropriate candidate to be given the task of gathering sensitive financial information.

Perhaps the political parties will show some reason and find a compromise. Otherwise, if such clashes within the ruling coalition continue, Latvia faces political instability that will be deepened further by upcoming municipal elections.