Latvian politics ‘corrupt as usual’

  • 2011-03-30
  • From wire reports

RIGA - The British magazine The Economist has written about the increase in corruption in Latvia. The article points out that corruption, and rows about it, have long been a hall-mark of Latvian politics. “Now recent improvements are at risk. The country’s image has probably improved faster than reality: a report from Freedom House praises a clean-up in the civil service and court system, but highlights continuing problems in the upper reaches of political life. Good salaries in the public sector, especially for senior officials, helped too. But that was in the boom years of 2006-7. A well-researched report from last year reckons that Latvia is now back to the corruption level it had when it joined the EU,” the article says.

The Economist points out that the main protagonist in the fight against corruption in Latvia is the Corruption Prevention Bureau (CPB). “Polls show high levels of public trust in the agency, which has frequently been at the center of political storms about its real, imagined and exaggerated mistakes. One such row in 2007 led to the sacking of its heavyweight chief Aleksejs Loskutovs, who is now an MP from the prime minister’s Unity party. It was only a partial victory for CPB’s critics. The fallout from the row ultimately led to the fall of the then-government. Loskutovs’ staff continued to notch up investigations and arrests, even after his departure,” the article goes on to say.

The piece points to the many high-profile arrests made by the CPB during the Loskutovs era, as well by Loskutovs’ subordinates after his sacking. “Now the clouds over the CPB are darkening. Its new boss, Normunds Vilnitis, has a lightweight reputation and an abrasive management style. His new plans for reform of the agency marginalized the well-regarded deputy director, Juta Strike, who is credited with leading its successful investigations. But she has been threatened and has fled the country. Vilnitis seems unbothered by this, but has suspended his other deputy for ‘idleness,’” the article says.

The magazine writes that Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) dislikes Vilnitis and opposes the office’s re-organization. “The government has formed a special commission to reconsider if Vilnitis can keep his job. But that is a decision for the parliament, where Dombrovskis is hostage to his coalition partner, the [nominal] Greens and Farmers Union. They want Vilnitis to serve his full five year term, meaning three more years of agony, controversy and indecision.”