Foreign investors won't name names

  • 2000-10-12
  • TBT staff
RIGA - For two days the Latvian government sat down with representatives from the Foreign Investors Council (FICIL), listening to their suggestions and complaints. There were three key issues to be discussed during the meeting on Oct. 3 - fighting corruption, the state's attitude toward educating specialists in information technologies, and real estate tax and the procedure for imposing this tax and receiving tax breaks. The council was established to promote a dialogue between large foreign investors and top Latvian government officials with the aim of improving the business climate in the country. The Latvian president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has sharply criticized corrupt practices in Latvia, and Prime Minister Andris Berzins told reporters before the meeting that he intended to ask the foreign investors to reveal the names of officials and organizations who have asked for bribes.

"I will ask the foreign investors about concrete corruption cases so we can move from abstract talks to practical deeds," he said.

However, FICIL refused to mention any specific situations or officials on the take, saying it was not FICIL's duty to do the work of the Latvian police. Still, the foreign investors did have a few suggestions as to how corruption could be combated in Latvia. One was that state trustees with a conflict of interests or vulnerable to political influences be replaced. Other recommendations include establishing an anti-corruption office, criminal prosecution of corrupted officials, introduction of a so-called "zero declaration" of income, and an internal audit into government and municipal authorities. Berzins agreed after the meeting sessions with FICIL that increased attention to problems with corruption is required in Latvia.

"Latvian law enforcement agencies are ready to fight corruption and they will accept reports from investors," Berzins said at a press conference.

The president for the Foreign Investors Council, Monty Akesson from Ernst & Young in Latvia, said the corruption situation in Latvia is no worse than in other transition economies.

This opinion was shared by the council co-chairman, Jukka Harmale, who added that recommendations given by FICIL are only advisory as practiced in their respective countries for a long time.

Corruption has returned to the focus of attention following the recently published World Bank survey, saying there is top-level corruption in Latvia. The economic and political powers have intermingled to the extent that economic growth and democratic development are threatened, according to the survey.