Regional development at risk

  • 2012-07-25
  • From wire reports

RIGA - Latvia’s Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Edmunds Sprudzs (Reform Party) disagrees with the statements that the amendments to the law on local governments are being rushed, reports LETA. If the amendments are not drafted and implemented by the upcoming municipal elections, nothing will change in the development of Latvia’s regions in the next four years, the minister said in an interview with Latvian State Radio on July 12.

“Regions must become more active, municipal work must be improved,” added the minister.
Sprudzs explained that such motions as reducing the number of deputies in local governments and banning them from holding several specific posts at the same time have been discussed for at least three months.
Many meetings were held with the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments, which does not approve of these changes. Nevertheless, there is also a significant number of local governments supporting the amendments. The association not always achieves everything with the help of municipal consensus, emphasized the minister.
Sprudzs does not plan to postpone the implementation of these reforms. The Cabinet of Ministers should be done with them by the fall session so that they could be submitted to Saeima.

This summer, the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry plans to draft amendments to the law on local governments, stipulating that the number of deputies in local governments be reduced and that they will be banned from simultaneously holding several specific positions, to prevent potential conflict of interest.
Continuing on his reform crusade, Sprudzs in an interview with the daily Diena added “We still do not have regions that would have similar economic capacities; there is a real mess.”

Sprudzs says his vision of administrative and territorial division of Latvia includes Riga plus the provinces of Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Latgale and Zemgale, and districts within their previous borders. “Without forcing local governments to merge, we will nevertheless set certain goals that we should move toward,” says the minister.
However, Maris Pukis, senior advisor to the chairman of the Association of Latvian Local Governments, said in an interview with Latvian State Television that no hasty conclusions should be made yet regarding the regional reform. According to Pukis, the results of the reform have not been analyzed yet. The Local Governments’ Association believes that nothing should be changed immediately.

“Each area should be given a chance to try,” urges Pukis, comparing Latvia’s regions to the countries in Europe. “There are small countries and there are large countries, and quite often the smaller countries are more successful. There is a good chance that the small regions may become very successful. They should be given an opportunity to work.”
The Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry previously said that it planned to carry out an analysis of the administrative and territorial reform in Latvia and, based on the results of the analysis, offer suggestions regarding the necessary changes. Data of the 2011 population census will also be taken into account during the analysis.

The reform was implemented in 2009, when 522 districts in Latvia were reformed into 109 regions plus nine cities. Later the number changed as Roja Region, on the western Gulf of Riga coast, seceded from Mersrags Region.