Top official blows whistle

  • 2000-11-30
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Political-party funds and corruption were the topic of an international conference in Riga Nov. 25. Top international researchers in the political and social sciences presented various statistics on how political parties, mainly in Eastern Europe, are funded.

Former Minister of Justice Dzintars Rasnacs, who also gave a presentation during the conference, said he doubts anyone in Latvia would reveal how party funding actually works.

"Problems in party funding and corruption would not disappear even if the foreign investment climate improved," Rasnacs said.

Rasnacs said any reporter should have access to political parties bank accounts and expenditure records.

"The real cash flow through political parties is pretty far from the reported one, and services used by parties cost much less than stated," Rasnacs admitted. "There are also different types of barter deals between political parties and business people."

Janis Ikstens, assistant professor in political science at Vidzeme University, said there are very few restrictions on how a political party in Latvia can gain and spend money in Latvia.

"The state does not interfere too much with political parties," Ikstens said. "Practically all party finances in Latvia come from donations."

Ikstens said he has interviewed 11 party leaders in Latvia, and that they were surprisingly open during those interviews.

"Huge amounts of money donated to parties are never accounted for," Ikstens said. "This money, which is cash, is not put in party bank accounts."

It is possible for individuals to donate up to 25,000 lats ($40,000) per year to a political party in Latvia. Rasnacs said he believes this to be a record in Europe.

"We have to bring this level of donations down to 1,000 lats per person per year," Rasnacs said.

Keit Pentus of Tartu University said an Estonian politician would tell everything about his private life and unfulfilled political promises, but talking about political party finances would be taboo.

"Four times a year, parties in Estonia are obliged to submit a full report of their finances, sums from donors and the donors' names," Pentus said. "Since 1999 it's prohibited to donate money to a political party in Estonia anonymously and it's illegal to mediate someone else's donations."

Pentus also spoke of a businessman in Estonia who had told her during an interview that "charity is a beautiful thing but it does not exist in politics."

"I don't believe the motives of business people donating money to political parties in Eastern European countries are the same as the motives of business people donating money to political parties in the West," Marcin Walecki, a National Democratic Institute for International Affairs senior program officer for political parties, said.

Still, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. There were different solutions to the corruption problem ventilated.

Rasnacs suggested parties in Latvia should get money through state subsidies but added that political parties, however, would not be able to survive without donations. He also spoke of the possibility to form a special department with authority to review parties funding.

"I think there has to be a special law pertaining to party funding in Latvia," Rasnacs said.

Still, Ikstens does not believe that introducing a state subsidiary system in Latvia would do any good.

"I don't believe state subsidies will solve anything because the money won't be sufficient," Ikstens said.