NIGERIAN BUCKS: Ashburn International, a Lithuania-registered information technologies company, on Oct. 12 announced it had won a $1 million contract from Nigerian telecommunications operator TGK to create an advance payment system for its mobile communications services. Ashburn International's advance payment systems enable mobile service users to settle pay without the use of scratch cards and calls to the operator. Instead the user pays however much he or she wishes at a cash desk and the sum is immediately added to his or her account. Marius Rusteika, director of Ashburn International, said the company had previously signed contracts with Lithuanian mobile operators relating to similar kinds of service. This August the first two mobile communications licenses were sold in Nigeria, which has a population of 120 million. Telecommunications analysts forecast that the number of mobile users will reach 10 million in two years.
HIGHEST PENSIONS, LOWEST WAGES: Latvia has the highest average retirement pensions and the lowest average wages out of the three Baltic states in the second half of 2001, according to the Latvian state's Social Insurance Agency. The retirement pension averaged $91.77 a month in Latvia, $81.6 in Estonia and $76.39 in Lithuania. Estonia's social tax rate is 33 percent, of which 13 percent is health insurance, Latvia's is 35.09 percent and Lithuania's 34 percent. In September 6.2 percent of Estonia's working age population was unemployed, while in Latvia the rate was 7.6 percent and in Lithuania 12 percent. The average gross monthly wage is highest in Estonia at $300.9, followed by Lithuania with $260.27 while Latvia comes bottom at $241.58. The minimum wage in Estonia in July was $87.96. In Latvia it was $93.9 and in Lithuania $107.5. Estonia's population stands at 1.37 million, Latvia's at 2.37 million and Lithuania's at 3.69 million. Latvia has the lowest gross wages in the Baltic states
VOUCHERS PROLONGED: The Latvian Parliament Oct. 11 extended the validity of privatization vouchers until the end of 2002 and the validity of compensation vouchers until the end of 2003. Under amendments to the law privatization vouchers can be used to pay for state property on a list approved by the government and to pay for state and municipal land and apartments. In 2003 only compensation vouchers - issued where property could not be given to a claimant for reasons of state - will be still valid for the above purposes. The amendments also stipulate that after Dec. 31, 2003 the vouchers will be annulled to avoid possible legal proceedings. Under previous legislation vouchers became invalid on Dec. 31, 2001 but many remained unused and the privatization process remained incomplete.
LEAVING ESTONIA: The Estonian Ship Owners Union and the Independent Trade Union of Seamen made a joint statement on Oct. 12 demanding that the government take decisive steps to support domestic shipping. The union's leader, Juri Lember, said Estonian ship owners were unable to compete with Finnish and Swedish ships, whose owners enjoy substantial tax concessions and government subsidies. From Oct. 1 Swedish ship owners are to be compensated in full for the social tax they pay for seamen residing in the country. Next year the Swedish government intends to spend 1.3 billion Swedish kronor ($124.28 million) subsidizing shipping companies, Lember said. "It cannot be ruled out that Estonian ships will now begin to transfer to the Swedish flag, he warned. This year 18 vessels, or more than a quarter of the cargo fleet, have abandoned the Estonian flag in favor of a flag of convenience, which represents a loss to the state of around 125 million kroons ($7.35 million) a year in taxes and duties, the union said.
FRENCH TO WIN: The French energy company Dalkia is most likely to win a tender for the long-term lease of Vilnius' heating company Vilniaus Silumos Tinklai, the local press reported on Oct. 11. Dalkia is competing for the contract with a consortium comprising Sweden's Sydkraft and Britain's International Water. Vilniaus Silumos Tinklai is Lithuania's largest heating supplier and produced 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of heat last year. According to the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas, the French company has offered to maintain heating prices at a level lower than the rate currently paid anywhere in Lithuania until 2004. This would be lower than 0.1 litas ($0.02) excluding VAT per kWh, the rate charged in the port city of Klaipeda. The price in Vilnius is 10.88 centas per kWh (excluding VAT). Dalkia would also set up a 20 million litas fund for consumers wanting to take heat saving measures. The Vilnius heating company is to be leased for a period of 15 years starting when the 2001-2002 heating season ends. The contract is due to be signed in the first quarter of 2002.