Severance pay for defeated deputies sparks anger

  • 2002-10-31
  • Nick Coleman

Defeated Latvian law makers have prompted widespread anger by voting to triple their severance pay before stepping down after this month's election.

Two thirds of Latvia's MPs suffered defeat in elections on Oct. 5, but on Oct. 24, in the interval before its disbandment, the parliament approved a tripling of outgoing law makers' severance payments to an average 1,965 lats (3,100 euros) before tax - 11 times the Baltic country's average monthly pay level.

"There's no need to give themselves such big compensation," said President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's spokeswoman, Aiva Rozenberga. "When (lawmakers) sit in parliament they know it's for four years and they have time to think about what they will do afterwards. They abuse (their position)."

The pay raise gives lawmakers three months' pay once they step down, rather than the one month they were previously due and which state employees normally receive if they lose their jobs.

It was introduced in the third reading of amendments to parliamentary procedure and passed without debate in the parliament chamber, by 46 votes in favor, one against and 18 abstensions.

There is practically no time for Vike-Freiberga to veto the compensation as it was part of a legislative package requiring new lawmakers to swear they will be loyal to their country and defend the Latvian language, said Rozenberga.

The government proposed a loyalty oath earlier this year to allay concerns that a decision to drop language requirements for MPs, to meet EU and NATO requirements, jeopardized the status of the Latvian language.

Latvia was criticised in a report published by the European Union earlier this month for its limited progress in combating corruption on the way to wrapping up accession with the bloc, which it hopes to do this year.

NATO, to which Latvia hopes to receive a membership invitation when alliance leaders meet in Prague in November, has also urged ex-communist membership candidates to step up corruption combating efforts.

The payments were defended by Edvins Inkens, a senior law maker from the Latvia's Way party of Prime Minister Andris Berzins, which lost all its seats when the novice New Era party of Einars Repse came out on top promising to combat corruption.

The payments are "not so much for those who for 12 years created this country," said Inkens. "This is the last (parliament) in which were so many people who participated in the awakening process (from Soviet rule)."

Ingrida Udre, who as head of the Greens and Farmers Union is a likely coalition partner with New Era in the next parliament, also expressed satisfaction with the compensation.

"I don't want deputies to stand in line as unemployed people. It goes with all Repse's policies. He says he's going to increase salaries of officials - prevention of corruption."

Such arguments have gone down badly with Latvia's media, who are also asking questions about other post-election decisions such as the writing off of 1.2 million lats (2.01 million euros) in tax arrears owed by two sugar companies and the dropping of a 17.5 million-lats law suit against the Kalija Parks potassium transit company in the port city of Ventspils.

"(The pay raises) are quite legitimate if you look at it from the point of view of law, but politically it's unprincipled, absurd and immoral," said Aivars Ozolins, a commentator for the leading daily Diena.