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Patriots for a price

  • 2002-10-31
Latvia's outgoing parliament and government have brilliantly demonstrated why politics is dirty, crooked, and self-serving. Having lost their jobs, two-thirds of the country's MPs, backed by a handful of re-elected incumbents, decided to ransack the federal feeding through while they still had access to it by awarding themselves a lucrative going-away present.

The government, meanwhile, went on an unabashed, cynical spending-spree will cost the Latvian taxpayer up to 80 million lats ($130 million).

Recipients of the government's last-minute generosity include many who are already in the halls of power, from bureaucrats to enterprise CEOs, which is why the whole deal smacks of cronyism.

Most of the money - 62 million lats - will go towards polishing the pay-scale for government workers, policemen, firemen, and border guards.

And when this lame-duck parliament meets for the last time Oct. 31, another 7.6 million lats will be spent to cancel outstanding debts of 19 enterprises and organizations.

This list of beneficiaries in all this is quite comprehensive. No legislator's constituents seemed to have been left out of the farewell spending binge. The question is on what basis was this lengthy list compiled. Given the whiplash speed with which lawmakers are approving these expenditures, we can only hope that some intrepid journalists will dig up the dirty truth beneath the palm-greasing.

One cannot help but wonder where the legislature's spending bravado was a month ago. Certainly it was hidden behind a facade of empty campaign promises. The mere mention of such bizarre expenses and bald-faced hand-outs before Oct. 5 would have amounted to political suicide.

Shockingly enough, they even remunerated themselves. The 67 outgoing MPs will receive three-month compensation at the average MP monthly wage of 655 lats. In sum, each election loser will pocket almost 2,000 lats (to be paid out of this year's and next year's budget), what the average Latvian worker gets for one year's worth of labor.

The shock, however, isn't in the money. Rather, it's in the manner the MPs went about giving themselves this severance. They passed it as an amendment to a key legislative bill requiring new lawmakers to swear their loyalty to Latvia and the Latvian language. Outgoing Latvian legislators are saying, "If you want our support for this patriotism bill, then you're going to have to pay us."

At the very least such a stance is cowardice, and it certainly qualifies as an abuse of power, and should be dealt with appropriately. Fortunately, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was quick to decry the MPs' shameful behavior. With a little will, together with the new parliament she will strike it down.