A crusade best waged by the young

  • 2004-01-15
When Einars Repse took the office of prime minister in October 2002, he promised to crack down on rampant corruption. To do it, he turned to a newly created partment - the Corruption Prevention and Control Bureau - only he ran into difficulties getting someone to lead the crusade. Finally, almost a year later, he selected Juta Strike, 33, a little-known lawyer and former investigator with the security police.

The nomination, however, didn't go over in Parliament. More interested in infighting and sabotaging Repse's anti-graft campaign, legislators rejected Strike. But the feisty prime minister stuck to his guns and kept Strike in the job, a move that infuriated allies and opposition alike and led to the Latvia's First Party's "midnight massacre" after the country's successful EU referendum on Sept. 20.
Strike (pronounced stree`-tye) spoke to Aaron Eglitis recently about the challenges of one of Latvia's most crucial government positions.

Why do you think you were not confirmed? Before the vote only Eriks Jekabsons (leader of Latvia's First Party) was the only member of the coalition who publicly said he would not vote for you.
This question needs to be addressed to them. I can't answer for them. I answered all the questions addressed to me [during the confirmation hearings]. I can answer only about myself. No one told me what they believed were their concerns about my nomination or what questions I had not answered. I don't know their arguments so I wouldn't be able to comment.

Does the fact that Prime Minister Repse is having you head of the anticorruption bureau without obtaining enough votes in Parliament affect your relationship with other ministries, or does this fact not play a role?
No, I don't think so. For example, yesterday [Jan. 7] we had a meeting with the head of a government ministry, where we discussed controlling corruption and the necessary laws surrounding it and the possible changing of laws to enforce it. We also met with the state police and the security police. I don't understand in what way [the failed confirmation] could affect our relations.

Some people view the CPCB as politically motivated? Is the bureau an independent organization?
Yes, of course [it is independent]. I haven't seen any constructive argument that says the CPCB is not an independent organization. We are fully independent. I would like to hear the reasoning behind the question.

Andris Skele and Ingrida Udre, among others, have alleged that your organization is politically motivated, as well as a number of independent analysts have pointed out that power seems to lie only in the hands of the prime minister. If, for example, a corrupt prime minister were to take power then negative political influence could likely be exerted.
It [negative political influence] doesn't exist now, and I don't see a tendency that that could happen. It depends on the CPCB and myself. I would like to say that no one has directed any political influence on the CPCB. I don't see it.
We are not in subordination to the prime minister.. But we hope in the future that the Saeima (Latvia's parliament) will decide at last who will lead the bureau and the problem will disappear.

Your organization has uncovered illegal third-party financing in the last parliamentary election. In your opinion, will the next election see a change in the campaign-finance situation?
At the moment there is a very active review. The direction is improving because of the completion of new laws. The next election, the local government elections, will of course have much more oversight. The situation will be better than the last parliamentary elections. This is due to the work of the CPCB, new laws and that previously no one had pointed out the problems with party financing. This problem is out in the open, so the situation will improve.

Several of the parties that the CPCB said had received illegal donations refused to transfer the money to the Finance Minsitry. The Saeima failed to hit Udre with a 250 lat [373 euro] administrative fine over her party's noncompliance with your organization's ruling. Is this a weakness in the legislation that there isn't a way to force parties to comply with the CPCB rulings?
The anticorruption bureau's relationship with any party financing has to be in harmony with the law. Whether to level an administrative fine is Saeima's decision. CPCB can only recommend it.
Transparency International's surveys reveal that Latvians feel their country is one of the most corrupt in Europe, placing them 57th in the world. Do you feel that your organization is beginning to raise public trust in the fight against corruption?
We feel it [public trust] has been increasing for some time. Latvia is beginning to talk very openly about corruption - in society and in the news.
I want to say that if you observe society from the sidelines it might seem like corruption is growing, but it is exactly the opposite. If you take care of the problem, then corruption will decrease. And in Latvia this problem is being solved, the laws are being fulfilled, and there is no way that it can mean that corruption is growing.
I would also like to say that our position in the Transparency International rating depends on society's dissatisfaction with the fact that corruption exists, and maybe that is because of Latvians' intolerance towards corruption. This year more countries have been compared than before, and this also affects the ratings.

Are there any cases that you will soon inform the press concerning the fight against corruption?
There are a lot of investigations being conducted now in the CPCB. Soon we will take some decisions and release information to the press. It's very difficult, and we have to think very carefully about what we release to the press so we don't harm the investigation.
Of course we are involved in cases to uncover corruption. But today we will not [disclose] anything.

Who owns Kempmayer Media?
That is now a case under the responsibility of the prosecutor's office. We are just investigating on behalf of the prosecutor's office. We do not have the authority to give out this information. You will have to ask the prosecutor's office. The case is still under investigation.

What are some of the challenges that the CPCB faces in the future?
I see them as improving the results of the anticorruption bureau's work. The more that the CPCB does, of course, society will notice, and trust in the bureau will increase.
Like any other institution we have limited human and financial resources. That is why we have to balance our workload. We have to find the right level of work that we can realistically and qualitatively handle, because there is so much to do.