Latvia's investment agency director selection stuck in final round

Several months ago, the Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) announced a competition for the position of its director. Now, at the finish line, the competition has stalled, Latvian Television's De Facto reported April 21.

"The competition for the position of Director of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA) has received special attention, because this time a record number of 52 applicants have applied," the State Chancellery responsible for organizing the competition reported four months ago. This indicates that different professionals and leaders in Latvia are ready to participate in the development processes of the country. Now, though, at the very end, it is not going forward.

The State Chancellery announced a competition for the position of Director of the LIAA in November. It was then also announced that the contest would take place in three rounds, but at the end of it the highest-rated applicant would be recommended to the Economics Minister for appointment.

In early March, it became known that five contestants would compete in the third round out of the original 52. Examining their leadership competencies, the commission decided in early April that Economics Minister Viktors Valainis (Union of Greens and Farmers) would receive two candidates.

Neither the State Chancellery nor the Economics Minister reveal the names of finalists – only the name of the winner is to be made public.

However, De Facto unofficially knows the two finalists. One is a long-standing politician of the For Latvia's Development party, until recently parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Defense,  Baiba Bļodniece. She has previously led lobby organizations in various sectors, such as the Latvian Construction Entrepreneurs Partnership and the Non-bank Credit Association.

The second is Fredis Bikovs, director of Riga Investment and Tourism Agency, who once stood as a Member of the "For!" political force in the 13th Saeima elections from the Development/For! list.

Bikovs, asked if he was the finalist of the LIAA competition, replied that he would not comment, while Bļodniece ignored LTV's calls and text messages.

Whether either of the two will become head of the LIAA looks unlikely at the moment, though, as Valainis is clearly dissatisfied with the Commission's choice. This is confirmed by a letter from the Economics Ministers received at the State Chancellery this week asking for further information on the applicants. "He is asking for additional information on all applicants," said State Chancellery's deputy director in state administration, Ieva Lībķena. However, the minister is not legally allowed to find out more about all the applicants. 

Valainis said he wants to be offered three categories of people with different profiles in the final: business experience, public administration experience, and professional experience in lobby organizations.

The Commission did not comply with that request, but the Cabinet of Ministers regulations on the procedures for selecting candidates do not provide for such a quota principle either.

In a conversation with Valainis, LTV, without mentioning names, asked why he was frustrated by the Commission's choice of candidates, where one runs a major city tourism agency and the other worked both in public administration and led various lobby organizations.

"All right, the options you name are good, but there is no candidate with experience of running a large business. It is, however, an Investment and Development Agency based on working with entrepreneurs. And understanding of entrepreneurship – I wanted to compare this criterion objectively in the process as well. No such option is given at this time," the minister claimed.

Valainis says his further action will be decided once he has received an official reply from the State Chancellery. There will be no particular hesitation, but there is no great rush either, as acting LIAA Director Iveta Strupkāja is doing well.

If the LIAA director's contest ends without a result, Valainis does not rule out pushing for changes to the selection rules so that ministers who are politically responsible for the work of subordinate institutions have more say over their leadership choice process.

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