Saeima backs port takeover plan for Rīga and Ventspils

On December 12, the Saeima, at first reading, approved amendments to the Law on Ports, which provide for the taking over of the Freeport of Riga and Ventspils under public administration. 

The rapid inclusion of the amanedments on the Saeima's agenda came as a result of the United States' decision to sanction Aivars Lembergs, an influential figure linked to Ventspils Free Port. 

The amendments were supported by 51 Saeima deputies, with 20 against and 12 members of parliament not registering a vote in the first reading.

Opposition came chiefly from the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS) party, in which Lembergs has long played a dominant role, and the Harmony party, which has long enjoyed strong representation on the board of the Port of Rīga thanks to its control of Rīga city council.

Among those voicing doubts about the plan was former Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis (ZZS) who said during the debate that it was not clear whether the proposed amendments will help to remove the port of Ventspils from the U.S. sanctions list and that the noise about Latvia's major ports being at high risk of corruption is a bad signal for investors.

However in the vote, it was Harmony and independent members of parliament who voted against, with most ZZS MPs not voting.

According to the proposals, Riga and Ventspils port authorities will be under the supervision of the Cabinet of Ministers, and each port will have four members nominated by the Ministers of Economics, Finance, Transport and Environment and Regional Development who will be appointed and dismissed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Later in the day the second urgent reading of the bill took place. It was passed by 52 votes to 22, though opposition MPs voiced sharp criticism of the unprecedented pace with which the legislation was passed through, saying it made proper scrutiny impossible and set a dangerous precedent for the future. It now only requires the signature of President Levits, who in the past has been a strong advocate of the need for Saeima to pass high-quality legislation that has undergone proper scrutiny. 

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