Apathy and sloth at Riga City Council

"Smile, it's going to be alright!" Riga vice-mayor Andris Ameriks (Honor to Serve Riga) told me, happily, as he went back to a meeting where the 2018 Riga budget was being passed on a late Wednesday afternoon, after he had had a hearty meal at the Rātslaukums cafe opposite to the City Hall.

There's certainly nothing to be sad about, at least for the ruling councilors. The vote has long been secured, despite the actual meetings being considerably lengthened by the intrusive and self-important opposition councilors. 

Shortly before the smiling Ameriks, his party mate Baiba Rozentāle passed me by. Upon spying the journalist from a distance, she became as sagged as an old apple tree, let grey sorrow settle onto her brow and glided lamely to the council meeting hall.  

A councilor overtook Rozentāle and asked why she was so exceedingly sad. Her laughter filled the meeting hall, and, as if I weren't standing there just ten meters from her, she told her colleague, "That journalist.. !"

Rozentāle's sudden metamorphosis from a life-weary old woman into a lively grande dame reminded me of an incident from several weeks ago. 

It was the November 15 meeting where councilors had to go over about 150 matters, of which one concerned the city budget.

While the opposition councilors were asking questions and debating where millions of municipal cash should flow, most of the ruling councilors were silent. Some were watching sports matches on their computers.

But councilwoman Baiba Rozentāle, a doctor, had covered her desk in prescriptions which she was duly filling. 

This wouldn't seem that special, as I've seen Saeima MPs doze off on stacks of budget documents. However, Rozentāle was filing not only regular, but also the so-called 'red' recipes, destined for narcotic and psychotropic medications.

"I am filing prescriptions for myself," Rozentāle told me with a serene expression. Then she told about a heart valve she has and did not hide she was "on a large dose of medication."

"I am not putting any extra pressure on my colleagues [when I'm filing prescriptions]. Instead I write down everything I have to use on a daily basis, because I want to live," she said, and burst into hearty tears. 

Be that as it may, a question arises as to what the councilors are supposed to be doing at all.

The Riga City Council is currently on a marathon session, reviewing next year's expenditures that are at €995 million. The first day was an eight-hour session of questions by the opposition.

The councilors in power were silent, as if they had been forced to attend by the probation service. Late on Wednesday, however, even the ruling plankton, which does the noble task of serving as a voting machine at the council, had to perk up their ears for a moment.

It was Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs who issued a biting reply to the opposition councilors, saying he has doubts on whether half of them could pass a breathalyzer test. They replied, however, that the ruling councilors are the ones who would have problem passing one. However it did not come to that as the storm waned without really starting. 

But there are still 66 propositions left for review, as well as a long debate session, and it's expected the council won't be finishing the budget sessions too.

Be that as it may, the €955 million Riga budget has already been divvied up, and the final vote is of a formal character. It's evident that the opposition serve their electorate and put up a circus in order to stand out on the grey background of the powers that be. 

However, the ruling councilors could benefit from sprucing up their image. Writing prescriptions or watching sports games during work is no testimony to whether the people elected into the council actually have any idea at all of why they're there. 

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1 comment
Roy Walker Walker
To be fair to some of the Harmony councillors, it's difficult to respond to the opposition councillors when they understand little or nothing of what they're saying.
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