Latvian municipal leaders will be subject to more security checks

Local government officials will need a special permit for access to state secrets, the Saeima decided on Thursday, March 21, endorsing in the final reading amendments to the law proposed by the President of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs.

The permit will be required for the head and deputy head of a municipality, as well as for the executive director and their deputy.

It is foreseen that the municipality will send a request to the competent state security authority to grant a special permit to the mayor and their deputy no later than one month after their election to office. The same deadline is also set for the Executive Director and their Deputy.

This requirement will apply to mayors and deputy mayors elected after the 2025 municipal elections. If a council is dissolved during this period and new council elections are held, the requirement for a special permit will also apply to the newly elected mayor and deputy mayor.

If the permit is not granted, it will be a political decision whether the mayor or deputy mayor will lose his or her office, presidential advisers have previously stressed.

In such a situation, the action will be a political process, but in case of indecision by the City Council, the Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development can also take a decision.

However, Executive Directors and their deputies will have to apply for a permit after June 1 2024. If the state secrets clearance is not obtained, the official must be dismissed, according to the draft law supported by the Saeima.

71 MPs voted in favor of the amendments to the Local Government Law, 9 against, and 70 MPs supported the related amendments to the Law on State Secrets, 10 against.

The vote was preceded by a long debate in which the opposition criticized the idea.

The proposal of MP Edmunds Zivtiņš (Latvia First (LPV)) that these four senior officials, if denied a special permit, may continue to perform work that is not related to the use of state secrets or their protection, caused a wide debate in the Saeima. The majority of the Saeima rejected it.

"Such a proposal devalues the whole essence of the law," stressed MP Edvards Smiltēns (United List)/

The chairman of the responsible committee, Raimonds Bergmanis (United List), cited the example of former MP Jānis Ādamsons, who was tried for espionage for Russia - he also did not have a state secrets clearance but continued to work in the Saeima committees. At the same time, Bergmanis admitted that the security clearance does not guarantee that the country will not be betrayed.

Opposition member Aleksejs Rosļikovs (For Stability!) also criticized the idea: "State secrets exist only on paper. (...) We will now have governors all over Latvia - each city will have its own governor, coordinated with the center. Just like our neighbors. You can hide your desire to imitate them, but you can see how you are following this path. (..) Welcome - it won't hurt!"

MP Igors Rajevs refuted Rosļikovs' opinion that the National Armed Forces will not consult the local government if military actions are to be taken:

"This is how we differ from the Russian army. (...) One of the tasks of the army is to protect the civilian population, and this is impossible without talking to the municipality. When appointing mayors or choosing mayors, you have to understand that you need people who are loyal to this country and are ready to defend this country", Raev stressed.

The powers of municipal leaders can be particularly important in crisis, when decisions have to be taken by people who are loyal to the state and predictable, added MPs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica and Jānis Skrastiņš from New Unity.

"A very dangerous precedent would be a mayor who would be ready to sell the security of his country for peanuts. Municipalities can be the backbone of their country, they are responsible for infrastructure, which can be crucial in the event of a national emergency. This is why this is a very important bill," said Kalniņa-Lukaševica.

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