President Levits lays it on the line to the Kariņš coalition

Government ministers will be held directly accountable for their actions in coming days, and can expect to pay for any worsening of the epidemiological situation as a result of bad decisions with their jobs, Latvian State President Egils Levits said February 24.

Speaking after video-link talks with Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, President Levits notably set aside his usually restrained delivery style, instead opting for a much more forceful approach.     

"The situation is very unsatisfactory" he said, warning that it was "unacceptable" for ministers to lobby for the interests of their ministry or departments alone without considering the wider epdemiological picture and the joint responsibilities of government.

"The cabinet is an institution that must decide jointly, about the country, and not each for his own department," warned a fired-up Levits as he warmed to his task of castgating the government about aspects of its current conduct.

His words followed heated exchanges between ministers on Tuesday about whether stores should be allowed to re-open and current epidemiological restrictions. The Ministers for Economics and the Interior are pushing for some restrictions to be lifted while the Health Ministry is resisting, saying the epidemiological statistics are nowhere near allowing such moves.  

Failing to heed "clear warnings" and advice from medical experts could lead to an even worse crisis in the healthcare system for which ministers would be held "personally responsible" Levits warned, questioning whether ministers could really think their own expertise is sufficient to make potentially high-risk calls.

Although epidemiologists have warned that Latvia might be at risk of a rapid increase in Covid-19 infection rates, the government has conceptually agreed on allowing some beauty services and smaller stores to resume work, given bubbling dissatisfaction among the public and the heavy toll on the country's economy.

“If such decisions are taken now, on the basis of a proposal from individual ministers, if there are significantly higher rates of infection [after this decision], these ministers will have to assume personal responsibility,” the President said.

He further called on the Prime Minister to demand the resignation of the responsible minister or ministers if such a situation arises. 

Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, who seemed slightly taken aback by the ferocity of Levits' critique, said that the government had yet to decide on whether to gradually ease the restrictions. Decisions are due to be taken Thursday.

Nevertheless, the clear frustration felt by President Levits is likely to be perceived as a shot across the bows of not only individual ministers but the government as a whole and Kariņš' position as Prime Minister.

Levits also delivered sharp criticism of the pace and urgency of the current vaccination drive which he described as "very slow" and said that when larger numbers of doses become available, bottlenecks in delivering them to patients would not be acceptable and that in that case both the Health Minister and the cabinet as a whole would be accountable.

"We cannot have [a situation in which] I want to be vaccinated, I don't want to be vaccinated, I have the opportunity and so on. This is the task of the vaccination bureau and the Health Minister. The Health Minister has direct political responsibility," said an increasingly animated Levits, and adding that other ministers should help the Health Minister deliver a fast and efficient vaccination system.  

Kariņš now finds himself in a tricky situation, facing intense pressure from a large part of the public plus commerce and industry, as well as some of his ministers, to restart the economy. Meanwhile the epidemiological situation remains serious, particularly with regard to the likely future spread of more virulent strains of the Covid-19 virus such as the so-called 'British' and 'South African' variants. Whichever direction the government chooses, it now seems certain it will be held accountable for its decisions, one way or another, very soon afterwards.

 

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