Saeima committee urges ministry to get tough with Rīga city council

Saeima Public Expenditure and Audit Committee members on March 26 sharply criticized the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry for not being more active to change the situation at Riga municipal public transport company Rigas Satiksme, while the company's senior staff who attended the meeting were criticized for being too arrogant when answering the Saeima committee members' questions.

The committee's meeting was called to discuss the results of the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry's audit at Rigas Satiksme, as well as the overall performance of the Riga City Council.

The committee's head Kaspars Girgens (KPV LV) reminded those present that the committee had asked Rigas Satiksme to make the Ernst&Young audit company's report available to the committee, but there was no reply.

"We turned to Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony party), who told us that he had ordered Rigas Satiksme to submit the report to the committee, but the company then told us that it had no right to do that. In other words, Rigas Satiksme did not do what the municipality had told it to do," Girgens concluded.

Aivars Miculs, head of the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry's Local Governments Department, said that the ministry also did not have the report, and that the ministry's representatives were offered to acquaint themselves with it only after visiting Rigas Satiksme in person and signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Miculs also told the committee that his ministry had been very actively communicating with the Riga City Council, not only about Rigas Satiksme but also a number of other matters. After analyzing information received from the municipality, the ministry ascertained several possible violations in the Riga City Council's activities.

The Public Expenditure and Audit Committee's member Juta Strike (New Conservative Party) pointed out that information that dealt with state or municipal property could not have the status of a trade secret. She inquired whether the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry had analyzed that information, and why Saeima and the general public could not learn about what was happening to the Riga City Council's property.

Miculs said that, in his ministry's opinion, keeping the report from the public was a violation on the Riga City Council's part, to which Strike said that it was a duty of the ministry to eliminate the violation. To that, Miculs said that his ministry did not have such authority. Furthermore, the Corruption Prevention Bureau also had seen the report, and the bureau should have taken action if there were any violations therein, he added.

Rigas Satiksme's temporary board chairman Ernests Saulitis said that the committee members were misleading people about the report, as access to the document had not been limited, neither by the Riga City Council nor by Rigas Satiksme. "It was the auditor's decision, and that is a general practice everywhere in the world. The report is meant for those who will work with it," said Saulitis.

During the debates, Strike also severely criticized Rigas Satiksme executives for their attitude - Saulitis in particular. "You are a classic example of the city council's coalition, someone who believes that he does not have to explain anything to anyone and that he has but one master to serve," said Strike.

Miculs said that Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Puce (For Development/For) had done everything in his power, and that further action could only be considered after the ministry receives the Riga City Council's explanations. The possible solutions include dismissing Riga mayor or the entire city council. "The ministry does not have a duty to perform audits at municipal companies and institutions, but the ministry may hire third-party experts - which though would require extra financing from the budget. However, all auditors' conclusions are available to the authorities," said Miculs, adding that his ministry did not have to also do the authorities' job.

After lengthy discussions, the Public Expenditure and Audit Committee ordered the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry to analyze if the audit company's decision not to present its findings to the committee was justified.

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