Challenges for the justice system
This week, shock waves were again sent across the country from the city of Panevėžys, known derisively as the "Lithuanian Chicago." Two high-ranking justice officials were found shot dead in a neighbouring village. The victims were Vida Kazlauskaitė, Deputy Prosecutor for the Panevėžys district, and Sergejus Piskunovas, the Inspector for Economic Crimes in the nearby Pasvalys district.
This is not the first time a high-profile justice official has been murdered in Panevėžys. On 25 January 1999, one of the leading prosecutors in the district working on corruption and organised crime, Gintautas Sereika, was also murdered. His killers have still not been found, and public opinion remains doubtful that the perpetrators will be apprehended.
Prosecutor-general Kazys Pėdnyčia reported to the Seimas on the investigation into this brutal attack and came under fierce criticism from MPs for the way the case is being handled. Some even called for his resignation.
First steps in office
With only an eight-vote advantage and after seven hours of debate, the new government's programme was finally accepted by the Seimas on Thursday 9 November. Rolandas Paksas, the new prime minister from the Liberal Union, pledged to start real pension reform, support education, trump down the bureaucracy, liberalise the business environment, simplify the tax system, legalise casinos and work further towards membership in EU and NATO.
The first crucial concern, Paksas said, is the budget for next year, for which he wants a thorough analysis of the state's current situation and the government's financial obligations.
In concrete terms, Rolandas Paksas announced that he will seek to lower VAT for the building industry and the heating sector. He also wants to re-examine the expenses for defence, which is regarded as vital for membership in NATO.
Outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius has simultaneously resigned from his office and will hitherto work as an MP for the Conservatives in the Seimas. Among other resignations, Stasys Vaitkevičius left his post as the head of the State Property Fund, which is responsible for privatisation. The last days of his office were marked by the scandal over the sale of maritime company LISCO.
Reports on campaign finances
Political parties have submitted reports on the financing of the Seimas election campaign this year. All parties have delivered the mandatory report, except for the Christian Democratic Union headed by Kazys Bobelis.
In total, they have received LTL (Lithuanian litas) 3.5 million for the elections. One-fifth of this sum, or at least LTL 410,000, came from companies, such as Achema, KLASCO and others, that have one aspect in common: they are controlled by the head of the Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, Bronislovas Lubys.
The sum of overall expenditures for the campaign was LTL five million. The "New Policy" alliance parties have spent more than half of this sum. It is believed that the total sum spent on the campaign is higher because the party reports do not account for sums that individual politicians have spent in the single constituencies.
A Word from Brussels
Wednesday was a jubilant day for EU-supporters in Lithuania. The annual report released this week by the European Commission (EC) is the most positive so far. The EC reported that Lithuania meets the political criteria for accession (nothing new in this respect).
More importantly, for the first time, the Commission report maintained that the country can be considered a functioning market economy that is able to withstand competitive pressures from the EU in the short term, if it continues with structural reforms.
Attention was paid to the main emerging problems: dangerously increasing unemployment and decreasing general investment into the economy. Moreover, the Commission emphasised the progress made towards harmonising laws with EU standards but pointed to the very slow advancement with bankruptcy and enterprise restructuring laws.
A break is also needed on agriculture, taxes, regional policy, financial control fields and problems of administrative capacity. Corruption should also get immediate attention from the new government. The Commission report is also a recognition of the policy of outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and an inducement to the new government of Rolandas Paksas to continue the necessary reforms (for more information see the country reports in this week's CER).
E-boom in Lithuania?
This week, something took place that might change the somewhat bleak outlook for Lithuania's information society. The outgoing government of Andrius Kubilius handed over to the new government a plan for e-government that would, most importantly, provide online all current offline services by 2005.
This should substantially improve the functioning of Lithuania's bureaucracy that is, more often than not, characterised by long queues, which translate to long waits. The main message of the plan is to make government more transparent and more accountable to the ordinary citizen. It is also expected that online full-scale services will induce citizens to use the web, and, thus, it will foster the emergence of an information society in Lithuania.
And in other news...
- The Competitions Council has decided that one of the three biggest Lithuanian breweries has to be sold, if Carlsberg, which has shares in all of three, wants to press ahead with its plans to merge the three into one united brewery. If all three companies merge, the new giant would occupy about 70 per cent of the market, which, it is believed, will stifle competition.
- The Vilnius Opera and Ballet Theatre hosted the elite fur fashion forum, Alter Ego. About 1500 people visited the show, where they were greeted by a small group of young animal rights protestors.
- Conclusions of the Winning Export Strategies project sponsored by PHARE were announced this week. The results are encouraging. During the project, participating Lithuanian companies signed contracts worth around LTL 32 million.
- According to data from the Ministry of Finance, in October the state collected around 13 per cent (LTL 64.4 million) more than was planned planned. This is encouraging news for the Lithuanian economy and most likely points to the first signs of recovery.
As of 10 November 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.72|
|1 German mark||1.77|
Inga Pavlovaitė, 10 November 2000
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