The first 100 days
The new government announced its priorities and policies for its first 100 days in office. For one, the widely discussed tax reform plan seems to have burst. In the budget proposal for 2001, a lower VAT will be put in place only for heating and construction, but the increase of the minimum tax-free income has been postponed and the abolition of the corporate profit tax has been omitted.
The government is also embarking on yet another administrative reform to reduce the number of districts from ten to five. The thrust of the reform, as it is said, is to bring government closer to the people.
Controversial appointment power
This week, the Seimas passed legislation to change the appointment procedure of the prosecutor-general. Until now, it was totally within the authority of the Parliament to decide who gets the job. With the bill's passage, the President will appoint the prosecutor-general, while the Seimas is to confirm the appointment.
The new law has already caused major controversies, as the opposition Conservatives, the Seimas legal office and courts objected to it. The charges are that the amendments strengthen the institution of the presidency, threatening the judicial system and the essence of the parliamentary system.
Moreover, the changes are seen as personal and directed at present Prosecutor-general Kazys Pėdnyčia, who is seen as an ineffective relic of the Conservative era, because, from the date of the new law's implementation, a new prosecutor-general has to be appointed, while the incumbent becomes a temporary substitute.
The week has been truly dramatic in connection with Lithuania's integration into NATO. First of all, the Political Affairs Committee of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly announced it endorsed a resolution that recommends Lithuania, together with Slovakia and Slovenia, be accepted into NATO in 2002. These countries are considered to be the best-prepared to assume the obligations of membership, though they must fulfil all membership obligations, the report emphasised.
However, the adoption of this resolution itself was a great disappointment for NATO supporters in Lithuania. Several countries, including Estonia and France, argued to exclude the naming of specific countries, and, consequently, the full Assembly passed the resolution calling for NATO to accept new members that meet the criteria—with no names mentioned. In Lithuania, this was widely seen as yet another unfriendly move from Baltic neighbour Estonia.
A prospective merger
In a move predicted by political commentators, the country's two similarly oriented social democratic parties have decided to merge in order to consolidate their position. The Lithuanian Social Democratic Party suggested the idea formally to its current coalition partner, the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP). An affirmative response from the latter is expected soon.
The Social Democrats suggested that they keep the name of Social Democrats, though the merger would be on the basis of equality of the two parties. If the merger is completed, it could create a single powerful party on the Lithuanian left.
Future EU members involved
During a French-sponsored conference on the EU's institutional structure for present and future members, Lithuania's chief negotiator, Vygaudas Ušackas, expressed the official position that Lithuania wants all countries to have their own commissioners, in order to retain the present balance between small and large countries in the Council of Ministers and simplify the principle of enhanced co-operation.
Lithuania also endorses the expansion of qualitative majority voting into more areas. This has been the first such meeting for future EU members to hear what they have to say about institutional reform.
Gambling to be legalised
Gambling, long opposed by the more traditional elements in society on moral grounds, will most likely be legalised by the new coalition in power. The finance ministry has already submitted a clear-cut proposal to the government. It aims to recognise officially several kinds of games, such as bingo and roulette, which would result in at least LTL (Lithuanian litas) 25 million for the budget.
In comparison, last year Latvia collected some LTL 25 million in revenues from gambling. The proposal also envisages wide but rigid regulations and licences for the industry. For example, gambling houses may only be established in major tourist centres, such as Vilnius and Palanga, and strict requirements will be in place for companies wishing to open casinos.
And in the other news...
- In the fierce fight for various deputy ministers' posts among the ruling coalition parties, the first loser was the Lithuanian Polish Electoral Action, whose candidate to the post of deputy education minister was rejected on the grounds of insufficient competence. The post was earlier promised to the group, which has two seats in the Seimas, for supporting the ruling coalition's confirmation.
- Two Lebanese students from the Kaunas Medical Academy, Ali and Mohamed Bechara, were deported on the assumption that they are connected to international terrorism groups. Their fellow Lebanese students organised a protest in front of the academy.
- Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) has bought a total of 45.31 per cent of shares in Lithuania's biggest bank, Vilniaus Bankas, since announcing a total buyout of the Lithuanian bank. SEB now holds 97.91 per cent of total shares.
- Failing state-owned Lithuanian Airlines closed four of its eight representative offices abroad: Paris, Frankfurt, Warsaw and Stockholm. Instead, the airline will work through agents. Company management is protesting the privatisation plan endorsed by government authorities, arguing that the company should be made more attractive for investors beforehand.
- Due to a false alarm in the security system, the second reactor at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was suddenly stopped. There was no radiation risk.
As of 24 November 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.60|
|1 German mark||1.75|
Inga Pavlovaitė and Mel Huang, 23 November 2000
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Baltic News Service (BNS)