Law violation in police chief sacking?
Did Interior Minister Vytautas Markevičius violate a newly-enacted law on 22 December with his sacking of Police Chief Visvaldas Račkauskas? Račkauskas, the head of the national police, was sacked to improve the functioning of the institution, though the ousted chief has appealed to administrative courts for the sacking to be overturned.
The aforementioned new law states that only the president can appoint and dismiss the national police chief, hence the outcry over Markevičius' action. Moreover, the dismissal decree indicated an erroneous service period on the ousted chief's record, and a second decree had to be issued after the original of the first decree was reported missing.
In response, Interior Minister Markevičius dismissed calls for his resignation as nonsense and expressed confidently to the media that his dismissal of the police chief was justified.
At the moment, the position of police chief remains vacant as the ruling parties cannot find a candidate acceptable to everyone. Several candidatures were withdrawn, though head of the Road Police Henrikas Sadauskas is seen as a leading candidate. However, the deadlock could be made moot if the courts reinstate the ousted Račkauskas to his position.
PM troubled with appointments
This past week Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas ran into serious problems with both his coalition partner New Alliance (Social Liberals) and the left-wing opposition over several key appointments. Paksas attempted vigorously to explain himself in the Seimas, also responding to accusations of pursuing a dictatorial personnel policy.
First of all, it was unclear whether famous former basketball star Rimas Kurtinaitis, appointed by the Conservatives before elections were held, will remain as head of the Sport Department. Reports from the government have been contradictory, though the Social Liberals made it explicit that they want Kurtinaitis to resign.
Furthermore, a cloud of uncertainty allegedly surrounds Valerijonas Valickas, head of the Customs Department. Several high-ranking officials called earlier for his resignation, but the New Alliance maintained that Valickas retain his post.
However, the biggest mess of the past week was the alleged appointment of the new head of the State Revenue Service. A government press release stated that Galina Savickienė would take over the position immediately, yet Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas did not know anything about it. Even more surprisingly, Savickienė herself resigned the next morning, citing the confusion. The government later maintained that Savickienė was named only as an acting director, as full competition for the post will occur in August.
Minor conciliatory move by opposition
The left-wing Social Democratic opposition has not been giving the centrist ruling coalition an easy ride in the Seimas. However, in an apparently cociliatory move by the opposition, the two sides recently agreed to a compromise concerning EU integration issues.
The Social Democrats originally wanted to call a referendum to establish at the Seimas a commission to study constitutional amendments and to legally force the government to seek the most favourable conditions in EU negotiations. In many ways, the effort was to force the ruling coalition to acknowledge the role the 50+ strong left-wing opposition plays in the EU debate in the 141-seat Seimas, where the ruling coalition has a shaky hold on majority.
The ruling coalition initially said that such a constitutional commission is unnecessary and the government is working in Lithuania's interest in any case. This past week both sides backed down somewhat, with the government agreeing to consider the opposition's proposals and the leftists backing away from their referendum campaign threat. The left-wing is also proposing changes to two articles of the constitution: one to extend the term of local governments to four years and the other concerning the restriction of sales of agricultural land to non-nationals.
Internet providers start secret negotiations
Lithuanian Internet providers began secret talks with fixed-line monopoly Lietuvos Telekomas (LT) over more favourable conditions for them to remain in business as ISPs. The ISPs were forced to do so after LT announced a new fixed monthly price of LTL (Lithuanian litas) 99 (just under USD 25) for its dial-up clients. The novelty was a huge success, but other ISPs said that the dominant position of LT as a monopoly, as well as LT's raising of local calling tariffs, is ruining their business.
The ISPs want LT to separate its telephone and Internet businesses, to charge for them separately. Market analysts have said that the uncertainty and a near state-of-war in the market will only benefit LT, who will gain customers beacause of name recognition and reputation as that of its competitors are undermined.
The recent adoption of rules restricting pensions for working pensioners claimed its most famous victim this past week. Lithuania's best known tenor, Virgilijus Noreika, has quit his teaching job at the Music Academy and has taken a similar job at the Tallinn Music Academy. The tenor left his position since the new rule severely limited his pension to an "unacceptable" level, his associates explained. Noreika said he regrets leaving his talented students, many of whom have only half a year left before completion. However, Noreika commented that "I want to work."
On 13 January, the country marked the tenth anniversary of the bloodshed at the Vilnius TV tower, a symbolic event that has brutally caught the attention of the world over its brutality. An extraordinary Seimas session was convened and speakers expressed deep regret that the culprits of the bloody attack have not been punished; instead, they remain protected in Russia and Belarus. Seimas Chairman Artūras Paulauskas urged, however, to look toward the future and to link Lithuania's independence not only with the past, but also with the present and future.
In the meantime, the Seimas failed to pass a resolution proposed by ex-Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of the independence movement a decade ago, which urged the country to take steps in pressuring Russia to stop obstructing the legal case against the perpetrators of the attack.
Inga Pavlovaitė and Mel Huang, 19 January 2001
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Baltic News Service (BNS)