The United Nations Development Programme Country Office in Latvia (UNDP) worked from 1992 to 2005 providing substantial support in the transition period and contribution to human development. In 2006 Latvia will change its mode of cooperation with the UNDP and the Country Office will close.
The discussion* is chaired by Vita Terauda, Director of Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, former Minister of State Reforms.
UNDP was an initiator, contributor and cooperation partner for many positive changes in Latvia. Today we have an opportunity to look back and evaluate what has been achieved during the UNDP presence in Latvia. UNDP did not only assist Latvia’s development, but also documented development by publishing seven Human Development Reports. Did we accomplish what the Latvian government and the UNDP were hoping for?
UNDP started its work in 1992, when the first Resident Representative Lynn Wallis came to Latvia. Unfortunately, she is no longer with us. There were not many programs when Lynn Wallis started working here, but her commitment was very important, because it formed the basis for development of Latvia.
In 1993 John Hendra was appointed as the Resident Representative in Latvia. At the age of 33, he made history as the youngest ever UNDP Resident Representative. What were the most important development issues in Latvia during your work here?
John Hendra, former UNDP resident representative in Latvia (1993 – 1997): When I came here I saw so many young people and how dynamic and active these people were, and that was the biggest asset. The whole country was very dynamic. Our task was to define the UNDP role in the Latvia’s transition as soon as possible. Our resourses were very limited, but I felt if we would outline the most important issues we could attract more resources from partners and donors.
In my time the focus was on social issues, social welfare, life in a multiethnic society and awareness rising on human rights issues.
It was clear that Latvia wanted to join the EU and NATO, but it still had a long way to go to achieve that. I see that Latvia has achieved tremendous economic growth and I want to congratulate you with joining the EU.
Nils Muiznieks, Editor-in-Chief of the first Human Development Reports (1995– 1997), former Minister of Social Integration: I think the UNDP has done so much in Latvia; it’s really astonishing when you look back.
It was great privilege to work with John Hendra, he had very clear ideas what he wants to see on the report and he didn’t hide them from me. The starting point was tough: lack of reliable data, we had to start from the scratch. But we had a good team, including Inita Paulovica, Ilmars Mezs, Janis Domburs. They have since become prominent experts.
I remember how controversial and difficult it was to write about integration and international issues. We still have very heated debates about these issues. People here were used to academic writing, but not to policy analysis writing. Now it is flourishing in Latvia.
Agrita Groza, Deputy State Secretary of Ministry of Welfare: The first time period, when John Hendra was Resident Representative, was very fruitful in the social area - the concept of pension system was established, social security reform was launched. Seven of the most important laws regarding the social security were adopted in 1995. It was a period the reform of social welfare system really started. That reform is sustainable and it shows that the fundamental changes made at the time were a significant contribution to Latvia’s development.
Eizenija Aldermane, Head of Naturalization Board: UNDP has not been only a partner to us, but also a good friend. John Hendra, Jan Sand Sorensen, Gabriele Koehler and Inita Paulovica were frequent guest at the offices of Naturalization Board.
Already during the early period of UNDP we together had the idea to conduct the regular research project “Towards the Civil Cociety” which later became one of preconditions for establishment of “The Social Integration Program”. Now the institutional mechanism to supervise the integration process has been established to continue this work.
UNDP provided not only friendly and moral support for our activities, it provided also significant financial assistance - Naturalization Board has received altogether about half a million lats. Eleven thousand people were able to study Latvian language because of this support The ideas initiated during this cooperation have deep roots and are doing well still today - for example, the citizens’ days in schools.
Moving on to the next period - Jan Sand Sorensen arrived in 1997. What were the focal points of your time?
Jan Sand Sorensen, former UNDP Resident Representative Latvia (1997–2002): First, I want to congratulate Latvia with a happy end of the process of joining the EU. When I came here, I was in the middle of this process.
It was a very important period for Latvia and also significant for my own career. When I arrived, many crucial programs were already launched. I believe we achieved quite a lot and it was, mostly, thanks to our cooperation with good partners. We tried to attract donors explaining how important it is to take part in projects of national importance, and in many cases we were successful. Often good programs were launched, but organizations responsible for them were lacking money to secure continuity of these programs. We came up with help for these organizations.
One of priorities was language training as well as promoting more proactive and positive attitude towards social integration. Also, it was important to work with justice issues.
During this period the Human Development Reports became more focused, each of them was devoted to a specific issue. I would like to mention two issues from Reports edited by Talis Tisenkopfs: first, in a globalized world the gap of information society between cities and the countryside is a threat to a sustainable human development and second, the critical and revealing conclusions about the decision making process in our country.
Talis Tisenkopfs, Editor-in-Chief of the Human Development Report in Latvia (1998–2001): In Reports starting with 1998 we focused on important issues on the public agenda. In 1998 we analyzed mechanisms how the three major players – the government, private businesses and individuals could more successfully interact and cooperate together. In 1999 Latvia was already invited to be a member of the EU and we believed that we have to start focusing on globalization issues and draw conclusions about possible threats and challenges to human development. In the 2001 Report we focused on policy analysis, looking at the policy process from different perspectives such as responsibility, quality, decision making efficiency. We were raising tough issues. But I believe that recommendations from Human Development Reports have been heard – these Reports are used by academics, students, policy makers, and journalists. I also want to emphasize that cooperation with the UNDP was very pleasant and we had full editorial independence.
As of this year Human Development Reports will be published by University of Latvia. The UNDP brand is very important and now it’s our responsibility to sustain the high quality and credibility in the next Human Development Reports.
Anita Usacka, International Criminal Court Justice, former Judge of the Constitutional Court: UNDP has provided great support to the justice system, with very good results. I would like to emphasize the importance of training for the judges. The Constitutional Court was established in 1996 and the training helped in our work very much. I believe that we can be proud of our Constitutional Court and would like to thank the UNDP for strengthening Latvia’s judicial system.
But I also would like to mention things which were less successful. The situation with other courts is more difficult– while there was significant investment in developing the new Law on Courts, lack of political will prevented it’s adoption. In this area our politicians and the government still have much to do.
Gunta Veismane, Director of State Chancellery: I was an academic when I was invited to establish the School of Administration and when my cooperation with the UNDP started. Coming from the academic environment, we didn’t have experience establishing training programs for civil servants and the academic approach is not always the most suitable for practical application. We needed experts with solid experience in administrative work to build administrative capacity and the UNDP helped us find them.
When Talis Tisenkopfs was editing the Human Development Report, one of the critical issues was policy planning and improvement of decision making process. We have put in much effort in implementing these recommendations. Thus, in 2000, the Policy Planning and Coordination Department was established within the Chancellery with the key task to strengthen and support public policy process. In 2005, we published a handbook on evaluation of the policy process.
I would like to ask the Prime Minister to comment on the public administration question. What has changed in the last years and what remains to be done?
Aigars Kalvitis, Prime Minister: I believe that we have capable public administration, despite sometimes trying to diminish our own success. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to implement all the programs and join the EU and NATO.
Of course, we can always do better. I am concerned that many people leave civil service because of low salaries. The yearly staff turnover in Ministries of Finance and Economy is about 20%! Regretfully, we are still not able to significantly raise salaries to provide adequate compensation to professionals in civil service. Luckily, civil service employees are not emigrating to other countries.
Gabriele Koehler arrived when Latvia was very close to becoming a member of the EU – please share with us the most important focal points of your time.
Gabriele Koehler, former UNDP Resident Representative in Latvia (2002-2004): I came to Latvia in the summer of 2002 when the country was very actively preparing for the EU accession. It was very important for me to speak about issues such as human rights, social inclusion, multiculturalism, poverty elimination and diminishing the gap between cities and the countryside. We already had been working with language training, citizenship, health improvement and other questions. All these questions were important also for the EU accession so we believed we, too, helped Latvia to achieve this goal.
After this achievement the issue of development cooperation has become increasingly important and it is crucial to recognize the expertise Latvia can offer. Latvia has good experts, who can share their knowledge and help other countries. All in all, it is most important that countries get from development cooperation what they really need and can later carry on these programs by themselves as well as providing help to others.
The Human Development Report edited by Mara Simane has received a UN prize for innovation. Tell us, please, about the main issues of the report and, probably, I should ask you also to explain some new terms used in the report, for example “human security”?
Mara Simane, Editor-in-Chief of the Human Development Report in Latvia (2002/2003): The UN is often a pioneer in introducing new terms. We did our report on human security. We are used to saying that a transition period provides enormous opportunities. But some are winners while some are losers or feel as such. Therefore our report focused on human security – exploring what makes people more secure and what makes them vulnerable. We looked at what we can do to improve the quality of life and provided recommendations what has to be done to ensure human security.
The public administration had a very busy time in last years before joining the EU establishing systems. We heard from Ms Groza that seven of the most important social security laws were adopted in 1995 - just imagine, it was not that long ago! We had to take our time to establish these systems, then to evaluate them and introduce changes when needed. The Prime Minister mentioned that civil servants are, fortunately, not yet leaving the country. I would like to object by saying that many indeed go for work in “our own” Brussels. Now, when the UNDP is leaving Latvia, we all have to work towards the aim to make each individual feel better in our own country.
Aija Zobena, Editor in Chief of the most recent Human Development Report(2004/2005): Thanks to the UNDP, “human development” in Latvia is not just a phrase, it has substance. Universities are offering courses on human development and our academic staff is capable to continue publishing these reports according the principles Talis Tisenkopfs has already mentioned: editorial independence and democratic approach to work.
Our Report views regional differences as a potential for development. We focused on human capability of an individual in each region. Inequalities in regional development are natural to some extent, but they not always effectively used to the advantage. The main message was that the regional reform is stalling and there is a lack of resposibility to mobilize the existing potential. We did not offer recipes but did provide some recommendations on what needs to be done.
International donors are leaving Latvia and now Latvia itself is becoming a donor. What is your view on how we’ll be able to contribute?
Aigars Kalvitis, Prime Minister: I believe that we are able to help other countries. Even more, we have advantages over the old democracies which don’t have transition experience. Countries which have chosen democratic and European development goals, for example Moldova and Georgia, are eager to learn from our experience and they believe us much more then they believe overseas experts. We can contribute towards development and security of those regions.
Andris Aukmanis, Executive Director of Soros Foundation-Latvia: We have worked together with the UNDP towards common goals in the process of promoting democracy, in significant and similar areas such as citizenship, public policy, HIV/AIDS programs, policy analysis, strengthening of the judicial system. Together we established the State language training centre, Training centre for judges, and the NGO Centre.
Development cooperation is a very important issue now, when we are a member of the EU and have become a donor country. In this area the UNDP has done much to support policy makers and civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From our side, we assisted NGOs so they become good partners in development cooperation.
Inita Paulovica became Head of the UNDP Latvia office knowing that this seat is for limited while. Yet this position needed a person able to make reforms.
Inita Paulovica, Head of the UNDP Office in Latvia (2004-2005): It was an great privilege for me to work knowing that the office will be closed soon. I couldn’t launch anything new at a larger scale, but I had slightly different accents for my work. One of them was an aim to strengthen Latvia to become a strong player at international level.
After joining the EU large amounts of the EU Structural Funds are available for Latvia. We supported and strengthened state institutions to enable them to allocate this money for aims which promote human development. We observed lack of information about the Structural Funds, therefore we provided a helping hand to put in order the flow of information. We also monitored and evaluated were the money is allocated, because it is very closely linked to issues of the regional development.
The third issue I want to stress is the UNDP work with HIV/AIDS programs. The situation has been stabilized in this area and this is a great achievement, however, for it not to deteriorate this work must be continued.
I also would like to mention environmental projects. A stable and successful cooperation with the Ministry of Environment has been established. We have worked together on issues of protection of biological diversity as well as drafting national programs, strategies and monitoring. Much remains to be done in this area as well – like development in general, human development will never end.
* The discussion took place on 9th December 2005. It is published in an abbreviated version.