Whiners make poor supervisers

10. October, 2001


Karlis Streips

Foto: Diena

Instead of whining about the idea that “this won’t accomplish anything”, public support must help to ensure that something is accomplished after all. If you don’t like Delna, then set up other structures to investigate the black treasuries of political parties!

More than 200 years ago the British politician William Pitt, speaking in the House of Lords in Great Britain, said these very wise words: “Absolute power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” It is difficult to speak about absolute power in Latvia, because ours is a system which is democratic and divided up among political forces. At the same time, however, the government’s careless (to put it mildly) attitude toward corruption indicates that the minds of those who are in government are not quite rid of the curse of corruption.

This was demonstrated clearly by the research which the Soros Foundation Latvia and the society for openness Delna did this year on party financing in the recent local government elections. I believe that the study proved one thing – neither Latvia’s political parties, nor society at large are prepared for a serious investigation of the financing of the political process.

The fact that political parties have (again, to put it mildly) differing attitudes about party financing has been demonstrated to us again and again. The scandal surrounding Imants Burvis and the thousands of lats that were allegedly stuffed into his pocket; the candid admission by Ziedonis Cevers in the magazine Klubs that his Democratic Party Saimnieks had a “black treasury” all the way until 1995; the use by the Welfare Party of photographs of famous Russian actors for party advertising purposes without the permission of the actors – these are all clear indications of a lack of honesty in politics and election campaigns. Equally clear evidence of this is given by the fact that the vast majority of Latvia’s political parties refused to provide information about their local government campaign financing to the Soros Foundation-Latvia (SFL) and Transparancy International Latvia chapter Delna. Many parties simply ignored the request, while others used different, but equally risible arguments about the idea that the investigation itself was dishonest or completely unnecessary.

As far as public opinion is concerned, I cannot recall any extensive demands that were made by the body politic during the SFL and Delna project to the effect that parties should reveal their financial data. Quite the contrary – in some newspapers and Internet portals there was a scornful or derisive attitude toward the hopes of the project organizers. One question that was repeated again and again – and I believe that this is one of the key questions – is who appointed the SFL and Delna as judges in this area. Why was it Delna in specific which did the research?

A short answer to that question is quite simple – why not? Claims by some politicians and newspapers that Delna is not trustworthy because it is partly financed by the SFL, where the Chairperson of the Board is Sarmite Elerte, whose newspaper Diena supposedly has concrete political sympathies, does not withstand even the mildest criticism. Sarmite Elerte, unlike Delna director Inese Voika, did not participate in the working group for this project. Other members of the working group – Rihards Berugs, Aivita Putnina, Nellija Locmele, Vita Terauda, Janis Ikstens, Andris Aukmanis and this author – represent a variety of organizations, viewpoints, likes and dislikes. We are brought together only by one idea – that the existing political party financing system doesn’t really tell us much of anything and that there are all kinds of misdeeds in the financing of political parties.

The public must grow accustomed to the fact that non-governmental organizations often serve as “watchdogs”. If nobody objects to the fact that the non-governmental organisation Apeirons defends the rights of the disabled, for example, then nobody can object to the fact that Delna and the Soros Foundation are trying to defend the principles of honesty in politics. Political parties do not like Delna because it pokes around in corners which parties and the people who finance them would like to keep dark and hidden, but that should have nothing to do with public attitudes toward the organization. On the contrary – residents should be thankful for the fact that someone is trying to shed light on the links between money, the interests of those who provide financing, and the political process in our country. Right now those links are too tight, far too tight.

The project report includes various recommendations which should be implemented in national law. It is far more important, however, to establish a vast public movement which supports greater openness in the area of party financing. The promise by Einars Repse that he will disclose all of the donors to his party and to his “fee” each month is a good first step. What will be the next step? The SFL and Delna will repeat the project in next year’s Saeima election campaign. Instead of whining that “this will not accomplish anything”, members of the public should to everything possible to support this process and guarantee that something is accomplished. If you don’t like Delna, then go ahead and set up a different public structure to do the investigation. The main thing is to ensure that politics in our country are not a cheap market in which products are bought by the one who bids the highest sum. That, you see, is in the interests of every one of us. raksts

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