Annual Report 2010
President Valdis Zatlers signed and proclaimed 337 laws during the course of 2010. He also received requests to veto laws and send them back to Parliament for secondary consideration on 15 occasions.
Of these, the President agreed to veto and return 6 laws to the Saeima. These included amendments to the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials, the law on insolvency, the law on the electronic mass media, amendments to the law on ports, amendments to the law on immigration, and amendments to the law on the distribution of alcoholic beverages. In all other cases, the President declined to use his veto rights.
Each time that a request for a veto was received by the Presidential Chancery, it organised meetings with interested parties and relevant experts to discuss whether the law should be sent back for secondary consideration. The chancery also asked for written statements about the proposed laws from the relevant institutions and specialists. In some cases, the President decided to sign and proclaim a disputed law and then to address the problematic issues by improving other normative acts.
More detailed information about the laws which the President did not veto and send for secondary consideration can be found in the legislative section of the Presidential Chancery’s annual report.
Laws vetoes and returned for secondary consideration:
Amendments to the law on alcoholic beverages
The issue related to these amendments, which President Zatlers vetoed on March 5 after their adoption by the Saeima on March 25, was a new rule to say that the sale of alcohol would be banned on the first day of school, September 1. The President asked MPs to reconsider the issue of whether the ban on the sale of alcohol on that particular day would really satisfy the legislative goal of ensuring that no juvenile would be able to buy alcoholic beverages during the course of that day while, at the same time, encouraging young people not to drink alcohol at all. The President also pointed to the need to amend Latvia’s administrative code to assign administrative liability to those who sell alcohol and tobacco products to juveniles – not just the salesperson, but also the legal entity which holds the license to sell alcoholic beverages. Parliament took the President’s objections into account when revisiting the amendments to the law.
Amendments to the immigration law
These amendments, which were approved by the Saeima on March 4, 2010, were sent back by the President after his veto on March 12. The President asked for an evaluation of the right which was given to foreigners in the law to seek a temporary residency permit if they have purchased real estate in the Republic of Latvia. The President said that Latvia’s security institutions had declared that the law might create the risk of undesirable people and money of unclear origin appearing in Latvia, and so he asked Parliament to make sure that these risks could be addressed and that the country’s security services, including the unit which seeks to prevent money laundering, have sufficient resources to make sure that the requirements of the new law are observed to a sufficient degree if the number of requests for residency permits were to increase.
The President also concluded that the Cabinet of Ministers had not issued the series of regulations that it was instructed to approve in the immigration law. For that reason, on March 18, 2010, President Zatlers wrote to the prime minister to request information about why these delays occurred and to ask that the relevant Cabinet of Ministers regulations be issued as soon as possible.
The law to amend the immigration law was considered for a second time by Parliament on April 22, 2010, taking the President’s objections into account.
Amendments to the law on ports
After hearing the views of the National Audit Office, the Competition Council, companies and members of the Harmony Centre (SC) faction in Parliament, the President vetoed a law adopted by Parliament on May 27, 2010, to amend the law on ports. The President asked the legislature to make the amendments more precise so as to achieve their intended goal – to ensure that ports, as strategically important objects, can operate during emergency situations or in situations in which companies cannot handle fundamentally important functions whilst, at the same time, not limiting the competition among market participants or reducing the competitiveness of the ports themselves.
The President also called for a more all-encompassing evaluation of the status of port managers and for a review of out-of-date legal norms related to port operations. In specific, the President asked Parliament to strengthen the control of courts over the work of port managers and the decisions that they take. Parliament revisited the amendments on July 12, 2010, and took the President’s objections into account.
The law on the electronic mass media
On June 22, 2010, President Zatlers vetoed a law on the electronic mass media which the Saeima had adopted on June 16. The President argued that regulations in the law were incomplete and that several objections against its content had been received. “When the draft law on the electronic mass media was considered on third reading, MPs supported several proposals which were rejected by the relevant Saeima committee, thus creating contradictions among several of the norms in the law,” the President wrote.
President Zatlers asked the Saeima to focus on those norms in the law which have to do with the state language. He argued that in support of public integration interests, the electronic mass media must have a specific regime which supports the state language. In particular, the President called for rules concerning the minimal use of the Latvian language in the overall volume of broadcasting.
The President also called for fair and unambiguous limitations on advertising in the electronic mass media. He further argued that all national, regional and local mass media outlets must be allowed to compete over the best and most economically advantageous implementation of the public commission in the field of the electronic mass media. President Zatlers argued that work on improving the law should continue even after it was reviewed ad took effect. There are still several major issues which require careful legislative consideration. Some of these are addressed in the views of the President’s Commission on Constitutional Law in terms of the legal regulation of the electronic mass media in a democratic country.
The Commission on Constitutional Law and the State Language Commission became involved in the preparation of the law on the electronic mass media from the very beginning, and members of those commissions took part in the work of the relevant Saeima committees. On May 24, 2010, the Commission on Constitutional Laws submitted a written statement about legal regulations of the electronic mass media in a democratic country. The commission reviewed the roles and missions of the electronic mass media in democratic countries, their legal status, the relevant regulations, the situation in Latvia, the draft law which was approved by the Saeima on second reading on April 15, 2010, and a series of proposals about how to regulate the electronic mass media, particularly so as to strengthen the role of the public electronic mass media in the democratic country. Some of the proposals from the Commission on Constitutional Law were included in the draft law before third reading consideration, while others were listed by the President when he sent the law on the electronic mass media back to the Saeima for secondary consideration.
The law on insolvency
On June 22, 2010, President Zatlers also vetoed a law on insolvency which the Saeima had adopted on June 17. The President wrote that legal regulations in this area must address the interests, rights and obligations of all involved parties so as to ensure assistance to honest and good-faith debtors who face financial difficulties while, at the same time, preventing a situation in which the regulations are used for greedy purposes by dishonest people. The President wrote that there must be a separation between people whose loan obligations relate exclusively to their homes and those who are known as real estate speculators – those whose short-sighted economic activities have not served the country’s economic interests.
The President also wrote about the risk that people who are involved in insolvency processes might be interested in disclosing as low a level of income as possible during the period when the debt must be repaid. He asked the Saeima to think about whether rules about the supervision of debtors could be supplemented with special oversight on the part of the State Revenue Service or some other government institution. If the law on insolvency offered relief for debtors without increased state supervision to determine true levels of income, the President argued, that would create an increased risk of the expansion of the shadow economy in Latvia.
The President also argued that the law would not make easier the legal situation of those individuals who were already undergoing insolvency procedures. On the contrary, he wrote – the law would place such people in an unequal position.
Amendments to the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials
On June 22, 2010, President Zatlers vetoed amendments to the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials, which had been passed by Parliament on June 17. The President indicated the need to ensure the transparency of the financial situation of the board chairpersons and members of political parties or alliances, noting that in approving the law, MPs did not take into account the fact that board chairpersons and members are not government officials, and so regulations concerning them cannot be part of the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials. Parliament did not provide for a process whereby these legal norms could be implemented, and that means that it did not specify the liability of political party leaders for violations that are committed. The President also argued that there were inadequate regulations related to the competence of supervisory institutions in this area, suggesting that this would cause questions about the legitimacy of the process.
President Zatlers wrote that the Saeima should think about “improving the existing legal system – publication of information about candidates for parliamentary seats, expanding the existing regulations if necessary.” The President also called for a conceptual decision as to whether party leaders should or should not be seen as government officials. On September 30, 2010, Parliament took the President’s objections into account when revisiting the law in question.
On the date of Restored Independence
On January 19, 2010, President Zatlers submitted a legislative initiative to Parliament, asking that the law on holidays and commemorative days be amended to replace the words “the date when the Independence Declaration of the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed” with the words “the date of restored independence.” By doing so, the President wished to emphasise the importance of the declaration which was approved by the Soviet Latvian Supreme Council on May 4, 1990, “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia,” as well as the importance of the country’s independent statehood. The President also called for May 4 to be declared a holiday, informing MPs that the suggestion of creating a name for the date which would be understood by everyone, would be symbolic, would reflect the purpose of the independence declaration, and would be more laconic came from representatives of the Latvian People’s Front. The idea was also discussed by a committee set up to organise celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the declaration.
The legislative initiative is currently being considered by the Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs of the Saeima. It has prepared the relevant draft law. On January 20, 2011, Parliament voted to submit the draft law to the relevant parliamentary committees for their consideration.
Other legislative activities:
On legal regulations concerning state protocol
On November 17, 2010, President Zatlers and Foreign Minister Ģirts Kristovskis issued instructions to set up a working group to look at ways of developing legal regulations related to state protocol and the relevant normative acts. The group was instructed to draft new laws and regulations in relation to this issue by March 1, 2011.
The President’s activities in the area of legislation can also be seen in the establishment of a Commission on Constitutional Law, which was established with the purpose of providing support to the President in terms of the legislative functions which are assigned to him in the Constitution, as well as to offer views about how constitutional norms could be improved and interpreted. Of particular importance here is the view which the commission stated in 2010 after the need for parliamentary approval of major loans which the state could take out. The view was stated in a written document issued by the commission on January 18, 2010, arguing that the Saeima must give its approval to any major international loans that would have a long-lasting and fundamental effect on the Latvian economy. In the document, the commission analysed the “theory of essentiality” that emerges from rulings by the Constitutional Court, looking at how this theory can be applied to parliamentary procedure in terms of the principles of democracy and the consequences thereof. The issue concerned the way in which Parliament expresses its will in terms of the “theory of essentiality,” also making proposals to ensure that decisions be in balanced, in line with Constitutional Court rulings, as well as in line with actual and legal circumstances. The commission also called for legal regulations which would specify those cases in which the Cabinet of Ministers, with the approval of Parliament, could take out loans that would have a fundamental and long-lasting effect on the economy.
On December 29, 2009, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis asked the Commission on Constitutional Law to issue its views about the Constitutional Court ruling of December 21, 2009, in case No. 2009-43-01, which had to do with pensions.