Annual Report 2009
During the course of 2009, President Zatlers proclaimed 407 laws.
Requests for secondary consideration of laws
Over the course of 2009, President Zatlers received 18 requests for a secondary consideration of laws that had been passed. Ten of these could not be considered in essence, because Parliament had passed the laws on the basis of urgency, with more than two-thirds of MPs voting in favour of them. In such cases, Section 75 of the Constitution bans the President from taking advantage of the rights that are afforded to him in Section 71 of the document – to return a law to the Saeima for secondary consideration.
In regard to the other requests, the Presidential Chancery organised meetings with interested parties and experts so as to evaluate the need for secondary consideration of the relevant laws. It also asked for written conclusions from the relevant institutions and specialists. In some cases, President Zatlers decided to proclaim the disputed laws and then to seek other ways of addressing the relevant problems via improvements to other normative acts.
An example of this was a request for the President to reject amendments to the law on returning properties to religious organisations, which was approved by the Saeima on August 27, 2009. On September 3, Metropolitan Alexander of the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Cardinal Jānis Pujāts, Latvian Lutheran Archbishop Jānis Vanags, Latvian Old Believer Central Council chairman Aleksejs Žilko and Rīga Jewish community leader Dāvids Kagans all asked the President to resubmit the law to Parliament. The Chancery asked the Saeima Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission to amend the law on religious organisations so as to allow the Justice Ministry to offer statements related to cases affecting the operations of religious organisations. The Chancery also asked the Cabinet of Ministers to supplement Regulation No. 544, which speaks to state fees related to the issuance of information from the Company Register so as to order the Company Register to issue information to religious organisations about the uninterrupted nature of their operations.
As a result of this, the Saeima adopted new amendments to the law on religious organisations on October 29, 2009, instructing the Justice Ministry to set up a department to handle religious issues and to issue consultations and assistance to religious organisations when asked to do so. The department is also to make statements related to court cases related to the recovery of illegally alienated properties in those cases when the return of the relevant facilities has been sought by more than one religious organisation. On October 12, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis informed the Chancery that on October 6, the Cabinet of Ministers amended the aforementioned regulation on state fees related to the Company Register so as to indicate that it must issue information to religious organisations about the uninterrupted nature of their operations.
President Zatlers was also asked to review amendments to laws related to campaigning in advance of local government, parliamentary and European Parliament elections. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau offered its views on the matter, and the President decided to proclaim the laws, arguing that they improved legal regulations vis-à-vis campaigning, as well as supervision and oversight in this regard. At the same time, President Zatlers and KNAB representative Alvis Vilks joined with experts who called for further improvements to the relevant laws, specifically speaking to the definition of so-called third parties (persons not related to political organisations, alliances of political organisations and alliances of voters), as well as to limits on political advertising. On March 18, 2009, the Presidential Chancery held a discussion on the aforementioned issues (see the section “Improvements to the elections system”).
Laws returned to Parliament
On June 26, 2009, President Zatlers returned amendments to the law on public procurement which the Saeima had approved eight days earlier for secondary consideration. The President felt that the requirement that people who file a complaint with the Procurement Oversight Bureau pay a security fee for the complaint was an unjustified limitation of their rights. Writing to the Speaker of the Saeima, President Zatlers argued that if the goal was to avoid pointless submissions to the Procurement Oversight Bureau, then the resource chosen for this was not in line with the constitutional guarantee of the right of individuals in Latvia to defend their rights and lawful interests (Section 92 of the Constitution). On July 16, Parliament reversed a decision by its Economic, Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Policy Committee and reapproved the amendments without any changes, thus forcing the President to proclaim them – Section 71 of the Constitution states that if Parliament approves legislation twice without any changes, the President can file no further objections. President Zatlers proclaimed the amendments on July 30, but four days later he took advantage of his constitutional right of petition before the Constitutional Court, asking the court to rule on whether the amendments to the law on public procurement were truly constitutional (see the section “Petition before the Constitutional Court”).
President Zatlers came up with two legislative initiatives in 2009:
1) On January 21, he sent an initiative to Saeima Speaker Gundars Daudze to propose a specific constitutional amendment (see the section “Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia”);
2) On July 8, he wrote to the Speaker to propose amendments to several laws so as to ensure the principle of political neutrality in the Civil Service and among members thereof (see the section “Depoliticising the Civil Service”).
Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia
On June 3, 2008, President Zatlers called for amendments to Chapter 3 of the Constitution so as to allow the President to dissolve the Saeima without the necessity for a national referendum and the possibility that the President himself might lose his job as a result of a negative vote in that referendum. On August 6, he called on the Saeima to amend the Constitution to allow two subjects – the President and a specific number of members of the electorate – to take decisions on the dissolution of the Saeima before the expiration of its term in office.
The two proposals did not involve a specific text for the recommended amendments, because the President wanted Parliament to engage in a balanced discussion so as to come up with a solution that would satisfy most MPs. The aim of the initiative was to amend the Constitution in a way that would gain the support of the percentage of MPs indicated in Section 76 of the Constitution.
Between June 2008 and January 2009, alas, MPs did not agree on specific amendments to the Constitution. That is why, on January 21, President Zatlers took advantage of the rights granted to him in Section 47 of the Constitution to propose a specific text for constitutional amendments, allowing no fewer than one-tenth of the electorate to propose a referendum on dissolution of the Saeima, also allowing the President, during a parliamentary crisis, to dissolve the Saeima and call for a new parliamentary election.
On April 8, 2009, the Saeima amended the Constitution to allow one-tenth of the electorate to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. President Zatlers proclaimed the law on April 29, and it will take effect once the 10th Saeima takes office in late 2010. MPs could not reach agreement on the President’s rights in this regard, and so President Zatlers’ initiative was not supported. The Legal Committee of the Saeima continues to discuss the matter.
Depoliticising the Civil Service
On July 8, 2009, President Zatlers called for amendments to several laws to ensure the political neutrality of the Civil Service so as to ensure good governance and principles in the system of governance such as professionalism, honesty, competence, and political neutrality in the Civil Service. On September 15, the Cabinet of Ministers supported this initiative by forwarding to the Saeima two draft laws – one to amend the law on the Civil Service and the other to amend the law on the disciplinary liability of members of the Civil Service. On November 12, 2009, the Saeima amended the law on preventing conflicts of interest in the work of government officials to bar the director of the State Chancery, state secretaries and deputy state secretaries of government ministries, and members of the boards and councils of state-owned capital enterprises to hold political party posts in addition to their basic jobs. The new law was proclaimed on December 1, 2009, and took effect on January 1, 2010.
Improving the elections system
Amending the Saeima elections law (to eliminate “locomotives”)
On January 14, 2009, President Zatlers told the press that Parliament must amend election laws so as to eliminate the so-called locomotive principle in elections. On February 26, the Saeima did so, passing a law which states that a single candidate can be listed in only one election district, not all of them. This means that if a candidate is on the list in more than one district, he or she is disqualified in all of the districts. The law took effect on April 1.
Campaign financing for political parties
On June 15, President Zatlers proclaimed amendments to the laws on campaigning in advance of local government, parliamentary and European Parliament elections, but he also called for further improvements to campaigning laws. Specifically, he addressed the matter of properly defining so-called third persons (people not linked to political organisations, alliances of political organisations and alliances of voters), as well as limiting campaign advertising altogether. On March 18, the Presidential Chancery organised a discussion on how to improve the system of political advertising and elections after receiving a request for such a discussion from journalist Jānis Domburs and political scientists Jānis Ikstens, Juris Rozenvalds, Ivars Ijabs, Valts Kalniņš, and Iveta Kažoka. The central matter in the discussion was the need to limit political advertising as a means for improving the elections system. President Zatlers opened the debates, which involved some 40 people from different sectors.
On August 24, 2009, KNAB director Normunds Vilnītis told the President that normative acts related to campaigning and the financing of political organisations (parties) should be improved in advance of the Saeima election that is scheduled to take place on October 2, 2010. Vilnītis’ proposal was also addressed to the chairmen of the Saeima National Security Committee and the Saeima Defence, Interior and Anti-Corruption Committee, and so the President asked his Chancery to request information about the further consideration of such measures in Parliament. On September 28, the chairman of the Saeima National and Local Governance Committee informed the Chancery that the committee had sent the aforementioned letter to all parliamentary factions so as to learn their views about the KNAB proposal on amending the relevant normative acts.
Petition before the Constitutional Court
On August 3, 2009, President Zatlers filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to dispute the amendments which Parliament approved on July 16 to the law on public procurement – something which he has constitutional rights to do. He argued that Section 46 of the amendments, which added Section 83.2 to the law on public procurement, as well as Section 50 of the amendments, which added Section 12 to the transitional regulations of the law on public procurement, should be declared unconstitutional. The president argued that the need to pay a security fee for complaints filed with the Procurement Oversight Bureau limited people’s rights in an unconstitutional way, because the norms limited the right of people to ask for a review of the spending of state and local government resources, thus indirectly making it possible to create new corruption risks. President Zatlers also asked for a review of whether the authority given to the Cabinet of Ministers in the law on procurement was in line with the separation of powers in the country, because a specific security fee was not stated in the law that was approved by Parliament, instead leaving the fee and the procedure for paying it or being exempted from it to the Cabinet of Ministers. The President felt that the authority given to the Cabinet in this regard was so broad that it would allow ministers to have unlimited freedom in deciding on the limitation of an individual’s fundamental rights. Any basic limitation of such rights, President Zatlers argued, should be defined by the Saeima as the elected representative body of the people of Latvia.
Promoting dialogue to improve the Latvian business environment
Early in 2009, the president of SIA LIDO, Gunārs Ķirsons, contacted the Presidential Chancery to talk about problems which he has faced as a businessperson in an environmentally protected territory in the Vestiena Parish. After studying his statements, as well as legal regulations related to environmental protection plans, the Chancery convened a meeting of all related parties, including representatives of the Environmental Ministry, as well as Economics Minister Artis Kampars. Participants at the meeting agreed to organise a conference to discuss environmental protection plans on August 12, and that was an extensive inter-institutional event. They also discussed draft Cabinet of Ministers regulations on overall protection and usage rules of particularly protected environmental territories, which the Cabinet of Ministers forwarded to a meeting of state secretaries on July 30. On November 13, Mr Ķirsons again contacted the Chancery, pointing out that some of the promises made at the interministerial meeting of August 12 had not been kept by the relevant ministries. On November 20, the Chancery submitted the information from Mr Ķirsons to the prime minister, asking him to think about an inter-institutional working group with authorisation to deal with problems related to economic activities in legally regulated environmental protection territories, the aim being to achieve a balanced solution, as well a co-operation among the ministries that are involved in this process.