Egils Levits
Valsts prezidents Egils Levits

Esteemed Mr Kaminskis, members of local councils, ladies and gentlemen,

I

With regional reform behind, all elected voters’ representatives will soon start working for the new administrative regions. The time to join forces for the common good of local communities and the whole state of Latvia has come. The whole society of Latvia is now looking at you to start working in the best interests of Latvia.

Now that the administrative territorial reform has been completed, the major focus is on how these new administrative units will be managed and solve the existing problems. There are great expectations on the new administrative regions. Reform planners promised to guarantee equal life chances for all Latvian residents, and equal access to services in all municipalities.

Success of the reform and living condition changes will to a large extent be measured by how  well new councils and their members cope with their tasks. So, there is a huge burden of responsibility weighing on your shoulders.

II

You are starting your term after the municipal elections which saw extremely low voter turnout. Although local administrations are the closest form of government, too many voters decided to stay home and let the others decide the future of their municipality.

Low voter participation is always alarming. It means there are too many people who think their vote, or their civic participation, will not make any difference or affect how municipality is run.

I call upon the newly elected local officials to put special emphasis on stronger bond of trust with their constituencies. Municipalities should incentivise greater democratic participation of their inhabitants in addressing local concerns.

III

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for state and municipal authorities to fulfil their constitutional obligation to support democratic engagement of local inhabitants and communities in deciding local future. Targeted support for democratic participation has been overlooked for far too long, many municipalities supported it pro forma and some even tried to stomp it out – that pushed local populations away from local councils.

Open dialogue between government and society, dialogue with local community, non-governmental organisations and local inhabitants, as well as proper regard and support for local initiatives, are fundamental elements of a democracy. It creates trust between local communities and their administrations. It gives people reassurance that their opinions and voices will be heard and respected by municipal leadership when charting future course.

When it comes to new administrative regions emerging as a result of the reform, they must work really hard to avoid becoming a periphery, so that local communities do not feel left behind or alienated, so that people do not feel that everything is decided somewhere far away where the development centre is and their problems will probably be neglected.

That is why I have specifically asked the legislature to make sure that local communities in parishes and smaller towns, local people, can elect their community councils who would then represented their interests and decide purely local issues. There will always be local challenges to solve.

Cabinet of Ministers has prepared necessary changes in the new local government law, which are currently debated by the Parliament, Saeima. 

I urge newly elected local councils to act now without waiting for the amendments in the law. Do not drag the issue of these extremely efficient community councils forever. It is in your power now to decide and change the existing paradigm, give local communities a real opportunity to choose their community councils, which will then speak on their behalf to parish and town administrations, and contribute to addressing the needs of local communities.

IV

A lot remains to be done on the part of the Saeima and Cabinet of Ministers to finalise the regional reform.

It is necessary to integrate the reform-related Constitutional Court judgements in an adequate and precise manner. That cannot be done without thorough analysis and good solutions.

Saeima should finally adopt the local referendum law, which has been stuck in the parliament for much too long. It would become another vehicle for voicing local interests and more active democratic engagement by local communities.

I am looking forward to the adoption of the new modern version of the local government law, which has been prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers and is now in Saeima. I will keep a close eye on the parliamentary debate of the bill and keep monitoring how it proceeds.

I expect Saeima to adopt the new local government law by the end of its current term. The current law, with all the numerous patches adopted at various times, is very old and dates back to 1994. It is time to pass a new modern local government law.

V

Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) provides immense input in the government’s and legislature’s efforts to improve legislation and other areas important for municipalities and their inhabitants. It is a significant and respected partner.

LALRG represents the unified position of all municipalities and prepares constructive initiatives and proposals, which help Saeima, Cabinet of Ministers and line ministries  come up with timely response to identified challenges and best solutions which cater to the needs of all.

Dialogue between LALRG and Saeima and Cabinet of Ministers has been weak in recent years: both sides have heavily criticised and blamed each other.

I think it would be useful for both sides to take a moment to reflect on the past cooperation, decide on necessary adjustments and step up the collaboration. That is what we all need in the long run.

A good example of such collaboration is ‘Computer for every child’ initiative that I proposed and LALRG supported. Active participation of local governments in implementation of the memorandum of cooperation was and will remain crucial for ensuring that all Latvian students and teachers have access to local computer library with modern devices for learning and teaching. Active support from local governments is the cornerstone of the Memorandum of Cooperation, both in terms of providing computer stock and helping schools efficiently and competently integrate computer-based curricula, and thus contribute to consistent long-term modernisation of schools. We must all work together towards ensuring that our joint efforts benefit all Latvian pupils and teachers, enabling them to learn necessary digital skills and competencies, and thus reduce digital divide across Latvia. And I appreciate the high level of participation by municipalities. Thank you very much for that!

VI

Latvia relies on strong and forward leaning local administrations, which know what their communities need and promote democratic participation together with sense of belonging to a local community and administrative region.

Newly elected councils and their members are now responsible for creating this new social reality, because you know best what your local community needs and what the expectations are. You need to engage in close dialogue with your residents to do so.

Voters have given you a 4-year mandate. You now have to do your best to ensure that reform has opened the way for united and strong local governments – administrative units that have left internal differences and mutual insults behind, and there will be no more peripheries away from development centres or the good and bad areas of the region.

I wish you all the best in pursuit of our common objectives and common good for the society.