New boss for the capital
As ex-mayor Rolandas Paksas departed for his new job as a prime minister, the stage was set for the election of a new mayor for Vilnius. This week, Arturas Zuokas from the Liberal Union was chosen to takeover the post.
The election was quite interesting; Zuokas was the only candidate but got a surprisingly low number of votes: 27 out 51, with 18 voting against and the rest abstaining. According to the pre-election agreement, he was supposed to get support from the Conservatives, the Polish Electoral Action, as well as parties in the "New Policy" coalition, but, according to the media, even some members of his own party did not vote for him.
The objections raised against Arturas Zuokas ranged from personal opinions to his private commercial enterprise, as well as what was called an unrealistic programme for the local government. In any case, Vilnius now has its youngest boss ever (32 years) and he hopes that, in future decision making, the essence of the matter will overcome political prejudices.
Row over defence
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson has warned the new Lithuanian government to keep up with the country's commitments to national defence. He remarked that the country is being constantly observed and that the overall assessment for future membership will largely depend upon the credibility of upholding such commitments.
Lord Robertson expressed the warnings in a meeting with Lithuanian Defence Minister Linas Linkevičius. He also stressed that the coming year is going to be crucial in this respect, since the decision for further NATO enlargement is most likely to be made in 2002.
In the meantime, Linkevičius had to explain the news that came from the Seimas. It seems that the Parliament is determined to go ahead with a cut to the defence budget, reducing it to below 1.92 per cent of GDP. That was the message from the chairman of Parliament's Budget Committee, Kęstutis Glaveckas.
This week, Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas also mentioned the possible cuts without mentioning specific numbers. The defence minister responded by saying that Seimas members have not studied the matter sufficiently and the cuts will not be understood in the West.
One more meeting in Brussels
On Thursday 17 November, EU representatives and negotiators from Lithuania met to continue negotiations for the accession process. The EU presented its positions on seven chapters that are currently being discussed. These concern freedom of movement of services, freedom of capital, company law, transport policy and others.
Lithuania expects to finish negotiations on these chapters in the first half of 2001 and plans to ask for transitional periods in at least three of the chapters, namely freedom of movement of services and capital and environmental protection.
Ups and downs in privatisation
The government has started talks with Western institutions about the sale of Lietuvos Avialinijos (Lithuanian Airlines), asking for help to find a strategic investor. Transport Minister Gintaras Striaukas met with World Bank representatives and is meeting people from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development next week on the matter.
For the second time, the attempt to sell state-owned Lietuvos Žemės Ūkio Bankas (Lithuanian Agricultural Bank) failed. This week, the State Property Fund received a letter from two banks, Poland's Pekao and Italy's UniCredito Italiano, saying they will not negotiate further on the sale of the bank.
As a result, the State Property Fund annulled the bid results for the sale of 76.01 per cent of the bank's shares that were originally going to the two foreign banks.
As always, the reasons given for such a disappointing outcome differ. Pekao blamed the limitations of Lithuania's privatisation law that prevented them from finding a mutually beneficial solution, whereas the media has blamed disagreements between the buyers. Now the bank will have to be put on sale for a third time.
First strain on the new cabinet
After the first meeting of the new cabinet, a possibile scandal came to the fore. Agriculture Minister Kęstutis Kristinaitis had to explain an event in his career from nine years ago to the Prime Minister. Recent revelations show that when Kristinaitis was deputy agriculture minister he allegedly got USD 24,000 for mediating the sale of land in Trakai district with the aim to resell it. Charges were dropped at the time, but they have resurfaced now with the promotion of Kristinaitis to the cabinet.
Electricity bridge closer to reality?
After a meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Władisław Bartoszewski, Lithuania Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis declared that a 140-km-long, 400 kV "power bridge" will be built in a year between Lithuania and Poland.
Lithuania will finance its part and hopes that Poland will pay for its half as well, and both countries will seek assistance from the European Union. The project got off the ground a couple of years ago, but, due to the lack of transparency in the building, the tender was halted.
In Lithuania, the bridge with Poland is seen as a strategic move away from the old Soviet electric power and as a way to export electricity to the West bypassing unreliable Belarus, which still owes some USD 56 million to Lithuanian companies.
Fissures in the Seimas
Two parties in Parliament refused to sign the partnership agreement proposed by the ruling coalition. The chairman of the Peasants Party, Ramūnas Karbauskis, claimed that he sees it as an abstention, not a veto over the agreement, and will wait for the concrete deeds of the new government on implementing its programme and working out the new budget.
The chairperson of the New Democracy Party, Kazimira Prunskienė, remarked that the faction will support the government in the areas where the views of the two coincide, but it retains the right to oppose and criticise the decisions that reach the interests of their voters.
The Peasants Party and the New Democracy Party have a joint parliamentary faction with the bare minimum number of seats, seven, but their decisions can be important in the tight division.
And in the other news...
- Banker Povilas Milašauskas was appointed to head the State Property Fund, the body responsible for privatisation in Lithuania.
- To mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of the most famous Lithuanian composer and artist, Mikolajus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, an exhibition of his artistic works was opened in Paris's Musée d'Orsay. So far, it is the largest exhibition of his work abroad.
- The ship Rytas was seized by the military in Guinea-Bissau in Africa. The ship is owned by Baltlanta in Klaipėda, and there is still confusion over the seizure.
As of 17 November 2000
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||5.69|
|1 German mark||1.73|
Inga Pavlovaitė, 17 November 2000
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