Successes and failures at NATO parliamentary assembly
Undoubtedly, the Parliamentary assembly of NATO was the biggest event of this week, if not indeed the landmark event in the independent country. Around 300 MPs from 19 member and 16 associate states took part in the discussions on NATO enlargement, European security and defence identity and developments in southeastern Europe, Kaliningrad and Belarus. It was unilaterally hailed as a great success by NATO countries' parliamentarians, some of whom had lower expectations of the country and Lithuanian politicians alike, who were in general satisfied with the symbolism of the event.
The assembly adopted two documents on NATO enlargement and situations in the Balkans. In the first declaration, based on attempts from the Lithuanian side, a paragraph was added to emphasize that no third country (read: Russia) has veto right over enlargement.
However, no concrete membership prospects or guarantees emerged during the assembly work in Vilnius. Secretary General Lord Robertson spoke about the importance of both military and political aspects in assessing further feasibility of the enlargement, evaluating primarily the situation of democracy in the candidate countries. He claimed that there is still a lot to do for the candidates in the remaining year until the Prague summit in 2002. Speaking of Lithuania, he emphasized the importance of a political agreement signed by all Seimas parties to support security and defence policy priorities as a sign of unity and consensus.
Chechens ask for refuge
Sixteen Chechens, so far the largest group from the country, asked for political refugee upon their arrival at the Vilnius railway station. Five men, four women and seven children were travelling on a Russian passenger train to Kaliningrad when they got off in Vilnius. Lithuanian border guards allowed them an initial temporary stay in the country. They are to live in Pabrade foreigners' registration centre until authorities consider their cases.
The number of requests from Russian citizens for political asylum has steadily increased since autumn 2000. Last year, about 90 such persons were placed in the Pabrade centre, a number already exceeded this year.
Tax reforms go ahead
Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas presented a long and widely discussed overhaul of the tax system to make it more efficient. The new plan is geared towards encouraging domestic consumption by reducing the tax burden on the working population. One plan is to cut the tax tariff for personal revenues tax and increase the minimum amount which would be tax-exempt.
By 2004, according to Lionginas, such tax tariffs should be downsized to 24 percent and the tax-exempt minimum would rise by LTL (Lithuanian litas) 320 (USD 80). Effective 1 October the tax exemption will be raised to LTL 250 (USD 63).
The cuts on profit taxes have been postponed until 2004.
MP clarifies accident rumors
MP Rolandas Pavilionis is to seek judicial clarification of all the circumstances surrounding an accident that was widely reported in the media this week. In a press conference, he said the whole story was a bubble, and the press revealed only a fraction of the whole accident.
Apparently, a policeman suffered injuries after a collision with Pavilionis' car on a university street closed to traffic because of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Pavilionis admits he did go through the street, but claims that the interpretation of prohibitive road signs depended on the instructions the policeman received via radio. He also maintains other cars were passing through the closed street.
On 26 May, a meeting of the Lithuanian Social Democrats' party board confirmed that they are ready to take up responsibility for the government, but will not try artificially to disrupt the ruling coalition.
However, they forecast that the current government will not last long, and the next board meeting, due in three months, would take place in a different political environment. Social Democrats also said the 'new politics' of the government has had no results so far, as the country's difficult economic and social situation has seen no improvement.
The Left opposition chose the passive mode, leaving the last word on the viability of the present coalition to President Valdas Adamkus. He was urged either to increase the effectiveness of the government or replace it with a more reliable coalition.
Tax inspectors on offensive
The tax inspection office is to change its style and concentrate more efforts on monitoring and analysis. The shift comes together with three new units of monitoring charged with the task of collecting information about taxpayers.
Each employee in the new units will be assigned certain companies, monitoring monitor their performances in order to track down any suspicious activity. They will also have to observe certain assigned territories and report any dodgy activities.
According to tax inspector office Director Mindaugas Strumskis, the first results of the new system should be evident in three months.
Strumskis is also strongly disposed to tackle the illegal employment problem. According to unofficial estimates, around 100,000 people work illegally in the country.
And in other news...
- Kauno Žalgiris basketball team has won the championship for the seventh time since 1990, eliminating rival Vilniaus Lietuvos Rytas in a dramatic final series.
- Stasys Stacevičius was named poet laureate in the 37th Spring of Poetry. He has published four editions of poems.
- Today, Baltops 2001, the biggest annual training exercises in the Baltic Sea region, start under the auspices of the Partnership for Peace framework, organized by the US. Two Lithuanian ships are participating for the seventh time.
- Also today, a musical festival starts in Pažaislis monastery near Kaunas. Music will be played in various churches across Kaunas during the next three months.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 1 June 2001
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