Economics minister confirmed
This week, Eugenijus Gentvilas, the former mayor of Klaipėda, was confirmed as the new economics minister, replacing Eugenijus Maldeikis. He said he was leaving the mayoral post with a heavy heart but was convinced that it is a necessary step. A supporter of continuity within the ministry, Gentvilas will keep three out of five deputy ministers onboard.
Gentvilas confessed certain reservations about becoming the economics minister, since he would prefer to work in the communications sphere, but he hopes to get to know his new job very quickly. He pledged to travel in order to familiarise himself with issues throughout the country.
In the meantime, the battle over the open mayoral post in the third largest city has already begun. Vytautas Grubliauskas, head of the Klaipėda University jazz department, has been nominated by the Liberal Union, to which Gentvilas also belongs.
It appears that Grubliauskas joined the Liberals only a couple of weeks ago, thus speculations arose that the party is attempting to capitalise on his reputation as a popular jazz musician. The New Alliance (Social Liberals) in Klaipėda, the coalition partners of the Liberal Union, seems to support the candidate, saying that party membership is not a decisive criteria for them.
Disarray in the Seimas
An extraordinay session of Parliament started this week primarily to pass laws necessary for EU accession, but it ended in disarray after only the first day.
The opposition Social Democratic coalition was dissatisfied over the failure of the Seimas to include their legal proposals into the legislative agenda. A total of 64 Seimas members voted against the work programme proposed by the coalition.
Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas also presented the overview of the government's first 100 days in office. He complained about the sheer size and intensity of the work—the legacy of previous governments. He explicitly criticised the bureaucratic apparatus in the ministries for their lack of intellectual potential and civic responsibility which has caused them to fail to provide the government with timely and well-prepared documents.
Additionally, the need for legislation complying with EU requirements was emphasised this week by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstad during his visit to Vilnius. Verhofstad singled out compulsory transport insurance, land sale to foreigners and the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant closure issues as topics to emphasise. Belgium takes over the EU presidency later this year.
Beer market to change
The decision by Scandinavian-owned Baltic Beverages Holding (BBH) to sell a part of its assets in Lithuania will change the composition of the market in the country. The sale of Panevėžys-based brewery Kalnapilis will surely mean more competition that is likely to drive prices down.
The decision comes after last year's ruling by competition regulators that prohibited BBH from merging the three largest Lithuanian breweries, obliging it to sell one of them. After the sale of Kalnapilis, BBH will still maintain control over the other two breweries, Utenos and Švyturys, and is planning to merge them in the near future.
Potential buyers have already expressed an interest, but for BBH the dilemma is whether to let a new foreign player into the market and get a higher price, or to sell to a domestic Lithuanian producer, which will surely translate into a smaller price.
Meanwhile, shares in Kalnapilis have soared at the Vilnius Stock Exchange.
In an operation aimed at cracking down on the drug trade in the capital, the police have arrested over 50 individuals and confiscated a large amount of drugs. To trace the drug dealers' network, the police carefully monitored a quarter of Vilnius for about five days.
Anti-drug actions seem even more necessary after the release this past week of a study of drug use at schools. According to the Europe-wide study conducted every four years, drug-use indices are higher in Lithuania than the European average and have grown over the last four years. The greatest number of drug addicts has been identified in the big cities and in Visaginas, the city housing most of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant workers.
This year, the government allocated LTL (Lithuania litas) 1 million (USD 250,000) for drug prevention programmes.
Disasters around the country
Three more regions—Kaunas, Alytus and Utena—have declared flu epidemics since the number of infected individuals has reached more than one hundred per 10,000 inhabitants. In some epidemic zones, the number of persons infected has remained stable, while other towns have seen an increase.
As usually occurs in the spring, the Nemunas River has flooded several villages in western Lithuania. Rusnė, a town of about 2500 inhabitants, for example, is only accessible by boat, as water depth has reached half a metre. Overall, the flooded areas now amount to some 13,000 hectares, and several villages bordering rivers have been severely affected. Floods on the Nemunas occur annually due to ice melt.
New administrative reforms?
A plan is underway to again change the map of the country's territorial administration. The plan, drafted by the Interior Ministry, involves several modifications. To start with, the borders of the lowest local government units will not change. However, five districts, centred around the five biggest cities, could replace the current ten, according to one variant of the proposed reform. Such was a pledge in the coalition government programme.
According to officials, the purpose of the reform is to bring government closer to the people by handing over building, architectural and land supervision matters to the lowest local government level. Implemented over three years, the reform would also cut the expenses of local governments by a half.
And in other news...
- Kaunas finally has its new government in place, as Pranas Paškevičius from the New Alliance (Social Liberals) was appointed to the post of deputy mayor. The power in Kaunas is now shared between the right wing extremist Freedom Union and the New Alliance.
- In a ceremony at the Vatican, the Archbishop of Vilnius, Audrys Juozas Bačkis, was finally confirmed by the Pope as the only Lithuanian cardinal.
- Nine Chechens pleaded for political asylum upon arrival at a Vilnius railway station this week.
- Jarosław Nadrzycki, a 16-year-old violinist, won the first international Jascha Heifetz violinist competition in Vilnius.
- The Vilnius basketball team, Lietuvos Rytas, defeated Athens-based Panathinaikos 87 to 78 in a FIBA SuproLeague A match.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 26 February 2001
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