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July report on Latvian watchdog NGOs

Freedom of assembly and of association, right to good administration

As planning of the next EU Funds period progresses in Latvia, NGOs continue engagement with responsible state institutions to advocate for NGO rights and interests. On July 2, on behalf of all Latvian NGO sector, a board member of the Latvian Civil Alliance gave a statement in the regular weekly session of the Cabinet of Ministers (Exerting pressure and reminding function).

The statement surveyed lessons from the previous planning period and identified problems. The main important problems have been the following:

  • NGO survey their members and partners, analyze policy and legal document drafts, provide reviews and suggestions. However, this information and even the fact of consultations is often not even registered in minutes or other relevant documents. This often leads to a situation where decision makers don’t find out about civil society dissent.
  • The Ministry of Finance as the EU Funds Managing Authority does not clearly identify which NGO suggestions have been accepted or declined, neither argumentation for such decisions has been provided.

: A typical work meeting at the Ministry of Finance. Source and credentials: fm.gov.lv, Finansu ministrija.As a result of this intervention, the Cabinet of Ministers ordered the Ministry of Finance to organize a discussion with NGOs, social and cooperation partners about the issues raised in July. The Latvian Civil Alliance also followed up with a letter to the Ministry of Finance as the EU Funds Managing Authority to ask for a list of government employees responsible for coordination of NGO and other parties’ feedback, and the document listing all NGO suggestions and their evaluation (Exerting pressure and reminding function).

On July 26 the Ministry of Finance organized a meeting with NGOs and other entities to discuss policy documents for the next EU Fund planning period, as ordered by the Cabinet of Ministers. While the meeting covered a broad set of issues, according to the Latvian Civil Alliance it was mainly informative. Another critical issue in the actions of the Ministry of Finance was identified – only NGOs from the temporary EU Funds Supervision Committee received invitations to the meeting; the Ministry of Finance did not invite those NGOs who provided feedback on draft planning documents to the Cabinet of Ministers and were the reason of the subsequent Cabinet of Ministers order and meeting at the Ministry of Finance (Expert function). Next deadline for NGO feedback on draft documentation is August 9, hence the topic will remain “hot”.

: Design of the Latvian 1&2 Euro coin. Source: Bank of Latvia.

The Latvian chapter of Transparency International occasionally engages in very close monitoring of selection of public servants, public procurement tenders and similar processes. From May to July TI Latvia monitored the tender for the implementation of a communication campaign in relation to Latvia’s access to the single European Union currency Euro (Expert function). The Chairwoman of TI Latvia praised Ministry of finance, organizer of the tender, for a superb process that should be as an example for other public bodies. Main reasons for the positive approval by TI Latvia were involvement of a civil society and public relations professional association’s experts, listening to their suggestions and a high level of transparency.

Rights of the elderly, social security

In June the Parliament took a decision to index (increase by a certain coefficient) old-age pensions of up to 200 Latvian lats (287 EUR), despite the Latvian Pensioners Association demand to index pensions up to 250 Latvian lats (359 EUR). In July the Association decided to organize a protest “For Pensioners Rights” that will take place in September (Exerting pressure and reminding function). Interestingly, the Association decided against asking the State President not to announce the legislation as a law.

Head of the Latvian Pensioners Association at a Parliamentary Committee hearing. Source: YouTube channel of the Latvian National Television.

Right of collective bargaining and action, fair and just working conditions

In June the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia organized a protest event and a letter campaign “Hands off the Labor Law” to draw attention to the increasing number of persons at risk of poverty and the raising number of the working poor and draft amendments to the Labor Law which the Confederation views critically. These actions facilitated an invitation to a meeting on July 9 from the Parliament’s Labor and Social Affairs Commission to discuss complaints of the Confederation (Expert function). The Parliamentary Commission tasked the Ministry of Economics to carry out a review of remuneration for overtime work before further decisions.

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.

This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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