Entrepreneur Emīls Jakrins: Riga under Ķirsis and Staķis is in chaos

Emīls Jakrins, a politician and entrepreneur, believes that Riga has destroyed the old system of city governance, which worked well in the past, and lacks the capacity to implement a new one. Lack of understanding of urban management makes them shovel sand on top of the snow, allows them to transform the city's infrastructure into something disfigured and chaotic.
01.02.2022. NNeatkarīgā
 
©Rūta Kalmuka/F64

Loud headlines accompany the new term of the Riga City Council almost at every turn. One of the freshest news stories is that the city's budget for 2022 has the biggest deficit in the city's history - €160 million. A large part of the budget is earmarked for infrastructure - how do you see this increase?

Given that the city has an accumulated deficit of €1 billion that has not been invested in the city's street infrastructure over the last 30 years, every euro that is invested in addition is welcome. Of course, it is necessary to work carefully and thoughtfully to ensure that every euro is spent as efficiently as possible, that every euro invested is spent for the benefit of the citizens. Let us keep an eye on how the Riga City Council will manage to put these plans into practice.

A week ago, Neatkarīgā published the results of an SKDS survey on the ratings of municipal leaders. The lowest rating was given to the Mayor of Riga, M. Staķis. How do you rate the work of the Riga City Council and the Mayor?

The way the new parliamentary term is currently working is clearly reflected in the SKDS study - and this is sad for the residents of the whole city. The interests of different groups of citizens are not balanced, the transformation of infrastructure is chaotic and disorganized, and the changes that are introduced later on are also reversed by themselves, for example, as has happened with the bike lanes on Aleksandra Čaka Street. All in all: bollards everywhere, ill-considered car and bicycle infrastructure projects, unclean streets, a ban on gas boilers, lengthy bridge repairs. The list goes on and on. Citizens are frustrated, sectoral experts point to mistakes, the opposition points to the interests of the citizens, meanwhile, unfortunately, the City Council leadership just makes excuses to the media and continues to make the same mistakes that the citizens of Riga are paying for and will pay for in the long run.

You mentioned the bridge repairs. A short time ago, Vice-Mayor Vilnis Ķirsis said in a public interview that the so-called bad bridges of Brasa and Deglava were designed under Emīls Jakrins.

This is not true. I am sure that Vice-Mayor Ķirsis, who is responsible for traffic, knows this very well, as he was a member of the Committee on Traffic and Transport for the whole of the previous parliamentary term. In my previous position, I have presented countless times the problems of these poor quality projects, which I had received as an "inheritance" from the previous head of the Traffic Department of the Riga City Council, Vitālijs Reinbahs. The Committee was repeatedly faced with the choice of whether or not to terminate these contracts, despite 2-3 years of delays in the previously concluded contract. In each case, the Committee, with Ķirsis present, decided to allow the designer to finish the work they had started - unfortunately not of very high quality - by applying the maximum possible penalty. Moreover, these contracts are publicly available (see attached) - they clearly indicate who signed them - the then and now head of the Traffic Department, Reinbahs. The Eastern Motorway project, which Ķirsis publicly boasts of and calls a project of his time, was launched on August 17, 2016, following a thorough brief and plan drawn up under my leadership, and after I concluded a contract as a result of a tender with the undisputed leader in the Latvian engineering projects sector, Jānis Bidzāns, associate professor at Riga Technical University, and his company, PS G.B.V. And as any competent road builder knows - 90% of the result is the quality of the project and only about 10% is the physical construction.

But in a way, I am not surprised by this approach to dealing with issues on the part of Mr Ķirsis, because this is the man who explained the failure to clear the streets and the Council's inaction in actually dealing with the problem by saying that, you see, you can't catch snow in the air.

The fact that the streets are not being cleared is a concern for many residents. People fall, trip, slip and get injured. There are traffic jams, accidents and casualties. What to do, what solutions do you see?

Let's start by returning the requirement to clear pavements and roads to the surface to the rules. The old system, which worked well in the past, has been destroyed, but the new system obviously lacks ability, experience or both. If this is not done - sand, salt and whatnot can be spread over the snow layer - it does not change the essence, the streets remain dirty. The opposition has been arguing against this since the autumn, warning that this will end badly. The large cities at these latitudes - which are actually not that many, being more to the north - have much fewer days of temperature fluctuating above and below freezing, while those further south experience far fewer freezing days. So it is almost impossible, or very, very expensive, to do without salt-based mixtures to melt ice from road surfaces.

The Vice-Mayor has not been stingy with his public statements lately, including on TV3 when he said that he considered it necessary for Rīgas satiksme to take action against the former board of directors of the company for unpaid taxes of a contracted company. What do you think of this position of the Vice-Mayor?

This situation can be compared with a case that took place not long ago, in which the prosecutor's office indicted Rūdolfs Brēmanis, a former diplomat delegated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for fraud involving more than €100,000. Drawing parallels, Ķirsis, a former adviser to the then Foreign Minister, can be accused of not having control over the diplomat's activities. Rīgas satiksme and its board of directors have no de jure influence in the company Rīgas karte, which was founded under the then-mayor of Riga Jānis Birks. This is because, according to the memorandum of association, the operational management of the company is carried out by Conduent Business Solutions, one of the world's largest multi-billion companies operating in this sector, under the leadership of its nominated chairman, who has been a French national for all these years. The management of Rīgas satiksme has never had any leverage, legally or practically, to influence the choice of subcontractors for Rīgas karte. It is therefore evident that political slogans are being used in this situation about the persons involved, who in fact have no affiliation whatsoever.

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