Institutions supervised by the Ministry of Justice have an "unhealthy work environment"

In the decision signed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Jānis Bordāns to impose a disciplinary sanction on Colonel Oksana Kulakova, the Deputy Warden of Iļģuciems Prison, there are complaints about both the emotional abuse and bossing practiced by the management of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Latvian Prison Administration (LPA), and the bossing of subordinates by officials of the LPA.
25.05.2022. Uldis Dreiblats, Ritums Rozenbergs
The disciplinary case reveals that in the units supervised by the Ministry of Justice, employees are at each other's throats: subordinates accuse the head of emotional abuse and incompetence, but the Minister of Justice is powerlessly tolerant of the situation ©Vladislavs PROŠKINS, F64 Photo Agency

The disciplinary case against Colonel Kulakova, opened on July 17, 2020, reveals not only an unflattering picture of the relations between the employees of the LPA, a subordinate unit of the Ministry of Justice, but also the indifference of the supervising officials to the 30% bonuses to the basic salary, fixed in connection with the performance of certain duties, for which the public administration has not received a proper return.

Offence after offence

Kulakova and another employee of the LPA, Major Nataļja Gruzdova, were entrusted with the additional duty of administering the supervision of personal data protection in the institution, for which they both received the aforementioned 30% salary bonus. Over time, complaints have accumulated that the Colonel and the Major are not coping with their duties. As a result, disciplinary proceedings have also been initiated against their superior, the then head of the LPA, Ilona Spure (more details here).

The Disciplinary Board (DB), established by a decision of the Minister of Justice, found a long list of violations, namely that Kulakova "partially violated the duty of the Data Protection Officer to advise the employees of the Administration and its departments on data protection"; "violated the duty of the Data Protection Officer to monitor compliance with the requirements of laws and regulations on data protection"; "violated the duty to develop internal regulations and other documents"; "violated the obligation to prepare an assessment of the adequacy of the processing of personal data"; "violated the obligation to draw up personal data processing registers"; "violated the obligation to collect and maintain certain information on each processing of personal data"; "violated the obligation to determine the legal basis for each processing of personal data"; "violated the obligation to ensure that none of the other obligations imposed on Kulakova to perform in the Administration does not give rise to a conflict of interests".

"No, you're the ones!"

The Disciplinary Board has asked the Colonel to provide an explanation. In it, according to the Disciplinary Board's account of the decision, as transcribed in the decision signed by the Minister, Kulakova replied, inter alia, with counter-insults: "The illegality of the actions of the Administration and the Ministry of Justice is reinforced by the fact that the emotional abuse was initiated not only to alienate and ostracize individuals from the collective, but is primarily related to the aim of ensuring that the individuals against whom disciplinary proceedings were fabricated and initiated leave the service and that senior officials of the Administration and the Ministry of Justice can continue to conceal actions that are contrary to the requirements of the Law on the State Administration and other normative acts."

Having reviewed Kulakova's explanation, the Disciplinary Board concluded that the answers were not substantive and requested further clarifications from the Colonel. On August 6, 2020, the DB, having reviewed the Colonel's explanation, found it necessary to clarify additional circumstances for an impartial examination of the disciplinary case, and therefore prepared additional questions and an invitation to Kulakova to appear before the Ministry of Justice on August 6, 2020, for the interview scheduled by the DB; however, Kulakova did not appear for the scheduled interview."

Kulakova replied in writing to the BD, stating that "as of the end of 2019, the Head of the Administration chose a destructive communication with Kulakova. All attempts by Kulakova to explain and call on the Head of the Administration to comply strictly with the provisions of the legislation were immediately (and sometimes aggressively) questioned and unjustifiably criticized, thereby disparaging Kulakova as an experienced and high-class professional. This made Kulakova feel humiliated, undervalued and, given the need for officials to respect the subordination established, powerless. This was the result of the bossing by the Head of the Administration, which, on April 6, 2020, resulted in Kulakova's transfer to the post of Deputy Head of Iļģuciems Prison. This whole situation in the Administration, the actions of the Head of the Administration, the prevailing negative atmosphere, the unhealthy work environment, the lack of knowledge and competence of the Head of the Administration, the inadequate management of resources, the chaotic copying of documents that do not correspond to competence, the giving of tasks that do not comply with the requirements of the regulations and legislation, as well as the above, constitute emotional abuse. ... In response to a question from the DB on the practice of the Administration to report problematic situations or the need to address an issue, Kulakova pointed out that there is no uniform practice in the Administration on how to report problematic situations. For example, the head of the administration can choose not to accept a report that he does not like and to return it to the preparer without any resolution or follow-up of the document. The DB has acted unlawfully and contrary to the law by inviting Kulakova for an interview. By asking Kulakova to answer more than 60 questions within five working days, the DB failed to comply with the principle of proportionality, which must always be assessed in conjunction with the legitimate aim and the principle of non-discrimination."

Not assessing the appropriateness of the 30% bonus

Having examined the explanations of Kulakova and the other officials responsible, the DB concludes that "an additional payment of 30% of the monthly salary has been granted to Kulakova for the performance of duties in addition to those set out in the job description, i.e. for the performance of the duties of Data Protection Specialist."

The DB concluded that "the Data Protection Specialists (i.e. Kulakova and Gruzdova), inter alia, did not perform such an essential duty as the preparation of a data protection impact assessment"; "the development of a personal data processing adequacy assessment has not been initiated"; "Kulakova also failed to fulfil an essential duty of a data protection officer, such as the establishment of a register of the processing of personal data"; "Kulakova has breached the obligation to ensure that none of the other duties performed by Kulakova in the administration creates a conflict of interest"; "The State Data Protection Inspectorate, having assessed the job description of the Deputy Head of the Administration, as well as the DB, perceived a conflict of interest in the performance of these duties, as a data protection officer should not hold a position in an institution which requires them to determine the purposes and means of processing personal data".

Despite these harsh conclusions, the Minister of Justice Bordāns, when assessing the findings of the Disciplinary Board, did not pay attention to the appropriateness of spending money on salary bonuses for two years.

The unhealthy work environment was created "negligently" because it "could not have been failed to foresee"!

The Minister has merely stated that, and we quote, "Kulakova's disciplinary offence must be found to have been committed negligently, as Kulakova could not have failed to foresee the possibility of the harmful consequences of her actions"; "in the course of the investigation of the disciplinary case, no aggravating circumstances have been established with regard to the compliance of Kulakova, the damage caused as a result of the disciplinary offence committed, and no circumstances precluding disciplinary liability within the meaning of the Law on Disciplinary Liability exist in the specific disciplinary case".

On the basis of the above and other circumstances, Bordāns has decided to "impose a disciplinary punishment of a reprimand" on Kulakova.


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