The opposition is only warming up in the fights for budget lines

The state budget for next year has started its way in the Saeima, which is planned to be 68.62 million euros smaller compared to this year. The adoption of this important document is usually accompanied by a heated and long debate run by the opposition, but for the time being it is taking a break to provide a real show to the pandemic-weary followers of the process during its approval at first reading.
18.10.2021. Jānis Lasmanis
 
©Ernests Dinka / Saeima

Last Friday, at an extraordinary sitting, the Saeima submitted the budget and the accompanying package of draft laws to the committee for consideration. The Ministry of Finance reports that the budget for next year is set at 1.101 billion euros, which is 68.62 million euros less than this year.

The budget was submitted to the committees for consideration relatively quickly - in less than two hours. The debate was also not extensive. It is expected to become sharper when approving the budget at first and second reading.

However, even now, it can be expected that, using the classic media attention to this process, opposition MPs will do their utmost to highlight what they consider to be disproportionate spending or shortcomings in the budgeting process. So far, only two opponents have taken the initiative in the debate.

Aldis Gobzems, the chairman of the Independents (Neatkarīgie) Saeima faction, was the first to speak about the process during the debate.

"I am against this system in which any law is prepared, any draft law related to the budget, how this budget is prepared and how it is considered in the Saeima (..) the real budget discussion on any law (..) has taken place behind closed doors (..) In reality, all this had to be on the table a month ago, so that when the budget was formally discussed by the Saeima, it would be of high quality,” said A. Gobzems.

The opposition has pointed out this usual procedure every year, but so far there is no indication that it could change, as opposition initiatives would make the goals set by the coalition difficult to achieve.

The other Member who took part in the debate was Viktors Valainis, representing the Union of Greens and Farmers (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība). He expressed his conviction that the package of bills accompanying the budget should not include amendments providing for an increase in the salaries of ministers and Members.

"In this case, I would like to tell you, colleagues, that this issue of remuneration of the public administration positions and this proposed concept cannot be part of the draft budget law. It cannot be such a concept, it is essentially a reform, and it also needs to be properly considered as a reform, and not as a matter of urgency in two readings as a draft budget package. This, in my opinion, is the most important thing to take into account here," said the Member, noting that the coalition's statement that the increase in salaries would not affect the budget expenditure line is a misleading statement.

The Member also pointed out that there are employees in the country whose salaries should definitely be increased because the results of their work are visible, and at the same time asked whether the proposed salary increase for the government and Saeima Members should not be seen as blatant shamelessness at a time when citizens face huge challenges such as rising electricity, heat prices and the Covid-19 crisis.

On Friday, the Saeima supported the submission of 15 draft laws to the Budget and Finance (Taxation) Committee of the Saeima, however, some draft laws were also entrusted to other committees.

Although the Minister of Finance Jānis Reirs has changed the traditional leather budget portfolio to a new one, the debates of the Saeima Members on this nationally important document will still remain sharp. But for the opposition, this will only mean presenting their ideas to the interested public, not their execution.

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