President calls meeting of ministers, asks for updates on reforms

President Valdis Zatlers has again taken the unusual step of calling a special meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, this time asking Latvian government officials to update him on their planned reforms.

Zatlers has set the meeting for Sept. 15, the president’s press office announced Sept. 2. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and five other ministers are expected at the meeting.

In April, the president called a special meeting in which he asked the prime minister and two other ministers to address government reforms in the face of the global economic crisis, which has hit Latvia particularly hard. Since then, Latvia’s economy has worsened and, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, the government has been forced to deeply slash the state budget in an effort to avoid going broke.

Cuts to education and health funding, among others, have resulted in demonstrations. An estimated 200 residents of Bauska blocked traffic Aug. 31 in protest over reorganization of the local hospital, while hundreds of teachers demonstrated Sept. 1 in Rīga across the street from the Cabinet of Ministers building.

The president called the Sept. 15 meeting, according to the press office, because he has heard from people around Latvia that they are not fully informed about what the government is doing.

The agenda for the Sept. 15 meeting includes:

  • An update from the Commission of Strategic Analysis (Stratēģiskās analīzes komisija) on the social situation in Latvia. The commission, through surveys and a series of forums hosted around Latvia, has been gathering information on where Latvians see the future of the country.
  • An update from Dombrovksis on progress in restructuring government operations. Since last year, some ministries and agencies have been merged or eliminated. Hundreds of government employees have been let go.
  • An update from Tatjana Koķe, minister of education and science, on reform of the educational system. Former presidents Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and Guntis Ulmanis on Sept. 2 joined a number of educators and researchers in an open letter to Dombrovskis urging the government to address educational reforms that lead to heightening the country’s competitiveness.
  • An update from Baiba Rozentāle, minister of health, on reform of health care. Rozentāle came under fire for her initial reluctance to meet with the protestors in Bauska. The previous health minister, Ivars Eglītis, quit in June, saying he would not be responsible for what happens to medical care in the wake of budget cuts.
  • An update from Uldis Augulis, minister of welfare, on efforts to guarantee social security.
  • An update from Artis Kampars, minister of economy, on business development and efforts to reduce bureaucractic hurdles.
  • An update from Einars Repše, minister of finance, on access to European Union funding.

Although the Cabinet of Ministers meets regularly, according to the Latvian constitution the president is allowed to call extraordinary meetings and determine the agenda.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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