A. Kubilius about cabinet reforms: theoretically a horse, practically – no vital signs

Andrius Kubilius
Istorijos detektyvai

“Wages are being raised for prosecutors in hopes that their work quality will improve, while after teachers requested pay raises, they were told to work better; this sounds like a pathetic wordplay,” former conservative Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius tells LRT.lt. According to him while the current majority rode into Seimas on the reforms horse, no real changes are going on.

Recently the former prime minister shared the “responsible Polish development plan” by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. A. Kubilius points out that a number of the challenges identified in the plan are also spoken of in Lithuania, ranging from the middle income trap to demographic problems and that of weak institutions. The politician observes that what is not yet discussed in Lithuania is the economy being overly reliant on foreign capital, however he believes that it may be a little early to speak of this in Lithuania, given a perceived lack of foreign capital in the first place.

A. Kubilius praises the solutions posited in M. Morawiecki’s plan for their intellectual and logical presentation and states that he observes a number of similarities with the Conservatives’ own programme and texts, just in a condensed form of a single text. “One comes to feel some positive envy because over here, on one hand due to political stagnation, one the other hand due to muddling about in minor details, we lack a perception of fundamental problems and their solutions through an ambitious long-term vision,” the former prime minister says.

Prior to the latest Seimas elections the Conservatives presented their Plan for Lithuania and the Lithuania 2030 strategy. Kubilius laments that while being in the opposition, very systematic plans could be drawn up, in the end they do not have the mandate to fulfil it and while many parts of the Conservative programme for 2008-2012 was achieved, it was to an extent derailed due to the 2008 financial crisis which demanded to divert resources to coping with the crisis.

In terms of what Lithuania could learn from Poland, the politician highlights the need for a clear perception of the middle income trap, where wages rise faster than productivity. To resolve this, he explains, there is a need to focus on economic modernisation, focusing on technological advancement. A. Kubilius points out that something observed by the Polish in their plan as well, this requires strong institutions, including a solid scientific research and university base. In this regard the politician pans the current cabinet university consolidation, stating that nothing good can be expected from a merger of two universities on the verge of bankruptcy.

Another point that Lithuania could learn from that Kubilius points out is a focus on regional development. However unlike in Lithuania where the focus is on municipalities, Kubilius explains that the Poles focus on economic development, strengthening industrial centres, which he believes should be done in Lithuania as well, to which end the politician states he has prepared a legislative project which should seek to do just so.

Regarding why Lithuanian policy appears to not have matured enough for long term visions and has yielded to cyclical change, Kubilius says that he believes it is related to the inherent advantage of larger countries, which is that they have more intellectual capital and more educated individuals, which contributes to government institution capacities as well.

“In Lithuania there is not overly much intellectual capital in government institutions. There are no means to strengthen this intellectual capital, there is also a worry of paying larger wages.

When there is a lack of intellectual capital, policy is superficial, does not resolve the problem, everyone votes for new parties in anger during elections and we struggle to exit the cycle,” A. Kubilius says.

The former prime minister observes that the cabinets of A. Butkevičius and S. Skvernelis are rather similar and while the new cabinet is showing signs of breakthrough in several areas, these are either fragmented actions or simply the work of well-prepared ministers. Kubilius notes that there are some three to four such ministries where progress is seen, such as the efforts of the Ministry of Transport and Communications in making the work of Lietuvos Geležinkeliai more transparent, advances in national defence and energy. Kubilius notes that everything is fine with foreign policy as well, but at the same time finds that it did not require any real adjustments anyway.

Similarly to the president, A. Kubilius finds there to be a lack of clear priorities and ambitious, easily understandable goals, with the cabinet’s fragmented work not allowing to see prospects for improvement for the situation in Lithuania. “The political system is unable to generate new hope and the voters are expressing their disappointment by packing their luggage and leaving,” the politician states.

When asked what happened to the reforms that the current cabinet rode in on like a horse, A. Kubilius responds that, “Theoretically it’s a horse, practically – there are no vital signs. Perhaps it is the problem of all new parties that they arrive on [a wave of] popularity, unmeasured by a deeper understanding of content and then later it turns out that there is no content within. The leaders and the entire team are lacking in it. Then there is much shuffling about however no real changes are accomplished. Take higher education reform, university consolidation. It appears that the process has been left to its own devices, there is a complete lack of state logic in the process.”

The veteran politician expressed concern over repeated changes to the second stage pension which stops people from trusting the pension system, while such systems namely depend on people’s trust. He laments that while such issues need to be dealt with carefully, instead a number of statements are released to the public, coincidental episodes are identified, which make it difficult to measure the situation, which, he notes frightens that the government will perform changes without thinking them through with care.

In terms of emigration, A. Kubilius explains that he believes that the example of Ireland should be emulated. “Attracting investment and creating new jobs is the only way to halt emigration. You cannot unlink emigration from principal economic decisions,” he says. As for why this has not occurred so far despite years of discussions stating just so, Kubilius observes that there is a lack of concrete planning and that resources need to be focused on related areas, preparing more qualified bachelor’s students, funding master’s studies abroad and attracting investment.

“We have the whole chain identified and I believe it can be done, however work has to be put in. The problem in Lithuania is that we are unable to set priorities. It is not enough to state what a priority is, it also must be provided more resources. And there is a lack of political will to defend priorities, dedicate more resources to them when others object,” the politician points out.

While some say there is a lack of human resources and students choosing to study in needed specialisations, A. Kubilius points to the example of when several major biotech companies arrived in Lithuania and the number of students in the area began rising. He believes that in this regard it is important to show students, what exactly they could do upon finishing studies. The former prime minister notes that an overall overhaul of the education system is needed, as the basis of the current system was created in 1990, almost 30 years ago under very different circumstances. He pans the current education shifts, stating that, “Meanwhile over here the minister of education declares that homework is not needed. Such an attitude “kills” me, when a detailed is taken out, while a systematic view is needed. It is a perfect example of unnecessary actions.”

Regarding wages, A. Kubilius finds that while larger wages for prosecutors may certainly be necessary, he once again finds systematic change lacking, with a focus on just a single group. “When you have doctors, teachers and scientists right there also legitimately raising questions of their own wages, when wages are being raised for prosecutors in hopes that their work quality will improve, while after teachers requested pay raises, they were told to work better; this sounds like a pathetic wordplay. And the politicians are once more acting in a way that the people do not receive any hope that things could get better,” he says.

With questions toward Ramūnas Karbauskis regarding the import of Russian nitrates over the EU border in order to avoid EU anti-dumping duties and also regarding manipulations of grain pricing floating around on social media from prominent public figures, A. Kubilius has called upon the minister of agriculture, chairman of the Competition Council and Seimas Economics Committee chairman to review the situation. Kubilius states that he expects fair answers from the officials in a situation where Russia appears to have found a means to bypass anti-dumping duties applied by the EU.

“The question arises whether responsible Lithuanian institutions have looked into the situation, if the nitre with residues should not be taxed. In my opinion, based on the information in the public sphere, this is a primitive bypassing of anti-dumping prohibitions,” A. Kubilius concludes.

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