Seimas National Security and Defence Committee chairman, “Farmer” group member Vytautas Bakas did not support the special commission on LRT activities conclusions in Seimas and the conclusions were not approved. Recently, V. Bakas has increasingly often expressed opinions not matching the “Farmer” leader Ramūnas Karbauskis.
V. Bakas appeared on Delfi’s Dėmesio Centre. Also on the show – Social Democratic Labour Party chairman Gediminas Kirkilas and veteran Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats member Rasa Juknevičienė.
With controversy the pursuit of financing the ruling coalition members, Social Democratic Labour, which has included a presidential veto and attempts to incorporate this funding into borrowing for defence funding, V. Bakas notes that the chosen model is no different from that seen during the parliamentary investigation on influence on politicians, just in this case there is intent to legalise the process, rather than have it behind closed doors and invisible to everyone. “I believe that this political bribery is what we call activities related to organised criminal activity because this way we have a sort of double standards. You can bribe wile in a Seimas coalition and it is supposedly legalised through legislation, but meanwhile we are outraged when a narrow interest group is profiteering from the state for years. I believe this is unjust and it opposes the values, which our party and our team declared when going to the elections – transparent politics, intolerance to corruption, including among one’s own,” the politician said, noting that he views the efforts to funnel tax payers’ money into a party, which was not elected by voters and only formed in Seimas as political corruption.
V. Bakas believes that such actions downplay achievements in security policy and security in general, however he notes that based on surveys made recently, the people understand the decisions made in security policy. He quips that perhaps this understanding is even greater than among some colleagues in the political left.
“I believe that most of all, such decisions discredit ourselves, that is to say, those who participate in the decisions and I have told both Mr. Kirkilas and Mr. Bernatonis that this will certainly cost their reputations, it will cost far more than those 200 thousand (euro) or will perhaps even be impossible. Maybe a few individual people can secure their electoral campaigns, but in essence, it is a decision that discredits politics and the Seimas as such. I wish to believe that nevertheless people will try to look from another side, a little broader, rather than just a solitary action,” the Seimas NSGK chairman said.
To V. Bakas’ comments, G. Kirkilas notes that the discussion is on the need to adjust a line in the budget, “We are amending regarding defence spending so that we would achieve our commitment of 2%, we need to amend the budget. And it so coincided that in the same line there is this funding. Also as an extra because they were not prior assigned. As for how everyone propagandically links parties and defence… Both defence and transparent party financing are in my opinion strategic matters and do not clash. Yes, we need the funding this year because if it only arrives next year, we will then only receive the dotation after the municipal election. This does not satisfy us. I believe that this is a normal decision, the cabinet can do it, this is no massive sum, which would change or flip the state budget. I believe there is too much uproar over this and the real hidden reason is a fear of competition.”
R. Juknevičienė disagrees, describing the funding plans as a political bribe, where funds are taken from the state budget by the majority’s hands because they feel they imagine they have the power to do so and hand it out to those, who support their coalition in Seimas. “This is a political bribe, this raises no doubt for me. Hiding the interests of Kirkilas’ party under a NATO flag – this has never happened in Lithuanian history before,” she stated.
There are concerns that after the high profile inquiry into business and politicians’ links by the National Security and Defence Committee, nothing much has been done despite half a year passing. V. Bakas responds to this noting that he has brought this up in the “Farmer” Seimas group just recently, wondering how there is political will to form new commissions, but not a single legislative project presented in half a year despite promises to initiate such matters in late summer.
The politician admits that he is not excluded in such reproaches. Nevertheless, the NSGK chairman points out that to prepare such civil property confiscation and lobbying activity laws, work must be done by at least several ministries in unison. “I am prepared, I said today that if no legislative projects are presented in the near future, well then, we will sit during breaks between the Seimas sessions, autumn and winter and we will prepare legislative projects by our own strength. But once again, we seem to have come to agreement with the prime minister today that the first legislative projects will reach Seimas by the first week of November,” V. Bakas said.
He explains that the projects are in the works, however are delayed due to a variety of reasons. This ranges from concern over public response, potentially viewing the projects as excessive, with such work not being done in Lithuania for at least 12 years. “Take the lobbying activity law. Imagine what we propose. The political culture, that is to say the culture of partnership between influence groups and politics, which was very comfortably left under the table, we seek to bring it onto the table. We propose to declare cross interests, that is to say, we seek to state, who is who, what they are seeking, who stands behind it and how it is financed, who are the interested parties in one or other decision or lobbying. And opposition to such changes is large.
But we are talking about how the “Farmers” still have almost two years and can truly allow themselves to pass such projects of long term importance, which would change the rules of the game, which would return politics to the ministries, the Seimas, the municipalities, not some corners by fountains or large offices. Political will is needed for this, a spine is needed for this. And this morning we had a truly acute discussion in our group on this question and at least the prime minister assured that the legislation is at the stage of coordination and a result should appear in the first week of November. I already have a few projects myself, I can present them, but I am worried that they may be of lower quality than a team could prepare. I could certainly present them, but I could make mistakes. I truly doubt whether an individual exists in Seimas, who could prepare a civil property confiscation law on their own. The rules in democratic states are just different,” V. Bakas stated.
The National Security and Defence Commission chairman has been outspoken against the formation of new commissions, which are to supposedly deepen the NSGK’s prior investigation, he has criticised initiatives by Agnė Širinskienė to interfere with the work specifics of the State Security Department (VSD) and the Special Investigation Service (STT). Nevertheless, such initiatives are proceeding. The politician clarifies that he is not protesting against new investigations, but against actions, which pose risks to the activities of the special services and their officers, including their security. “I protest against threats arising to the security of sources and I see no problems with Mrs. Agnė Širinskienė getting acquainted with all that she wants to know, what information was provided from, I believe, 2002 to now to the prime ministers, Seimas speakers, president, the NSGK, all intelligence agencies… But just imagine, just look, who is in that commission, who the people sitting there are. One is the chairman of a party that is being prosecuted and now he will effect control on the intelligence services. With such a platform, formally covered in combatting some corruption, he will now control those services,” he stated.
V. Bakas was unwilling to expand to specific names, only limiting his commentary on how he is horrified by the names in the commission. “They should be investigated themselves. Those whose businesses or family businesses are linked to the Russian energy sector, which have raised massive tensions, political crises already in this term. And now, using Mrs. Širinskienė’s, I don’t know, good intentions or perhaps her having been advised by someone, we are essentially placing all intelligence information on the table for them. You can’t. You can’t do this. Furthermore, there are two NSGK members in her commission. I do not understand the logic. You have an opportunity to find out much, they have read everything, seen everything, they can retell everything for her. But no, the intelligence services’ hands are being restrained, demands are made for all information,” he says.
When asked, what goals he sees in such proceedings and if there are aims to leak, pass on to someone or to compromise someone, the NSGK chairman stated, “I really do not want any conspiracy theories, but I have my own version. I believe that certain coalition partners and people in the opposition were surprised that the intelligence and special services were not sleeping all these years. I saw it in their faces in the committee, when the first information was presented. And now it is likely important for them to find out overall, what the law enforcement knows.
Some people, I am talking about certain politicians, should feel uncomfortable and do feel uncomfortable, we see that. It would appear that they are interested in seeing what is available. Or to frighten, deter law enforcement from cooperating with parliamentary investigations in the future overall, to deter people, who despite political views, trends or forces have earnestly done their work, to show them who is boss.”
The politician notes that one recently made ruling will do definite harm to the Lithuanian state in this respect because information gathered by intelligence agencies will become available to those, who can hardly be trusted, this including certain politicians.
The lack of reliable information safeguards was displayed by information from the LRT investigation leaking among unauthorised MPs. In this respect, V. Bakas observes that such challenges are clearly seen. During his committees work, various notes and requests were made, seeking to obtain information and find out how much the committee knows even before the information was made public, certain intelligence officers were also attacked on the news media, with targeted news articles appearing. These actions sought to antagonise the committee and law enforcement as well as the committee members with one another.
“Now the main goal is to finish the work we started. The goal is for legislation to appear, which would deter those, who enter politics or state service with the intent to steal. This is the main goal for our coalition in terms of national security, I believe,” V. Bakas said.
Nevertheless, MPs, including suspect ones, are likely to pursue information they may need for their own ends. V. Bakas notes that he believes that legal mechanisms will activate to oppose this. From his own end, what he believes he can do is explain to the public, speak up about decisions, which pose a threat. He also notes that world practice is not what is being proposed in Lithuania. “In Norway, there is control of the intelligence branch, MPs can access sources, agencies and such. But this is trusted to a single Constitutional commission, which has absolute trust. Second, what we propose to ensure control of intelligence services – we propose to establish an ombudsman. One of the 36 proposals is an ombudsman, who we appoint, who we trust, they are an authoritative individual. If doubts arise that something was concealed or abused, the ombudsman enters work, presents their conclusions and informs the public. But you cannot have random politicians come up, who have interests, such as in the Russia-related energy sector, take all the information and go on their way. This cannot happen. There must be parliamentary control, but there have to be mechanisms for it to secure state interests,” he stated.
In terms of potentially being nominated the “Farmer” candidate to become Vilnius Mayor, V. Bakas explains that he could consider taking up such an initiative as a team, however he wishes to first finish one task. First legislation must appear, which reflect the NSGK conclusions and protect from those, who steal in politics and state service.
According to the politician, only a few laws are needed to accomplish this, primarily the corruption prevention law dealing with civil property confiscation and lobbying activities. Just this, in the politician’s eyes could perhaps help Lithuania rise from being stuck in its position below the EU average on the transparency index, being surpassed by a total of 20 places by Ireland, which has even further reinforced its anti-corruption legislation recently.
In terms of the proposals discussed earlier in the interview that have been presented by Agnė Širinskienė or perhaps Ramūnas Karbauskis by proxy, while V. Bakas considers continued cooperation with the party, he responded, “I am not considering it. I am saying that one must finish their work. I did not come to politics by accident. I had my own programme, my own views and now I believe that we have made another step with the parliamentary investigation, but we have to finish what we started. Otherwise, the public will be even more disappointed. We will return to 2006, when a similar parliamentary investigation was held, but due to political chaos, nothing happened. Now my main personal goal is to finish the job. Then we can talk about what’s next. And if we do not do it, I can hardly imagine further participation in this political team’s work. It would be unfair toward the people we pledged changes to. Finally, it would show a certain distance from our commitments. We must finish these crucial tasks.
By the way, this work wasn’t done without the group. I am careful for it. Perhaps there are those, who want me to say everything is bad. No, if not for this group, if not for this majority, we would never perform these investigations, we would never talk about it. Just remember, there were attempts to change the lobbying law two years ago. Everything was blocked. This group and majority has the potential to make changes. The question is whether it will withdraw from what it started, from the reforms and initiatives. Whether it will make them the arena of cheap political bickering or whether decisions with long term impact will be made.”
He admits that so far, things are proceeding with difficulty, but nonetheless they are proceeding. At the same time, he hopes that the decisions he finds dangerous will not proceed and as an example, he points to the conclusions of the commission on the LRT not being approved.
“It is easy to withdraw, telling everyone off, slamming the door and leaving. I believe that you must unite, convince, punch if need be, speak loudly, but as long as there is possibility to convince, you must make use of it,” V. Bakas concluded.