Different challenges await new mayors of Lithuania’s biggest cities

Kaunas coat of arms
DELFI (R.Achmedovo nuotr.)

“I think the tasks in these cities [Vilnius and Kaunas] will be different. As far as Vilnius is concerned, first of all, of course, it will be necessary to assess the city’s financial situation very carefully, since it poses a really big threat not just to the city’s finances, but, to a certain extent, to the country’s financial stability as well.

“Second, there are still many tasks outstanding in the energy sector and Vilnians do have the right to demand much lower prices of heat. They were promised substantial reductions, but, with the previous mayor still in power, it never happened. Let’s hope the new mayor will be successful in this area,” Nausėda, adviser to SEB Bankas president, told BNS.

Speaking about the new mayor of Kaunas, he singled out the growth of investment inflows as the main challenge.

“Vilnius is kind of a hot pot attracting investment and, to tell the truth, even a below-average mayor won’t be able to reverse this process. Meanwhile the situation in Kaunas calls for active measures and the mayor and his team first of all have to show the city’s attractive and interesting points, to compare it with other large cities so as to make sure that it’s not the No 2 or even the No 3 city, after Klaipėda…

“Kaunas needs business investments to rejuvenate it. It has to be investment in the city of Kaunas in general, not just in the free economic zone of Kaunas,” the analyst said.

In his view, the fact that the new mayor of Kaunas is a businessman is an advantage. Still, he doubts whether Matijošaitis, once working as the mayor of Lithuania’s second-largest city, will manage to fully distance himself from his business in Vičiūnai group.

Nausėda believes that Šimašius, as the mayor of Vilnius, and the ruling coalition will be able to step up cooperation in the implementation of major projects, including the reorganization of the heating sector, the construction of the national stadium, etc.

Šimašius, the Liberal Movement’s candidate for Vilnius mayor, defeated incumbent Artūras Zuokas in the run-offs on Sunday. In Kaunas, Matijošaitis unseated incumbent conservative Andrius Kupčinskas, who has lead the city for over seven years.

Transparency issues

Lithuania’s municipalities should all deal with non-transparency of finances, an analyst with Swedbank Lithuania has said, adding that the authorities should consider stepping up the powers of mayors, which have been elected directly for the first time ever in Lithuania.

“Although mayors have been elected in a direct vote, mayors’ powers remain rather limited… The key powers are held by the municipal council, and not the mayor. I think that mayors need bigger powers if we want the voters’ decision expressed in electing mayors to have a bigger impact and swifter results,” Nerijus Mačiulis told BNS.

Speaking about the problems apparent in all Lithuanian municipalities, he in particular mentioned non-transparency of finances.

“The municipality of Vilnius is the biggest and the most important, but it’s a problem of the whole country. Municipal companies are not obliged to submit reports and local authorities are abusing this exemption. In particular, they establish loss-making companies, which are financed from municipal budgets. Sometimes such subsidies are necessary, but in some cases it’s just a waste of money,” the analyst said, adding that the local authorities should be obliged to improve the transparency of their finances and the management of their companies.

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