Skvernelis on embryo freezing, new Cabinet programme and more…

Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

– Mister Skvernelis, let us begin from where your political majority started off – the ban on freezing embryos, which has caused a great uproar. The first task, is expected to be the key priority. Is there nothing better to do than dig into a topic where everything is in order already?

There was no artificial insemination law for 15 years, but it was finally passed. Now we have a sudden idea of making an intervention, even if in good spirit. I would agree that laws should regulate what is done with frozen embryos afterward. There are arguments that support banning them being sent outside the country, but we are talking about treatment. I do not think that it is fair to say that we will cure all patients from one or another illness in one specific way, regardless of individual needs and diagnosis. Let’s be honest, the amendments appeared due to moral and value decisions. But I believe that in the current situation where birth rates are low, when 50 thousand families are unable to have children, the state has to provide all possible conditions. If there are alternatives, it is the patient who should choose them, but saying that one method is better, while the other is worse is not fair. That is the stance I hold to and will continue to adhere to.

– You mentioned embryo export, but the resolution of non-existent problems is simply the imitation of activity. We do not have a single bit of proof that anyone is exporting and selling embryos in Lithuania. Why resolve problems that don’t exist? There are hundreds of problems everyone knows about.

For a part of society it is a problem that every member of Seimas has various opinions. Judicial regulation is often necessary to pre-empt events because afterward there is always criticism of why the possibility of illegal activity was not considered. The intention to amend this section is in my opinion logical. But regarding the emotions that had flared up and created chaos, I do not think it is the right way.

– Did this not show that the new majority, which you are part of, is easily tempted and lured by the ideas and pseudo-ideas of various people? The legislative amendments did not look like the decision of a critically thinking community because the arguments were one sided and they were the guideline. More like a herd that was lured by someone. What do you think?

No, I know those people well and they cannot be called that. Those are critically thinking people. In preparing the election programme, those things were discussed, there were various opinions. It was decided to allow everyone to vote according to their beliefs and arguments they heard. A number of fraction members, who care about this strongly, managed to gather the signatures needed to make these amendments appear. Every member of Seimas, however, decides how they wish to vote. The coalition agreement does not have a formulation on this question and it is left up to each member of Seimas to decide individually.

– Let us talk about the government programme. Many aims, few means. Why?

We are striving to adhere to judicial procedure, which clearly outlines what programme document should contain what aims. The programme was constructed in adherence to procedure. I believe that it is unorthodox, it has to be read whole because it describes a horizontal problem solving method. For example education is not only an issue of the education system, it is also economics, regions and interior affairs. The goals are outlined clearly and are definitely ambitious. After three months the government will have another key document – the government programme implementation plan, which will outline specific tasks.

– Perhaps the programme is also insufficiently specific because you are yet to take charge of ministries, are not in control of the experience and insights of civil servants, the legislation being prepared, the data and such?

In part we do have such opportunities because the assigned ministers are given the authority to use certain information and separate resources. It is not sufficient, but that is not an essential issue. There will be many decisions that will need to be made based on in-depth analysis. The goals in the programme were outlined very clearly, but regarding means of how to pursue them there are discussions and arguments. Let us allow the cabinet to choose the best – most reasoned, based on rational calculation way.

– It’s as if you are admitting that the programme is written for the electoral campaign, not for future tasks?

I do not.

– But reading the government programme the impression appears that it is significantly more moderate than the Peasant and Greens campaign programme, your talks are also far more moderated than some of your colleagues. In many places specific electoral pledges turned into goals “if the opportunity presents itself”, namely in terms of raising pensions and etc. Some of them vanished overall. For example the goal of state pharmacies vanished?

It wasn’t expected to be there because even the campaign programme did not contain it.

– Yes, but you verbally mentioned it in debates. This idea appeared after you presented the electoral programme.

The goal is simple – pharmaceutical prices. Today they are far too large, when Lithuanian prescription drugs can be purchased for 30-60% less in Poland. The issue of medicine prices is there, but how do we resolve it? There is a radical and perhaps unmeasured proposal to establish a network of state pharmacies, but how much would it cost the state and would it be effective? Furthermore there already are a number of pharmacies belonging to the state. This is why the government has the goal of reducing the price of medicine. How will we pursue that? One of the ways is electronic prescriptions. It has been long avoided in order to prevent it from becoming clear who, how much and to who prescribes medicine. Another avenue – a mechanism for medicine compensation. In the programme we wrote that we will reveal how decisions are made, not just the protocols themselves, but also video footage. Then you will see based on what arguments one or another medicament turns up in the list of compensated drugs.

– The reform of the public sector is one of your first goals, you‘ve said so at the tribune in Seimas. And the primary aim for it is to fire officials who are related to other political parties and start forming a network of your own people?

I see that the public sector is operating ineffectively, it is too large, the wages are too small, not competitive and there is too much limitation on work, etc. There is a need for change in this area. Many have asked me, how many people will be fired, but for now I cannot say. Speaking of putting our own people in state service, there is no such goal. In forming the cabinet there was no such partisanship. The corps of deputy ministers was formed analogously, same with advisors. They are chosen by ministers, discussed with me. We are not an employment agency, party members know this very well from day one. The rules of the game are different. While I am Prime Minister neither the cabinet, nor its subordinate institutions will be employment agencies for party members.

– But there are other coalition partners?

We’ve told the same to our partners. They try to propose their party members, but we are not changing our principles. Individuals who lost their Seimas mandate and are unemployed will not be given positions. Yes, among the Social Democrats there are people who are competent and can work in the posts of deputy minister as personal appointees by ministers. That principle will be held up.

– Moving two ministries to Kaunas was earlier presented as a foregone conclusion. Now you intend to analyse opportunities. What did you analyse, when you promised it?

The idea is only to move two or three ministries to Kaunas, it can be done very quickly. We find the facilities, distribute warning leaflets to employees, fire a number and that’s it. But do we want to? The government is primarily concerned with the effectiveness of the public sectors, it wants to see change in ministries, generation of ideas, providing services to both our businesses and foreign investors, who are often deterred by the large bureaucracy. Another important thing – developing regions. This is why we are saying we first need to review what the economic effectiveness of moving ministries will be. We have to look at not just two ministries, but the whole. If we see that it is a rational choice, that it will promote activity, that it will encourage Kaunas, the ministries will be moved.

– But you promised, the people of Kaunas heard the promise, perhaps some of them voted due to ministries being moved to their city because it’ll benefit it. And now you are starting to discuss and it could so be that you will change your minds?

I believe that we have to make the necessary and logical decisions, not ones we want to hear.

– But you should only promise after weighing the issue adequately. After all people voted for what you promised?

I don’t know if many people in Kaunas voted because of one or two ministries potentially being moved there.

– Another important factor – taxes. The programme contains an interesting section – “In the long term, the government will seek to reform the tax system and implement progressive taxation, when public opinion is favourable”. What sort of formulation is this?

If we want social dialogue, to hear the people’s opinion, such a formulation is very normal.

– You’ll arrange a social campaign, advertising?

It is a matter of choice. Some think that an advert is enough and you can already call it social dialogue. There were similar attempts with the Labour Code and social model. We think about social dialogue differently, we want to hear the people’s opinions in all questions. The reason we won the elections is because we listened to the people. We will continue to.

– It appears that the reason you won was because you promised people what they wanted to hear. When the time comes to implement it, you are pulling the breaks in many places?

It’s a matter of evaluation. I think that we are pulling no breaks, not shifting gears down. We are saying whether we will rush toward the goal on an icy road with summer tires or will after all put on winter tires and reach the goal much sooner. Some perhaps think that we will get embroiled in routine and will get nothing done. They are wrong. The changes we promised will definitely be done.

– For now it appears that you rushed into power on summer tires, cannot drive any further in winter, but have no others to swap to?

We have the tires and we have very clear routes. We have the people and the directions of what and how will be done. We only need one detail – to start working.

– The government programme contains many goals. Can you identify the three most important to you?

Education. It is a challenge we must resolve. Also the reduction in poverty and social stratification, the putting in order of the public sector. And no doubt, fighting corruption.

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