Skvernelis says he’s made up his mind about participation in Presidential elections

Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

There are more cases when businessmen, who have all the necessary permits, have to stop the building of investment projects, when officials change their mind on permits that have been issued before. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis says that he won’t tolerate things like that and will promote responsibility through financial instruments: “If the state suffers because of this then we’ll just have to review the budgets of the institutions. <…> Now someone looked and decided that the object extends over half a meter over a pine and decides that the object can no longer be here.”

A discussion with the PM about construction, latest ambitions to tighten the availability of alcohol, reform of higher education and the decision on participation in Presidential elections, on the LRT TV show “At the centre of attention”.

Prime Minister, don’t you think that it was overdone with the alcohol restrictions and some suggestions are illogical? Some events can, other can’t, stationary outdoor cafes are allowed, a different order for non-stationary ones, etc.

We gave our conclusions in the Government on the amendments to the Alcohol Control Law that were given by the previous MP’s Andrius Kubilius and several others. There are well-known initiative of citizens and two amendment complexes. I think that we gave the Government a balanced one out of many radical and perhaps even those that defy logic.

But the consumer doesn’t care if the cafe stationary or not?

The consumer might not care but the business does. Companies that have their business throughout the year, keeps jobs, pays taxes, can get a license for the summer, in some cases they don’t even need a separate one, and it just depends on the distance. There are those that try to have a selling spot for two months, targeting market of weaker alcohol and after the two months they withdraw from the market.

What’s wrong with that? Those companies employ students, young people, etc.

I see nothing wrong with that. But let’s agree that all temporary cafes are linked to the core business. We are talking about such pavilions, which are not typical for the whole year. For example, the resorts: is it a must to have 7-8 cafes at a Palanga beach, whose main attraction is the sale of alcohol. Maybe the alternative would be to sell soft drinks, snacks and other products. And 50 meters further in the café, which also has an outdoor terrace, is have a place where alcohol could be consumed. I think we made compromising agreement and now it will considered in the Parliament. I am glad that it raises discussion, good arguments, and each MP, myself including, can still express their will during the meetings.

This weekend in Dzukija, 14 young children were taken away from their alcoholic mother. Probably everyone will agree that they’re not the people who drink at the outdoor cafes or go to cultural events. It’s a completely another contingent. The Government is now targeting those who are have nothing to do with it and don’t face these problems.

This might be considered but you’re not completely right. There’s no discussion about the part of society that consumes alcohol responsibly. But you are wrong that domestic violence happens in asocial families. Unfortunately no.

I have in mind alcoholic parents, who have their children taken away. Probably none of them bought alcohol from a fair and brought it home.

Yes, maybe they didn’t buy it at a fair but these are people who buy it in stores and their time may be limited. And those who didn’t buy before won’t buy it. They find other ways if we’re talking those that are affected. But no one was born an alcoholic. These measures are aimed at reducing the availability, when talking about young people. It seems like we’re talking about a complete ban. It’s not like that.

And do you like what the Government is proposing? I think some decisions defy logic. For example, why can’t I have a beer on the beach? Why do I have to go somewhere when I can buy it right here?

If all of us deal with these problems making these decisions while doing what we want and don’t see the common problems of the society then we can say that yes, if I have a safe car, am a good driver then why do I have to drive as everyone else.

But that’s not the same.

I think that the Government will make a decision. There were many radical proposals, initiatives from citizens, and proposals from previous MP’s. You don’t need authorship to assign it to one or the other political force.

One that makes a decision responds.

Of course. The Parliament will decide and respond. I will also participate as an MP. The Government has stated their position. We have to remember that transitional periods are foreseen. We are also working with the Ministry of Health on a long-term program. This also applies to education, culture, and consumer culture. Today I think that we provided a compromise.

There are a lot of talks why your rating has decreased. Don’t you think it’s because of illogical decisions?

You need to ask the public. I am reserved when I look at the numbers. If I only looked at the numbers then the Government wouldn’t do anything. But I came to work and implement the changes.

So far, there are no changes, just suggestions. Both for forest enterprises and education, etc.

You can’t make them in 5 months, especially things that are related to structural reforms. Byt when it’s related to government activities, public companies, it can be regulated by Government decisions, those decisions are done. I am talking about the de-politicization of the Boards, the Changing the formation of principles, etc.

But it doesn’t affect the rating in a negative way. People are for things like these.

Let’s take the forest enterprise reform. See what kind of discussions started in the Parliament and near it, now there’s an attempt to block the after examination had been ordered. It’s said that jobs are being lost in the regions, small businesses can’t buy wood, etc. No one is even talking about. It’s hard to believe that the rating will increase as we’re working.

When will you decide whether to participate in the Presidential elections?

I have made the decision and I will tell on the last day, when it’s possible to do so.

If the decision is positive, then it has been too early to decide. You’re not going to participate in the elections?

You can think either way.

Have you told someone about it?

I won’t say.

Another topic: the education reform. For example, Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) categorically disagrees with the proposed reorganization. The University has a strong identity and sees itself as a separate body, its values ​​are opposite to the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), and it disagrees with the proposed plan and will do everything not to merge. What will you do?

They’re already doing everything. The Government made and will make them, which will be linked with criteria related to the quality of education. We will do that from the 1st of January of next year by changing the financing we could influence and regulate, so that university would accept those, who are ready and have a certain level of knowledge. We will demand a quality, a clear rent ability of programs, won’t be supported after 5, 7, or 12 students.

We’ll encourage that universities match the spirit that is mostly talking about the high-quality scientific research and only after that is educational, as teaching activities. The same is with professors and lecturers. We will also encourage that they would work full-time and wouldn’t run around higher education institutions. We’ll do this by increasing their salaries. European Union funds are aimed at quality improvement and research. We’ll do what we have to do, which is to raise the bar of quality and qualification. Those universities, which will be able to meet the criteria, and the community has a very categorical opinion, will be allowed to remain. Kaunas can have not one but three universities. It may be like that.

Let’s say, universities in Kaunas have overlapping programs. One of the University is stronger in some areas than the other and the weaker agrees to close it. Can it stay?

Yes. We will do an evaluation of those programs that don’t get a high or the highest mark, they won’t be able to continue existing and we won’t provide orders for those programs. They appeared for objective reasons. Universities desire to remain led to creating more programs that are not typical of a higher education institution. We have examples where 23 high education institutions are in competition with 40 similar programs. The number of students is in decline but once the bar is raised then it will decrease even more. There won’t be other choice. We talked about the processes in KTU and Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LUHS). By the way, the example is unique. They merged and today it’s one of the fastest growing universities, which said that if the universities would do the same, then we’ll be the first to go there.

Another topic. We have already talked about “Hanner” and investment related issues. Now a similar case is in Vilnius, Subačius street, Missionary gardens. The state issued all necessary permits, all the necessary decisions were talked about with the institutions. A similar situation is in Trakai, where the investment project is being developed, a bus station is being reconstructed, etc. Suddenly it’s a public interest, complaints begin and so on, the state and changes its mind. The businessmen have made investments. How should we understand this? Is this a form of ratchet? Corruption?

You’ve answered partially. It’s one of the possible assumptions, but this is the worst practice. I can repeat what I said when I was in Neringa, we visited the objects with similar issues. There are a several of key things: first, the authorities issuing permits took some responsibility for their decisions. The problem is that today there is no liability, institutional or personal, for making those decisions. Now program for next year’s budget are being presented. If the state experiences damages because of decisions like these then we need to review their budget. The responsibility will have to be promoted like that.

Another moment, in terms of the institutions that supervise or issue permits is to ensure the protection of heritage. Criteria have to be clear to decide whether you can. For example, visual pollution. If someone looked and decided that an object is half a meter over the pine and decides that it can’t be there. Another thing, when there are no criteria a one-person solution appears. An official can’t do that. There was a saying that left an impression for me. When talking about an object in Nida, where since Soviet times and scraps are remaining and visual pollution is probably the highest that can be, it was said: “Historically, people never lived in those places.” If we have this view then we won’t do anything. We need to ensure the protection of their unique characteristics but that must be done according to law. There can’t be interpretation, and the freedom of “I want to – I will allow, I want to – I won’t.” Worst of all, when decisions are made and then they’re questioned or changed.

Traditionally, the people involved in the same institutions take part.

Institutions must change. Maybe it’s bad, when the head of the institution has be doing that for 20-25 years. There are many institutions that deal with monitoring, which heads tend to forget and separate from reality. They should comply with the law, have principles. We see that there are studies where people face the fact that they should do illegal actions to obtain a permit.

We can have different opinion on the work of officials but we should look at the results. The same in Trakai. Perhaps the most beautiful of building was built by Vytautas. A long time ago.

I had been in Trakai and talked with the municipality. There’s a Soviet building, let’s say a movie theatre. It’s crumbling and disfiguring the city. There’s an investor, who wants to demolish it and build a hotel. But arguments begin that there can’t be such a building, it has to be like Vytautas 5-7 houses. Perhaps there can be a requirement like this but it must be clearly established.

Minister of Environment is working intensively on planning documents, since, according to separate areas there are three different special and general plans. Different planning documents give different conditions. It must be made clear that an investor knows what can be done with when buying the project. Professor Vladas Bumelis appeared on Monday’s show. I’m happy that he decided to go for the investments that our tax proposal is giving results. But imagine: a man built a factory and then someone decides that the chemical industry can’t be developed there and the authorization is no longer valid. What message does it send to investors? There are investors, who abuse, buy the objects with the knowledge that nothing can be done and then try to force the hand to give permits. And if that is done legally then the state will lose any legal proceeding and then we will have to compensate all the damages. This is not tolerable.

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