What is going on between Skvernelis and Karbauskis? One of them has become a hostage

Ramūnas Karbauskis ir Saulius Skvernelis © DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Bronislovas Matelis departed the Farmer and Greens Union Seimas group, but he continues to take interest in the processes developing in it, he has been watching what has been going on between Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and Committee of Culture Chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis.
According to the member of Seimas currently the situation is fairly tense because the Prime Minister has become a hostage of the Farmer and Greens Union electoral programme. He is expected to accomplish all the tasks promised to the public even if they may not necessarily be realistic.

Furthermore Matelis points out that the “Farmers” in Seimas are dissatisfied with S. Skvernelis whose ministers are non-partisan and act independently of the wishes and demands of the members of Seimas.

R. Karbauskis is performing something of a balancing role, but he can both let the parliamentarians “loose” upon the PM or he can support him.

On the other hand, S. Skvernelis is incomparably more popular and can gather support from the opposition, or perhaps even resign in the worst case, Matelis notes.

– Prime Minister Skvernelis recently met with Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats Chairman Gabrielius Landsbergis. It isn’t hard to guess that the PM could have been seeking support for certain important reforms that may not necessarily receive full support from the coalition partners, the Social Democrats or even the Farmer and Greens Union itself. So does a coalition with the Social Democrats still exist at all?

I can say that there never were any relations with the coalition partners, no-one ever discussed with the Social Democrats, nor did the Social Democrats want any discussions. There were no relations at all. If we are to look at the raise in excises for alcohol, voting was done with the Conservatives. Other important decisions were also made with the Conservatives. There were no real relations with the Social Democrats.

– What’s the point of such a coalition?

The coalition is like forced love. You know, sometimes parents really want their daughter to marry, so they have her marry someone she may not love. That’s roughly what happened. It would appear that S. Skvernelis is forced to seek aid.

I know the situation. When I was a member of the group, I recall that around a third of it would grumble against the forestry reform. It is obvious. I believe a third of the group may definitely not support it, some openly, some not. Those who were elected in single mandate districts and have links to mayors are more likely to not support the reform.

Let us recall the case of former Conservative member of Seimas, Vitas Matuzas – there was an episode there where the former Panevėžys chief forester would organise various hunts for them. At the time V. Matuzas was the deputy chairman of the Homeland Union in charge of finance. There were numerous hunts organised and no-one paid for anything or only partially.

– You think that the boundary between support or not of forestry reform will go along single mandate district electees and multi-mandate district electees?

Yes and clearly so. For example an influential member of a majority party in Seimas goes to a region, maintains links to a mayor, if their parties are the same, they invite the chief forester – here’s a company. If they manage to invite a prosecutor as well, then you have a mafia ruling a region. That’s how it happens. The mayor invites a member of Seimas from his single mandate district and tells him that if you want support during the next election, you are to vote against forestry reform. The mayor has numerous administrative resources to employ.

– Who were you faced with personally?

No, I haven’t encountered it myself because I raised my own candidacy, the “Farmers” only supported me in the second round. But I have encountered it during my work as a journalist, that single mandate district electes are greatly dependent on mayor and foresters.

– Let us return to cabinet issues – it turns out that S. Skvernelis is almost in a minority government situation because his work is not supported by the Social Democrats and even a part of the “Farmer” group?

Indeed and the further we go, the more visible it will be. Forestries will be a serious issue, there will also be serious disputes between the cabinet and the “Farmer” group due to education reform.
You can look at details, but I see one thing – the Farmer and Greens Union Seimas group is becoming a hostage of its electoral programme.

For example farmers pay 5% income tax (normally the rate is 15%). Prime Minister Skvernelis has clearly stated that everyone should pay equal income tax. Ramūnas Karbauskis defends them, says that they receive fewer benefits, there’s no reason to tax further; if they receive greater benefits like the Germans, perhaps then they should be taxed like this. In essence the programme gets tugged forward and backward, it becomes like rubber.

Things are similar with the alcohol sale monopoly. It is obvious that if you want to reduce the sales network, it is necessary to take many actions. The question arises, should everyone be prohibited from selling alcohol? And they have been issued for five years, not one, then should they all be cancelled? Then it will be necessary to pay some sort of compensations, then someone will have to hand over sales so that they could trade. And it will be a profitable business. A competition will likely need to be launched. There will be few slots for competitors, but it will be lucrative. A struggle for influence will begin.

Thus trying to reduce the number of locations selling alcohol is a long process. Ramūnas wants it done right now. Saulius says that no, we cannot do it this year because the process is long.

– But in this case most likely the Prime Minister’s influence is greater – he is the head of the cabinet, which prepares legislation.

True, but then R. Karbauskis point to the electoral programme and says that the reduction of alcohol sales is in it. So reduce it.

The Farmer and Greens programme was actually made as follows – surveys were made, popular and requested things were uncovered and then it was all placed in the programme. Such an absurdity was committed. Now they are victims to it.

There are other such spheres. Take the tax system for example. The tax changes cannot come into power this year. Changes can be made, but they should only come into power next year.

Everything was entered into the programme based on surveys and not everything is immediately possible. For example I cannot imagine how you can enter an entire three things into the programme which would require changes to the Constitution. It is a complex process.

Well, you cannot write that you intend to change a third of the Constitution. That’d need national agreement. But what are they doing? They are claiming they will reduce the number of members of Seimas to 101. I agree with this, but you have to have the agreement of others and the “Farmers” are not negotiating.

It is now obvious that the Constitution will not be changed because there’s no political will, there’s no agreement. So why would you put such nonsense into the electoral programme? Now they have become hostages to their own promises.

– But S. Skvernelis is the greatest hostage to it because the group prefect R. Karbauskis can always call him to the group and ask – “Prime Minister, why is this and that not being done?”

How are things with the universities? There were promises to reduce them down to 3-5, now the group wants 6, is aiming for a regional university in Panevėžys. There are many wishes, a request concert is beginning. S. Skvernelis will have a hard time.

– Is there a dividing line in the Seimas group between those supporting S. Skvernelis and those supporting R. Karbauskis?

I believe there is no clear dividing line. There are those who perhaps support S. Skvernelis more, I personally also respect the head of cabinet more than the group prefect, but for now the situation looks like in the fable where you have the swan, pike and crab pulling to different directions.

Within the group the farmers take care of their own affairs, members of Seimas elected in single mandate districts are working on saving the forestries, others on saving higher education institutions, but all of those trying to save something bump into S. Skvernelis and he points out that they should quit because it is impossible. During a group meeting, when I was still a member, S. Skvernelis spoke on it. He stressed that the government programme has already been confirmed.

Meanwhile the group members emanate anger that ministers do not respond to calls. I know at least a couple members of Seimas who went to ministries for some sort of business and they were kicked out, even if kindly. The ministers and vice ministers who are non-partisan, they are doing their work and are not reacting to request concerts. Meanwhile the members of Seimas are fuming, why nobody is picking up, why they aren’t talking or coordinating.

– Is R. Karbauskis in control of the situation in the Seimas group or not in your opinion?

I believe that currently R. Karbauskis has the leverage to direct moods in the group at will. Say he could, if he wanted to, put S. Skvernelis in his place because he is no longer moving ministries to Kaunas, is no longer willing to do something. But there are definitely those who are dissatisfied with the cabinet – due to education, due to reduction in university count, they are all pressuring S. Skvernelis. Others are dissatisfied due to the foresters, state owned enterprise reform because there are a handful who maintain good relations with the Social Democrats.

R. Karbauskis can both let the parliamentarians “loose” upon the PM or he can keep them at bay. Because there are many who are dissatisfied with the cabinet and if Ramūnas wills it, he can let it happen, but he can also cover for S. Skvernelis.

– R. Karbauskis always accents that everyone is trying to antagonise him with S. Skvernelis, but that they are jointly coordinating everything. Is that the case in your opinion?

I am inclined to believe that they are keeping one another at a respectful distance. For example – both sit together in the group. Ramūnas says to be afraid for everyone will soon be pursued by drones. S. Skvernelis stands up and says that we shouldn’t hide from the journalists because it reflects badly on us, rather we should interact and talk.

They talk opposite things, but seemingly don’t clash. Let’s say that S. Skvernelis doesn’t claim R. Karbauskis is wrong, he just says his own truth.

And the white horses are let loose again – supposedly the media is all bought out. Ramūnas identifies his own problems with the party’s problems. Earlier it was the same, if he is followed, that means everyone will be stalked by drones. It is similar now – if he is criticised, then the whole party will be attacked. Old songs.

– So the sotry of G. Kildišienė was painful for R. Karbauskis?

I believe so. Even with the theft coming to light, G. Kildišienė could have stayed a member of Seimas, if she had immediately revealed that such an event happened, if she had come clean. They would not have dismissed her due to that. Ramūnas had numerous chances to have Greta remain, but they did everything opposite. Now, I believe, Ramūnas is pained by it.

Perhaps he feels grievance that I stepped away, that S. Skvernelis did not openly cover for him and Greta. Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis also said that if R. Karbauskis believes that the media is working against him, he should take them to court rather than talking about the media being bought out. It is obvious that everyone can see that one man has white horses running in his eyes, so why should the whole party suffer?

– How would you evaluate the Conservatives’ actions, do you think they are trying to increase the divide between R. Karbauskis and S. Skvernelis?

I believe that they are fairly open about it. I believe that they are acting to increase the divide. When I departed the group, I was offered to join theirs instead. They need one more person to take the post of opposition leader, but I said that I will support the cabinet and I cannot be in an opposing group.

I have spoken to Gabrielius Landsbergis, I asked how he views the situation. I believe they will earnestly support the forestry reform, as well as that of state owned enterprise and education. I can see a pragmatic view from G. Landsbergis. Of course at the same time he is making use of the situation so that the two would fall apart. I believe that the greater the divide appears between Skvernelis and Karbauskis, the more the Conservatives and Liberals will support PM Skvernelis.

– Could such a redistribution reach a formal shape in your opinion? Say could the coalition government change, de jure?

I believe it will become clear already this spring.

– What will happen then?

Many of S. Skvernelis’ legislative pieces will be presented. If 3-4 radical reforms are presented (forestries, state service and education) and if all of those things are rejected in Seimas, then I would believe that S. Skvernelis would resign from the post of cabinet leader.

– The Prime Minister often speaks of it, but who knows how things would go in the real situation.

I believe he has the will to do so. We all bring something from our former job. He is a former cop. Such honest cops prefer to speak categorically, but they typically do hold to their word.

If R. Karbauskis acts radically, drives S. Skvernelis into a corner, then S. Skvernelis will resign. And then, to speak in popular parlance, R. Karbauskis’ party is screwed.

– How do you view the epic of the government programme implementation plan, where the plan was presented to the group and coalition partners, but it was not spoken about in detail to te public, then an unofficial version surfaced in the public, the Prime Minister was angered, that the public is at all interested in coming tasks?

The situation with the government programme implementation plan was a surprise to me. Truth be told in the Seimas Economics Committee we have for a time been finding out many things from the media, the committee is not presented anything by anyone. Perhaps things are similar in other committees. From talks I’ve had, the Farmer and Greens Union also did not receive a comprehensive explanation of what is planned. We all waited for the implementation plan to be presented. And then we suddenly find out that who knows what was copied from who or where. And it seems there is no serious implementation plan.

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