Saulius Skvernelis
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The current Government works like team and separate ministries are no longer untouchable by a party, said the Prime Minister (PM) Saulius Skvernelis. He states, that they are trying to get rid of a certain mentality in some institutions that a Minister is only a seasonal worker, and things will be done as they were before, Lietuvos žinios.

S. Skvernelis promises a tax reform. Now the Government is looking over the tax exemptions and later this month will suggest which ones o remove. PM defends the harsh means which will aid in making the country sober.

According to him, the huge alcohol consumption is an issue that needs solutions quickly. "It's linked to our economic potential. We lose working people due to illnesses, caused by alcohol, suicides, violence, car accidents" Saulius Skvernelis told "Lietuvos žinios".

Works according to schedule

Your Government has been working for five months. In your opinion, what are th most important accomplishments?

We need to start from the reorganisation of state companies. We saw wasted money, ineffective management, non-transparent deals, and nepotism. Our decisions were based on changing people and oriented to radically changing the system.

We took inventory on state belongings; saw how many state and municipality companies do we have, public offices and saw what their economic efficiency is. They don't pay dividends; the return of personal capital is č per cent and less.

We changed the rules when forming the boards: we depoliticized them, took in more independent members, said to designate the managers for a certain term, so they would be designated by a contest. Finally, we are forming clear criteria, which state companies can and should focus on profit and which shouldn't because their function is public administration.

Time came for reforms in forests and roads sectors. Both have been started, bills were suggested.

Furthermore, there is the start of an education system reform. We foresee discussions and talks about higher education, but at the same time we are near the end in preparing the pay for teachers, new financing for schools from the student fund, etc. The professional preparation is not satisfactory as well. We're making steps to change it, to have a dual model.

The reform of the Government's office is a small but important thing and energy projects as well. We're finally nearing the end of separating from the Russian BRELL service (a power ring in Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that is managed from Moscow), and it should be finished in June.

The issue of Astraviec power plant is being discussed. A law was adopted, which states that electricity from unsecure objects will not got into Lithuania and technical decisions were made on how to do that. Soon we will encourage the network of small power producers. We'll encourage individual home economies to use renewable energy – sun and wind. I hope that in the next few days the house renovation idea will start moving again.

The reform of national land – we see and understand that there are issues related to land and business. Education reform will be presented in May. I could carry on naming the plans of all Ministries.

However, there's plenty of criticism from political opponents that nothing is going forward and reforms are not being implemented. When do you plan to start doing that?

What does it mean that reforms are not in place? What reforms? Is the educational one – major? We think that it has started and that it's important. Reform of state companies is major? Yes, and it has been started. The same is with the public sector.

If we talk about encouraging economy, then we made changes and created opportunities, when professionals could be imported. I can say that all reports are on the Government's agenda. We are on schedule and have deadlines that we keep.

How do you evaluate the work of Ministers? Do you have notes for any of them, encourage them to try more?

If I have them, then I do it my office. It's enough. I have the pros and cons of this Ministers cabinet. Many spoke how the new Government will work, specialists, technocrats, professionals. This was the right step.

Now the Ministers work together as one Government, it's not how it was. Let's say that this is the Ministries of our party and stay away from them. It used to be 3-4 separate groups. Now the Government works as a team.

Yes, the experience of Ministers differs, and they found different situations at the ministries. Ones needed to put out fires. For example, the Ministry of Social security and labour had a crisis on child protection. Other found "suspicious things" in their institutions like the Ministry of transportation.

Some are hard at work in breaking the "failsafe" or the bureaucratic apparatus – trash management or changing the formation policy so that we would pay the same prices as other states do. All have faced challenges. Not one out of 14 Ministers said that it's easy.

It's a difficult time, as there is a view in some Ministries that the Minister is just a seasonal worker. Let him stay and we'll work as we did before. That's not going to happen.

Labour code is not perfect

One of the main challenges is the adoption of the Labour Code, which was agreed on in te Tripartite Council. The new government has stopped it saying that they need to balance the interests of employers and employees. But unions say that the document is not favourable to workers even after the changes. Aren't you afraid that the work relations will become "the wild West" after it goes into power?

The work relations are "the wild West" right now. The current Labour Code has de facto legalised "wild" relations. I won't repeat the arguments of the previous Government but today the workers don't use their social guarantees. They are just in theory. On the other hand, the Soviet code prevents the expansion of socially responsible business, especially for foreign investors, who want honest competition and not by custom law.

Business has to take risks. He can't predict the situation in Lithuania, Europe or the world. They can't risk with the current laws because they would be burdened in case of a failure. This is highlighted by our foreign investors.

Employer representatives state that the unions benefited the most during the half year standstill of the Labour code. They in turn say that employers benefited the most. The point is that a social dialogue had started. Representatives of employees and employers and the Government met. In negotiations someone gets more, others – less. It depends on the competence, determination, and maybe in one pace if they give in, they will gain elsewhere. I think that the power of unions did increase.

The Government and I want the agreement on longer vacations. But the professions, who are linked to special working conditions, stress, and harmful environment, the Government stated to give special vacations.

The Labour code isn't perfect, but it tries to reach the maximum balance of employer ad enmpoyee interests. The state has one goal – for the business to create, expand, export, and share the profit with the workers.

Salaries in Lithuania are one of the lowest in the EU. Nearly a third of citizens live in poverty and the divide is increasing. After some tragedies, there are a lot of promises form politicians to change the situation but nothing is being done. Why?

It's hard for me to say why nothing was being done. I think that each Government tried, but that's the situation now. Several things are related to poverty and social divide. Pensions are small. They depend on their experience, taxes and income. And the increase of pensions depends on the growth of economy and not political will. From the 1st of January, an indexing mechanism was implemented, which is directly linked to the growth of economy. It allowed to increase pensions and we hope that next year they will grow at the same rate or even more.

It's hard for young families with children. They often don't use compensations, when other social group have them as well. Our goal is to help those families. In the near future, the Government will adopt a law for tax exemptions.

The situation of single parents is difficult as well, the labour market too. Even though the unemployment is not large, the paradox is that we have a lot of job places. The social system doesn't encourage to look for a job. It needs changes. The ministry of Social security and labour needs to give suggestions.

If they want to earn more, to decrease the social divide, we need to create jobs that pay not a minimum but an average or larger pay, so there's no "shadow". Paradox is that 30% of people living in poverty have no other income because their income is from the "shadow".

The public sector hasn't increased the pay in nearly nine years, this can't happen. The public sector is too big, ineffective and is in need of a change.

Revises the pay

Farmers plans to fight the large consumption of alcohol raises doubts that he measures, like the increase of excise, specialised stores or the ban to distribute alcohol in outdoor cafes, can backfire. Why is the easiest choice taken, when the restrictions are for everyone, instead of working with the riskiest group?

If we asked if the consumption of alcohol is an issue in Lithuania, then we would agree that it needs to be solved. I want to remind that 50 thousand signatures were collected for a sober Lithuania. There is a bill, which awaits the consideration of the Parliament. There were bills on Alcohol control provided by previous 25 Parliament members. Now the Government needs to give conclusions. They didn't agree with everything but we tried to find a balance, reduce access (it's not normal to have 19 thousand selling points in Lithuania) and prevent harming business.

We don't propose to create specialised stores. We have to be fair about alcohol distribution at mass events as well. Citizens said to prohibit, Government gave a smart suggestion to let municipalities and communities to decide. Nothing prevents that pavilions and stationary cafes.

The increase of excess is not related to increasing the budget. The aim is to reduce the use of alcohol. We talk about means that would give results. But at the same time we have to work in education. We have to speak about healthy living, give more activities to children: sports, museums, education. It's in the program. We have to think about encouraging grown people who choose healthy living. It is linked to our economic potential. We lose working people due to alcohol caused illnesses, accidents, suicides and violence.

The Government is ready not to continue the VAT (Value Added Tax) exemptions for heating. This would financially hurt most of the people in the country, even those who get compensations would be less. In paraphrasing Ingrida Šimonytė, why are you "shooting" at those who live in apartments?

This was first done by the previous Parliamentary majority and the Government who decided to and the exemptions on 2017 January 1st. this was the decision and budget by the previous cabinet of Ministers. As often happens, there were provisions to extend the amendment mechanically without giving the source of financing. We experienced a crisis of sorts and had to find a source for financing in a few hours. A traditional but bad decision was made – cut the funding on Transport program.

The exemption of eating is used by everyone despite their social status or income. Is this right? I think that we should help people who are struggling. Then we designed a mechanism, which would direct the support to those who need it the most.

Now we are looking over all of the tax exemptions, we have a lot. If we see that eliminating VAT exemptions will harm those who live in apartments, then maybe we'll keep it. We have t know then, who will finance it. This means that some exemptions will have to be eliminated.

He does not think Gintauas Paluckas is a thorn in his side

How are you managing to work and coordinate interests with Farmers?

We can't say that there's not tension. It's a big Parliament group. A lot of different people work there and a lot of them are new to politics, me included.

People have different opinions, represent different regions, one – party member, others are not. We decided to vote on some issues individually in the Parliament and give our own opinions. We can't force each other, that's how it has to be. However, some solutions require unity.

Our relations are work related. We are learning, trying to change communication. I try t spend as much time as possible at the Parliament with other group members, to include them in the decision. I think that we're moving forward.

When the Social Democrats elected a new chairman, the temperature rose in the coalition. G. Paluckas gave some demands about the further work of farmers. Won't the new leader become a thorn in the side? Do you have demands for them?

He won't become a thorn. I have known him for a long time. I'll repeat, before starting work, we shouldn't give demands in a public space.

During this time, I think that we created a good communication mechanism have meetings of the coalition, meet the two group. Maybe Gintautas has less information because he did not participate. But now he participates in the coalition council and the joint work of the groups.

We'll continue to talk about our demands to improve work, how needed some of them are. In those cases, when the opinions differ a lot and there's no compromise, solutions exist. But so far everything is all right.

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