Weekly News Update: August 27th - September 2nd, 2018

Good evening everyone, and for those of you who are studying of teaching this year, happy final day before the school year begins in earnest! In honor of the new school year starting in Latvia, let's start with three stories that have to do with the country's education system;

Schools lacking teachers throughout the country

With kids set to start the new study year tomorrow, Rīga's schools as of Monday, August were lacking at least 350 teachers and to fill job vacancies according to a report on LTV1 program Panorama. Other cities and municipalities throughout the country have also reported difficulty filling open positions. The report suggested that the situation was not likely to improve in the near future, with extremely low amounts of university students completing education programs and many graduates opting to work in the private sector where they can find less demanding work with better salaries.

Sources: LSM

Teachers' salaries to increase as promised after all

-Speaking of teachers' salaries — the previously reported strike planned for September 18th has been officially called off after the government announced on Tuesday that previously promised €30 raises to full-time teachers' minimum monthly salaries will in fact come into effect this year despite the Ministry of Finance warning in the middle of August that there would not be enough space in the budget for the increases. Minister of Education Kārlis Šadurskis announced that the increases for this year were made possible by savings in school heating due to last year's warm weather and in school lunch programs, but he did, however, stress that the planned further raises will only be possible if the "school network optimization" process moves forward.

Sources: LSM

Government plans new school accountability measures

In addition to the current programs used by at least 88 municipalities throughout the country to pay teachers additional sums for meeting certain quality criteria, Minister of Education Kārlis Šadurskis also announced that the government is planning to implement new accountability measures that could decrease or completely cut funding to schools that fail to receive at least a "good" rating in criteria such as curriculum, equipment, and teaching quality. The measures will be similars to ones that have been popular in the United States since the election of George W. Bush in 2001, are are part of an overall effort to "optimize" the education system. For more commentary about this proposed change and its pros and cons, check out our guide to Latvian education reform here.
Sources: LSM

New health care regulations go into effect

Massive changes to the country's health care system that were approved in December of last year went into effect on Saturday. The state's "full basket" health service which provides a wide variety of free or heavily discounted medical care (and guarantees reciprocal coverage in other EU and EEU countries) will only be available for workers paying income tax for at least nine months and certain social groups such as children, university students, pensioners, the disabled, orphans, and other specially protected groups. The up to 40,000 people who will no longer be covered by the full service (reported by some outlets as up to 300,000), including certain self-employed "micro entrepreneurs," will still have access to certain essential services such as emergency care, a primary care physician (family doctor), prenatal care, oncology, and various screening and diagnostic tests. However, they must choose to either pay significantly higher prices for other services or make yearly payments to be covered by the "full basket" program — €51.60 (1% of minimum wage) this year, €154.80 (3% of minimum wage) next year, and € 258 (5% of minimum wage) in 2020. Although the cut off to services will only being on January 1, 2019, people who wish to buy into the service after that will still need to pay for both the current calendar year and the one before, which is why the national health service has already started accepting payments now. Although these amounts seem minuscule in comparison to eye-popping prices in certain countries such as the US, critics warn that they could be prohibitively high costs to many residents struggling with their financial situations. The government is confident, however, that the new system should streamline costs and still provide quality service to almost all residents. If you are currently covered by Latvia's state health care service, now would be a good time to find out if these changes will affect you.

Sources: LSM

Suspicious irregularities in insolvency court proceedings

A report by the country's judicial council found that 12 of 44 examined insolvency processes had some forms of violations and irregularities. An independent report by ir magazine identified six specific insolvency judges who had made serious "mistakes" in their proceedings. The investigations come amid complaints about corruption in the insolvency system and particularly after the suspicious June murder of insolvency administrator Mārtiņš Bunkurs.
Source: LSM

More bad news for Latvian agriculture

-In an interview with Latvijas Radio 1 on Tuesday, spokesperson Oskars Balodis from the Latvian Rural Advisory and Training Centre reported that grain yield had fallen an average of 30% throughout the country compared with last year. Balodis blamed the unusually dry weather this summer, and warned that grain prices could increase in the near future. According to the center, the western region of Kurzeme has been hit the hardest, with between 60%-80% less yield than 2017. The Ministry of Agriculture has officially informed the European Commission that Latvian farmers have suffered an estimated nearly €360 million loss, and are likely to need more financial support in the near future.

Namejs 2018 drills conclude

The international "Namejs 2018" military exercises which began last week continued throughout this week and were concluded on Sunday, September 2nd. The military has called the massive operation, the largest of its kind since Latvia's restoration of independence in 1991, a success, and spokespeople have praised both cooperation with NATO allies and the willingness for members of the public to participate in a constructive way. More than 10,000 members of the armed forces and law enforcement from Latvia and its allies participated in the drills.

Source: LSM

Prime Minister Kučinskis remains on the hot seat

Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis' rough last week continued into this one, as he repeatedly strongly denied that he misused his access to privileged information to warn his fellow Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS) members that Saeima deputy and party member Aksolds Klaviņs was under investigation by the anti-corruption bureau KNAB. The prime minister met with coalition partner party Vienotība this week to discuss the situation, as the leaking of information from the anti-corruption bureau could have significant political consequences. In an interview with ir magazine this week, he also stressed that the party's controversial former prime minister candidate, oligarch and current Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs, no longer has a significant influence on the party. Lembergs' relationship to ZZS has long been a bone of contention for critics, as the Ventpsils mayor has been under investigation for criminal activity for at least a decade and has even technically been banned from holding political office. He also identified a potential coalition between the populist KPV LV party and the traditionally Kremlin-friendly Saskaņa party as one of the greatest threats to national security, despite fellow ZZS member and former Speaker of Saeima Gundars Daudze making the extraordinary announcement on Rīga TV24 this week that his party was open to working with Saskaņa.

Sources: LSMDiena

Airport bus plans to extend late night service

Good news for late night travelers to and from Rīga's airport! Airport director Ilona Līce announced on Latvijas Radio 1 on Thursday that the airport's administration and Rīga's city council were currently discussing the possibility of extending the #22 bus (which travels between Rīga's center and the airport just outside city borders 10 kilometers away) later into the night. This means that car-less travelers who fly into the city after midnight when the bus currently stops running must choose between either walking/running a 10k into the center or hailing a taxi. As some of you know all too well, there has been a recent increase in predatory taxi incidents with drivers charging exorbitant amounts of money even for short distances, and the later-running bus service is meant to help fight this issue.

Source: LSM

Trolleybus crashes into Maxima store

In less positive public transit-related news, one of Rīgas satiksmes #15 trolleybusses crashed into the wall of a Maxima grocery store on Visķu iela in the eastern neighborhood of Ķengarags. The store was evacuated after the wall collapsed, but luckily no one was injured. The transit administration called the incident "highly unusual," and said that the incident was still under investigation.

Source: Delfi

Pavilosta "house boat drama" finally scuttled settled

A "house boat" owned by millionaire Argods Lūsiņš which had been "anchored" on the beach just meters from the sea had finally been moved inland. The house sparked outrage in January when a local paper reported that obviously unseaworthy holiday home had been constructed without a foundation and deemed a "ship" by the local planning board in a clever way to get around national zoning laws that forbid any new permanent structures from being built less than 150 meters from the sea. Check out the links to the story below to see if you would consider setting sail on that vessel.

Sources: LSMRekurzeme

Latvians at the US Open

The Latvian sports world watched with bated breath to see how superstar tennis players Jeļena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova would perform at the US Open tournament this week. While Ostapenko lost to legendary Russian Maria Sharapova in the round of 32, Sevastova will play against Ukranian Elina Svitolina in the round of 16 shortly. 

UPDATE: Sevastova proceeded to the quarterfinal where she will face Sloane Stephens.

Source: Sportacentrs

First Latvian IKEA finally opens

As some of you might be celebrating, Latvia's very first IKEA store officially opened this week in the eastern corner of Rīga on the border with the neighboring Stopiņi municipality. Commentators have called the store's opening a positive sign for Latvia's economy, as the Swedish furniture giant has enough expressed enough confidence in the market to invest at least €50 million and open the massive new shop. For locals though, this means that driving all the way down to Lithuania will no longer be necessary.

Re:Baltica uncovers Moscow-funded fake news ring

-Finally, anyone who is interested in media issues and fake news in particular should check out a fantastic investigative report that the Baltic Center for Investigative Journlaism (Re:Baltica) put together a few days ago regarding a Russia funded "Baltic" fake news and propaganda ring calling itself "Baltnews." The report was done as a collaboration with Postimees and Buzzfeed, and can be read for free in English here:

That's all for this week! If you enjoy these posts, make sure to follow us on facebook so you know when each week's update has been posted, as well as daily "stories of the day." You can also hit "subscribe" at the top of this page, or "follow" on the main page. Feel free to also comment below if you have something to add. Take care, and see you next Sunday!


Post a Comment