Weekly News Update: January 8th - January 13th

Good afternoon everyone! We hope you've already had a great start to this week, and that you haven't gotten too sick of the snow which has been with us for most of the winter so far. Last week was another relatively slow week for news here in Latvia, but there were still a few major stories worth mentioning. Let's take a look back:

Major Stories

Saeima postpones the introduction of new healthcare system

Latvia's new healthcare system has yet to be introduced to the public for a variety of reasons. The Saeima Social and Labor Affairs Committee decided to postpone the system's introduction this past week because of IT failures and lack of information. This mainly regards the need for Saeima to better communicate what will happen to people left without access to government-funded services when the new healthcare system is instituted. Additionally, the IT problems are preventing the National Health Service to run their system that determines the healthcare insurance status of patients. However, The Health Ministry has promised that these system errors will be fixed by February. Postponing the introduction because of these things will also not require any extra funding. This new healthcare system is coming to Latvia after last year's support of creating a mandatory healthcare insurance system that consists of people paying social contributions and receiving access to a full range of healthcare services. Additionally, this is the first year where services paid for by the state are only available to insured residents. While the introduction is postponed, all residents (regardless of those who have opted in or not) will have access to the basic set of healthcare services paid for by the state.
Sources: LSM and LSM

Rīgas Satiksme will claim over €5m in Skoda scandal

The corruption scandal involving Rīgas Satiksme municipal transport company and the Czech company Skoda could soon end in a payout of over €5 million. As announced last month, Rīgas Satiksme only received 54 of the 100 trolleybuses and seven of the 20 trams that Skoda was supposed to deliver. Since their contract has been obviously broken, Rīgas Satiksme might be able to claim at least €5 million from the scandal and are currently working together with Ernst & Young Baltic auditors. Additionally, Rīgas Satiksme paid around €5 million in advance for another 175 transport vehicles to be made from Poland's Solaris Urbino. To date, only 140 vehicles from them have been received, and the delivery deadline has been extended to 2020. If this deal falls under as well, more money could possibly be recovered. 
Source: LSM

School mergers have not been as successful as hoped 

The 2018 exam results of Latvia's combined schools have come in and are not as good as what was first hoped for. The School Network Reform that has been established around the country since ___ claimed that combining schools would both save money on the prevalence of half-empty school buildings but would also improve the quality of education. The first centralized exams in these combined secondary schools occurred in spring 2017 and the results produced were above average in the country, supporting the reform's claims. However, the results of the 2018 exams were lower than educational institution's results the year before reform calling the reform into question again. Other test factors must be taken into account, such as difficulty and exam preparation, but Latvia's educational reform is still being questioned by many citizens. Another factor in educational reform and produced results is that The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science can cut school's funding if exam results do not improve in schools for at least three consecutive years. As this is only the first year that some newly merged schools did not meet national requirements, the school's money will not be immediately cut. Officials are still encouraging the merged schools to further trust this new system's ability to improve their quality of education although results are not as optimistic as intended. 
Source: LSM (in Latvian) 

Business & Economy

  • The Latvian unemployment level was at 6.4% at the end of 2018 with the lowest rates being recorded in the Riga region and the highest rates appearing in the Latgale region. This compares to the Latvian unemployment rate being 6.8% at the end of 2017.
    Source: Baltic Course
  • 2018 showed an increase to the level of consumer prices in Latvia, up by 2.6% from 2017. The Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) recorded that the average prices of good increased by 2.3% while the average prices of services increased 3.1%.
    Source: Baltic Course

Culture & Society

  • AirBaltic's third intake of prospective pilots in their pilot training course includes the first-ever women to partake in the program. Two women will join nine other colleagues in this cohort. Source: LSM 
  • The renovated Gastronomy Pavilion at the Riga Central Market will open January 15, 2019 as work on refurbishment and upgrades to the historical buildings continue this winter.
    Source: Baltic Course
  • Food and alcohol retail retail chain, Alko1000 will expand into Riga this year. Currently, Alko1000 has four stores near the Latvian border.
    Source: Baltic Course  
  • Saeima forwarded a public petition to the Budget and Finance Committee that proposes a ban on gaming venues in Latvia and calls for gaming to only operate at five-star hotels. The signature drive was launched by the New Conservative Party and received more than 100,000 resident signatures.
    Source: The Baltic Times

Health & Welfare

  • The Estonian and Latvian governments have started exploring the possibility of creating a common packaging deposit system. The project could both develop cooperation between countries and be a pioneer project in the EU about how countries can better cooperate on waste collection. Source: The Baltic Times
  • The country's fire and rescue service announced a new initiative to work with homeowners in order to improve fire safety in Latvia's residences.
    Source: LSM


  • The coalition talks led by Jaunā Vienotība leader Krišjānis Kariņš continued throughout the week as planned, and is expected to be confirmed by partner parties KPV LV, Jaunā Konservatīva partija, Nacionālā apvienība, and Attīstībai/Par! in the near future.
    Source: LSM
  • Outgoing Finance Minister Arvils Ašeradens survived a vote of no confidence on Thursday over his handling of the country's green energy subsidy that was exploited by energy companies over the past few years.
    Source: LSM
  • A protest organized by the Latvijas Krievu savienība (Latvian Russian Union) party gathered a few hundred protesters outside of the Saeima building (Latvia's parliament). The protest was advertised as action against wealth inequality, though according to LSM many of the vest-wearing protesters carried signs speaking out against state language policy. No incidents of violence were reported. Source: LSM
  • The Latvian Union of Russians held a rally in Riga last week that included several hundred participants. The rally was attended by mainly older residents and pensioners and called for changes to the recent language reforms in Latvian schools and for more social and national fairness toward Russians. Source: The Baltic Times


  • Three Latvian players will compete in the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of 2019, the Australian Open, held mid-January in Melbourne. Anastasia Sevastov and Alona Ostapenko will take part in the women's competition and Ernests Gulbris will compete in the men's competition. Source: LSM
  • Ineta Mackeviča is the first squash player from the Baltic countries to qualify for the world championships and ranked 63rd by the Professional Squash Association (PSA). The Latvian will be one of the 32 contestants in the women's event, held in Chicago from February 23rd - March 3rd, 2019. Source: LSM


  • Freight shipping by rail increased during in Latvia by 12.5% in 2018, including increases in both international and domestic freight. Source: Baltic Course
  • Latvian ports handled 66.17 million tons of cargo in 2018, a 6.9% increase from 2017. This consisted of both increases in small ports, such as Skulte, and large ports like Riga Port. Source: The Baltic Times
That's all for this week! Make sure to subscribe at the top of the page if you haven't done so yet, and like us on Facebook for stories of the day at the end of each evening. Take care, and see you next weekend!