Guest of “Business & Politics” – Leader of the Opposition of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Algirdas BUTKEVIČIUS
You have lately done a fair amount of travelling across Lithuania, met ordinary residents and businessmen. What are your impressions? How do people live? What sparks public criticism against the government?
People are interested in everything – public utility charges and pensions, gas prices and housing renovation. But above all, people’s greatest concern is when our lives will acquire a reasonable balance, when ordinary residents and pensioners will enjoy the fruits of economic growth and when the government will finally direct its decisions towards the improvement of the wellbeing of ordinary citizens.
Perhaps you are aware of any calls to form a new Government? Isn’t it the right time for the Leader of the Opposition to become the Prime Minister?
To be elected the Prime Minister, we need to hold the majority in the Seimas. At the times of this economic recession we would need this majority to be competent with a certain professional standing – that would help to make decisions and to seek for established goals.
The opposition currently holds the votes of 65 members of the Parliament. Whether we want that or not, the goal of the opposition (of course, next to the ultimate goal of taking the lead into our hands) is to ensure, by any means necessary, the transparency in the decision-making of the ruling majority.
What is your opinion on the proposal of the Ministry of Transport and Communications to restructure Lithuanian Railways (Lith. Lietuvos geležinkeliai) by establishing a secondary public undertaking for the purpose of infrastructure administration?
The separation of the railway infrastructure is just a cover of the attempted privatisation of the state-owned profitable enterprise. The intention to separate the infrastructure of Lithuanian Railways, transportation of freight and passengers is the fastest way to the privatization of the undertaking.
The transfer of monopolistic and socially sensitive services into private hands would not bring any positive outcomes for Lithuania. For instance, the national French railways show better results than the private British railways.
You expressed criticism against the Government for a number of times over its uncontrolled spending and unsurpassed desire to borrow. What should be done to solve the situation? Perhaps there indeed is no other way out?
For instance, at the end of 2009, the nominal value of the national debt accounted for over 27 billion litas, or 29.3 percent of GDP. The largest portion of the loan was used to reduce the national debt and to cover the financial liabilities of the state social security funds.
We may say that billions are consumed instead of injecting them into economic growth. In this way, debts generate more debts, only in the latter case we will have to pay them back along with the interests.
According to the government, the economic recession is already over. However, the budget for 2011 shows otherwise. What is your conclusion: does Lithuania’s economy recover or it does not?
That’s a very good question. Being an economist, I like doing the analysis of macroeconomic indicators. In terms of macroeconomic indicators, 2010 showed worse results than 2009. Only a single, export, indicator is better compared to 2009. It is true to say that export depends on global matters – If the internal consumption of exported goods is on the increase in other countries, markets open as well.
If we analysed the public finance, we would see that the collection of revenue shows inferior results compared to 2009, and GDP is positive. The overnight tax reform caused a transition of a number of businesses to the shadow economy. It takes one and a half years to move to the shadow and seven years to come back from it.
What do you propose?
A number of economists would show the prime minister three major directions that would help to bounce back from the economic downturn: economic incentive programmes, taxation system reform and business crediting.
First of all, economic incentive programmes. We had the possibilities of using the European Union funds as rationally and effectively as possible for long-term promotion of economy, maintenance of existing jobs or creation of the new job places rather than consumption.
The economy ofLithuaniawill not recover unless it revives small and medium-sized businesses. The funds of nearly 1 billion litas were allocated for this programme last year from the European Investment Fund, another 48 millionlitaswas provided from the state budget. But what has been done? We can clearly see the impact of the tax reform on small businesses and the problems encountered by business crediting, bearing in mind that the Scandinavian banks follow the policy of taking away the funds fromLithuania.
According to politologists, the opposition could be more active and express more severe criticism against the ruling majority. What do you think of this remark?
We coordinate out steps with the factions in the opposition. Unfortunately, very often the sharp and bitter remarks of the opposition are neither seen nor heard. The reasons are very simple – the government decided that its publicity in the mass media can be covered from the European Union resources. Hence, the information that we are trying to communicate is beyond public scrutiny.
Where do you find comfort when you lose your strength and luck seems to turn its back on you? Who/what can best help to give rest to your mind: your friends, sport, family, wife?
Of course, first and foremost, my wife. I married very young when I was still a student. My wife Janina then studied at Vilnius University, Faculty of Commerce. We have already been together for 30 years. My daughter lives separately, thus, all household chores are on my wife’s shoulders. Sport and books help to withstand physical pressures and spiritual challenges.
What brought you to politics? Are there any politicians in Lithuania or abroad that you admire and whom would you describe as model politicians?
I admire such political figures as Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Gandhi. My road to politics started in 1990. I was first elected to the Seimas of theRepublicofLithuaniain Vilkaviškis Single-Member Constituency in 1996.
Interviewed by Karolis DINEIKA