- September 20, 2014
The conversation with the Chair of the parliamentary fraction of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania Rita Tamašunienė
Before one week, Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) began the autumnal parliamentary session. 8-person fraction of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania will continue its work in Seimas now as an opposition group. Before I ask the question about the perspectives of further work in Seimas, I want to ask how much you could do working in the coalition. I know that our Readers are interested in this.
For the beginning of the new parliamentary session, the Electoral Action of Poles has its plans which are mainly connected with the fulfillment of our electoral platform. In some way, it will be the continuation of the work that has already started which is connected with all fields of life in our country: education, social issues, economy, the guarantee of the rights of citizens for national minorities in accordance with European standards and returning land to its owners. We will try again to submit the questions which were not answered before the end of the last session in order to achieve the expected result. When it come to the issues in which we achieved bigger progress, firstly, it has to be mentioned that we managed to increase the sources for the building and supervision of local roads. It happened thanks to the initiative of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania through which the Act was issued. Since the beginning of this year, all local governments in the country have received 25 per cent sources more for roads within the program of the development of local roads. So every local government received around one million litas more. Since the beginning of next year, financing roads that are under local governments of this program will increase up to 30 per cent, that is, by a half more than it has been so far. Roads of local importance are in a dramatical state so we thought that an immediate change for the better should take place.
We are happy that the amendments to legal regulations connected with tourist sector came into force. They result from the aims of our program. It is about reducing VAT tax on tourist services. Tax exemptions will stimulate this branch of economy, investments and the establishment of new jobs, especially for youth.
For the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, as a party that supports Christian values, it was important that Seimas accepted the Bill on the Protection of Life in Prenatal Development in the first reading. The project was initiated by the representatives of the party.
Funds for the renovation of schools in Vilnius District Municipality and Šalčininkai District Municipality were received.
Thanks to the initiative of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, two propositions of the amendments to the regulations connected with returning land were submitted to Seimas. Although the issue of returning land was included in a governmental program, the biggest coalition party of social democrats was blocking the acceptance of the amendments. Nevertheless, we managed to convince the Rural Areas Committee and last Tuesday, one of the propositions concerning returning forrest lands to inheritors of lands in cities was accepted in the second reading.
The party gained positive reactions of the voters when, as the only party from the ruling coalition, they were against coming back to the payment for public servants, including Members of Parliament, from the time before the crisis.
We voted against because we were aware that this amendment was connected with increasing the salaries of workers who have good earning, whereas the people working at a lower level in hierarchy and people having an employment contract earn not much more than 1000 litas net in spite of the fact that they work a lot. We thought that we do not have the moral law to vote for this amendment. In our opinion, we should care for the ones who have the lowest means of support first (for young families who raise children and pensioners).
The issue of returning money deducted during the crisis of retirement pensions is developing? Other propositions in the field of social care were also submitted.
We worked in a workgroup for returning the pensions reduced during the crisis. I will say one thing: In many cases, it was not easy to convince the representatives of the biggest ruling party that there is such a need.
In December this year, people will get 20 per cent of reduced pensions. Since January 2015, in particular quarters, people will get 20 per cent of their payment dues. We hope that in 2016 another 40 per cent of pensions will be paid. If the country owes a person less than 100 litas, the whole amount will be recompensed. It is a pity that we could not convince the former coalition members social democrats that if a pensioner dies, his inheritor should get the part of a pension that was not returned.
One of the newest propositions connected with social care that we submitted to Seimas is connected with feeding children that were adopted or are raised in foster families. The problem is that by giving one allowance of 520 litas, the country does not give those children the opportunity to apply for free meals in educational institutions that they learn in. I think that the country should have bigger responsibility for those more sensitive groups of our society. It is worth appreciating the sacrifice of families who take care and raise those often disadvantaged children and they should be supported more. Some time ago, we submitted amendments to the Employment Act to Seimas. The amendment of the act would enable people at a pre-retirement age be active on a job market longer. The amendments to the procedure of buying and privatising social housing were also submitted. It is an important problem because there is lack of social housing in cities and supporting such housing in the countryside is very expensive for local governments. We suggest that there should be the possibility of the purchase of social housing on soft terms in the countryside.
In the current autumnal session, definitely, there will be questions that were asked by the members of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania many times during the work of the majority coalition. First of all, it will be the issue of the National Minorities Act. Is there the possibility that it will be accepted eventually?
We have been waiting the fourth session in a row for the project of the National Minorities Act. We have heard all the time only promising and assuring that the Act of 1991 will be brought back. It worked successfully over two decades in Lithuania. Nevertheless, we submitted one more project which is a more modern version of the bill. It turned out that social democrats prevent it from being accepted again by supporting conservatists because of whom there is the regression in national minorities rights in our country.
“Modernised” bill, that is, adjusted to the current needs, was discussed in a special workgroup and registered in Seimas. Nevertheless, we see that there is the lack of good political will because the solution of the case is made more complicated and the solution is delayed in an artificial way. We were not able to take up the Act when we were in the coalition and now when we left it, it I likely that it will be even more difficult. We will still be trying to convince Members of Parliament that this document is not any threat for the country and national minorities need it as a guarantee of the laws that they should have.
What is the next task for the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuanian Seimas?
We do not give up and we will still try to exercise our rights in the field of education. The propositions of amendments to the Act on Education that discriminates against students of the schools of national minorities. Life shows that the unification of the state exam in Lithuanian language without taking the differences in curriculums into consideration was a big mistake. We say it clearly: in national minorities’ schools, children should learn in mother tongue and in the unification of the exam in Lithuanian language, if possible, there should be the interim period. We will be consistent with regard to this issue.
The Act on Elections also waits for an amendment. The Electoral Action of Poles wants voters to have the chance to use bilingual ballot papers and the borders of constituencies should not be changed for the disadvantage of national minorities.
Belonging to the ruling coalition, we were always a reliable partner that keep promises. In many situations, our opinion helped achieve consensus in coalition disputes. The experience will certainly help us in further actions. We are not afraid of work. As an independent group, 8-person fraction has a big advantage. At the moment, we can count on all Members of Parliament both from opposition and ruling parties whose values and attitude in some issues is convergent with our beliefs. You should remember that many postulates of our program were included in the general program of the government.
Rita Tamašunienė talked with Irena Mikulewicz
Translated by Marta Wojtowicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.