18 April 2008

The Sad Saga of the Strawberry Cake

Last fall's Case of the Mysterious Briefcase, which led to the resignation of the man who'd once been the world's first Green Prime Minister, Indulis Emsis, couldn't exhaust the Green Peasants' flair for black comedy, it seems. One of yesterday's headlines was MINISTER TO REIMBURSE STATE FOR STRAWBERRY CAKE.

The Minister in question is the Special Assignments Minister for Electronic Government Affairs, Ina Gudele. She didn't use the taxpayers' money to pay for her birthday gift, a hammock (a fact she's apparently proud of). She did use the taxpayers' money to rent the space in which her birthday party was held, buy the wine with which it was celebrated, and obtain the by now notorious strawberry cake.

The Green Peasants' leaders quickly gathered to insist that she retain her Cabinet post -- she's "responsible only morally," according to them. The cake, of course, is the symbolic tip of the iceberg our ship of state long ago struck -- as Laila Pakalniņa points out in her editorial, the PM was probably not thinking about the Green Peasants when he didn't ask for Ina Gudele's resignation... or at least not as much as he thought about his fellow party member Ainārs Šlesers of Latvia's First Party, who has mishandled far more funds than a cake costs but remains the Minister of Transport, presiding over some of the world's most expensive bad roads and a post office that is all but bankrupt. How can one take action on a cake when we are building what might end up being the world's most expensive bridge?

Meanwhile, people have started signing up for yet another referendum, a ballot initiative to raise the minimum pension to subsistence level. This type of populism is unworkable -- there isn't any money for such an increase (what with the cake budget...). The sentiments, however, are perfectly understandable, like those of one Anatols on the front page of Diena yesterday. His 107 LVL monthly pension is now 118 LVL (ca. 167 EUR). He says it's possible to survive as it was during the war, when everyone was starving and lice-ridden. Or as they did after the war, when his father promised him a kilogram of candy if he didn't join the Young Pioneers -- he never got the candy because there was no candy available. Or like in his childhood, when he got two hot potatoes and felt so very happy. But not now, and not here. Anatols went to every demonstration for Latvia's freedom, from the very first protests called by Helsinki-86. Anatols is tired of waiting.

Anatols no doubt knows that the salary of a Cabinet Minister in 2009 is to be 4512 LVL (ca. 6420 EUR) a month -- and still it is difficult for Ina Gudele to get her own strawberry cake.

Update: Gudele is resigning after all.

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Blogger stalker said...

Meanwhile, people have started signing up for yet another referendum, a ballot initiative to raise the minimum pension to subsistence level. This type of populism is unworkable -- there isn't any money for such an increase (what with the cake budget...).

Since Latvia has a budget surplus, surely the bigger concern would be adding more fuel to inflation?

20 April, 2008 23:58  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Privet, Stalker -- theoretically, we are currently striving for a balanced budget. In reality, the current economic slowdown is already having an effect on the intake of taxes. Then there is the pension system qua pension system, which has (theoretically) already been reformed. The pensions could be raised... but it would last how long? Months, according to some analysts. And as you suggest -- yes, there's the fuel for inflation problem. It's not that I don't realize that it is quite impossible to live off the sort of money Anatols gets -- it's just not, so pensioners without other means of support are indeed being screwed very badly. On the other hand, though -- populist initiatives to hand stuff out simply do not work. We could all go vote to give everybody a million lats tomorrow -- where will they come from? The Hungarian referendum on fees for health care was similar in a way -- fine, fees suck. But is the health care system functional?

21 April, 2008 13:58  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

P.S. Surveys indicate that the ballot initiative I blogged more about -- the one about changing the Constitution to permit the people to dismiss Parliament -- will lose. The pensioners' referendum has massive support, though. And I'm afraid this is symptomatic.

21 April, 2008 14:05  
Blogger SUPER said...

The secret ingredient in this pretty heart-shaped cake is whipped cream, which replaces butter as the fat and gives the cake an airy texture.


04 May, 2008 11:34  
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12 May, 2008 00:05  

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