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Open letter to Latvia's leaders from FICIL on the Maxima tragedy

BC, Riga, 14.04.2014.Print version
Open letter to Latvia's leaders from FICIL on the Maxima tragedy, respectively to the President of the Republic of Latvia Mr Andris Bērziņš, speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia Ms Solvita Āboltiņa, Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia Ms Laimdota Straujuma.

Dear Excellences,

 

The Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia (FICIL) welcomes the Latvian Government’s decision of 11 March to allocate additional budget funds to the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of investigating the tragedy that took place at the Maxima Supermarket in Zolitūde on 21 November 2013.

 

However, FICIL remains firmly of the view that there must be a fully independent investigation into the accident for the following reasons:

 

• Only will a full and thorough investigation satisfy the families and friends of the 54 people who died, those injured and the public at large and enable them to achieve the necessary psychological closure in respect of the disaster;

• Failure properly to carry out a full, thorough and independent investigation will reflect negatively on investor confidence, especially upon foreign investor confidence; and

• It is the profound interest of both the Latvian Government and Society to avoid any perception that the expected investigative process has been either down played or set aside for reasons related to corruption or otherwise by any desire to cloud the transparency that should be available to all parties.


The investigation should therefore be handed to an independent commission charged with preparation and delivery of a report into all the circumstances surrounding the accident including, but not limited to:


• What precisely happened at the Maxima Supermarket in Zolitūde on 21 November 2013?

• How and why did the disaster take place? Were there any systematic weaknesses in the system of public administration in Latvia, which contributed to the circumstances that enabled this accident to occur?

• Should anyone be blamed for the disaster?

• What steps should be taken to prevent similar tragedies occurring in the future?

• Other related matters including lessons to be learned.


The commission should also be required to present its recommendations.


In order for this to come about the Latvian Government needs swiftly to take the lead and set up such an independent commission which will:


• devise a clear mandate;

• create safeguards for its independence;

• establish the necessary legal framework for its investigative powers which must include its being empowered legally to demand information from both public and private individuals and entities; and

• approve the first draft budget prior to vetting members of the commission.

 

FICIL members have volunteered to prepare an overview how such commissions are organized in their respective countries and a number of examples from other countries have been set out below:

 

From Norway:

Breivik’s case - An independent 10 member commission tasked by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg with reviewing the authorities' response to the attacks in Oslo and the island of Utøja. The commission produced a 500-page report to the Prime Minister, and issued a list of 31 recommendations ranging from better preparedness of the authorities to limiting the availability of semi-automatic weapons and improving police helicopter capacity. The commission, headed by lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, also criticized the police's slow response.

 

From the U.K.:

The Aberfan Disaster - An independent commission led by a respected English Lord Justice of Appeal was appointed to lead an inquiry into the causes behind a horrific mud slide in a Welsh mining valley that resulted in the deaths of 144 persons of which 116 were school children. The resultant report not only laid the blame fairly and squarely where it belonged but also led to substantial legislative changes regarding the manner in which coal tips were managed.

 

From the U.K.:

The Ladbroke Grove (Paddington) rail crash in London - Another independent commission led by a senior member of the Scottish Judiciary Lord Cullen which investigated a rail crash in London in which 31 people were killed and over 500 injured. The report highlighted the causes of the crash and brought into the public eye certain system failures regarding safety procedures.

 

This is not a task that law enforcement agencies may handle as was clearly stated by the Chief of Criminal Police in Latvia, during a hearing in Parliament on 15 January. In many other countries when catastrophes of this nature occur, a report is generated by a Commission of Public Enquiry (“Commission”) that is a dramatic minute-by-minute reading of what went wrong and why and what needs to be changed in the future. Latvian Society deserves nothing less.

 

Members of the Commission should be chosen in consultation with a broad range of independent and respected individuals and representatives of industry. The utmost attention must be paid to ensuring that no individual who has any possible interest in the result of the investigation may either have a hand in the selection of nor be a member of the Commission.

FICIL suggests that the Commission should contain at least one independent foreign person who has experience of such matters.

 

The Commission needs to be made up of respected professionals, with a high proportion of experienced lawyers, but no members of the Government administration should be part of it. Commission members need to be paid from the State budget, at a rate commensurate with their professional standing.

 

In the name of the Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia I would like to express our hope, that the Latvian government will find a possibility ensure independent investigation of the tragedy that took place at the Maxima Supermarket in Zolitūde on 21 November 2013.

 

Sincerely,

Enrique Garcia, Chairman of the Board






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