During the fast developing privatization process in nineties the three Prime Ministers of the Baltic countries became millionaires by cultivating their private businesses at the same time they held political office. The Baltic Course offers the answers of Mr. Andris Skele, Mr. Bronislovas Lubis and Mr. Tiit Vahi to questions concerning the interrelation of bussiness and politics. The interviews were published last autumn in magazine Áàëòèéñêèé êóðñ
Janis Domburs, Vakaris Deksnis (Lietuvos Rytas), Taivo Paju (Postimees)
- How did you evaluate your private property at the moment when you left the post of the Prime Minister and what is your evaluation of it now?
Bronislovas Lubis: Children, as
a rule, enjoy legends and fairy-tales. But sometimes, I am afraid, even grown-ups
whose childhood has passed long ago are fond of them. Yes, legends - they are enjoyable,
but, unfortunately, far from reality.
Tiit Vahi: When I left
the post of Prime Minister in January 1997 I had an apartment (by the way the redecoration
was done taking a loan) and a cottage, built during the Soviet times, as well as a house
in the Valga district. I had shares in small investment company I founded together with my
partners in 1993. But the company was hardly active due to my post of the Prime Minister.
- What advantages or disadvantages have you experienced in your business activities taking into account your post of the Prime Minister?
Andris Skele: The only
advantage: I had a very vast range of acquaintances, and even vaster circle of those who
recognise me. Many who recognise me, but do not know anything about me. But that is a
great advantage. I have experienced both periods in the beginning of my business career as
well as in 1997 when I founded the above mentioned UVK Ltd.
Lubis: I cannot give a
simple answer. The positive thing is that I know a lot of entrepreneurs. Although already
before restoration of independence when I was the Chief Engineer of Azotas and I
was quite a well-known person with a splendid business career perspective.
Vahi: I presume there still are more opportunities than the negative facts and difficulties. I have a lot of information due to the fact that I have been in politics a long time and I know almost all VIPs not only in Estonia but also abroad.
- Would you comment the thesis: at the present moment in business the initial accumulation of capital takes place in the Baltic countries as well as in other countries in the former East bloc.
Skele: I think that the above mentioned period of initial accumulation of capital, as you put it, is over. Also in Latvia.
Lubis: Yes, that's true. The process is present. During the soviet times it did not exist at all.
Vahi: I suppose that the period of initial accumulation of capital has finished, the second period - redistribution is due to begin. And that is only fair because supposedly the initially state owned capital was seized by the persons who could not manage it properly. At the moment the capital flow is directed towards those who are able to manage the enterprises, business and capital.
- Do you think the laws of your country restricting business activities of politicians in their private business with respect to the conflict of interest are acceptable to you? Are any changes required in this sector?
Skele: I am of the opinion that
the direction chosen is the right one but this area of legislation is still
underdeveloped. There is still a lot to do in this area. For instance, the AveLat Group
is a very good sample: mass media and public opinion or at least part of society has
insisted on turning over my ownership of shares to an independent administrator although
none of the norms of Latvian legislation foresees this. I have introduced all the required
procedures in order to exclude any speculations in the future.
Lubis: I think that politicians should be able to participate in business activities only indirectly and not directly due to the fact that politics should be considered as their main job. Otherwise rather negative associations occur for the majority of people. I do not think that business people may not be involved in politics, but it may become true only after their business has become completely transparent.
Vahi: I am of the opinion that politicians are not able to sit on two chairs at the same time being simultaneously involved in politics and taking the post in the government, and, to make it even more complicated - manage their own business. The restrictions existing in Estonia, to my mind, are correct. On the other hand, I have only one but - sometimes politicians are charged without any proof all suppositions being based on rumours only. The politicians have to have some protection so they are charged only in those cases when in fact they are proved guilty.
- To what extent at the present moment in the former Soviet Union the support and involvement of well - off business people is necessary? Do you consider it might reduce corruption or vice versa, approximation of political and economic powers would serve as a cause of anti-democratic tendencies and even in formation of an oligarchy?
Skele: At the basis of stability is a strong middle class. Simultaneously, involvement of well-off and prosperous people in politics should facilitate stability. In turn, transparency and openness, as well as a democratic mass media are a guarantee against anti-democratic tendencies. It is very important to ensure publicity.
Lubis: I suppose that if
wealthy individuals are getting involved in politics that is a positive tendency. After
all they are not concerned with everyday problems and they can concentrate on solving the
state issues. But I would like to stress it once more that the other part of their private
business should be maximum transparent in order to escape any doubts in the society.
Vahi: It seems that the
main question is still not touched upon - the people may be fair or unfair. I think
private business and politics are different things.
- What is your attitude towards the concept of «national business»? Do you believe in the vitality of this idea? If so, can you be called the representative of such a business?
Skele: You can talk about «national schools» in business. This can also be referred towards business management traditions, but not towards ownership. That is the question of culture and tradition. The culture of business management is under development at the present moment. It is essential that it goes in the right direction. I followed the same thought at the time when I was actively involved in business.
Lubis: I do not think that Lithuania owns any national business. Because now the business has become international. Even the owner of a small shop sells the goods produced in different countries.
Vahi: Yes. I think that
national business exists. Being the Prime Minister I supported national business if any
possibility occurred under the conditions.
- Do the principles of financing the political parties influence the ideology of political parties in your country? Do you foresee, as a businessman, any illegal ways of business structures to influence politics?
Skele: Yes, they can influence. But the methods are unacceptable if they are secret, if society is not informed of it. If there is no ideology at all behind it. If the politicians are ready to change their position, and their ideology depends on whether they have the power or not. That cannot be acceptable.
Lubis: I am not a
hundred percent expert in this area, even more than that, this is not the issue for
general discussion in Lithuania. It came up just before the Presidential elections when
the names of those who finance the elections were made public. But I suppose it is not a
bad idea because businessmen as well as trade unions and other public entities have to
defend their interests.
Vahi: In Estonia
political scenery should be better painted.
- Does the lobbying like it is understood in western democracies exist in your countries? How have you felt this as a Prime Minister and an entrepreneur?
Skele: To my mind, lobbies are developing in Western democracy traditions in Latvia. It is introduced by Western companies. I would not agree hundred percent with the definition of manifestation of lobbies, I would rather talk about the political discussions concerning economic activities where more substantial and motivated arguments are demonstrated. The main task of a professional lobbyist is argumentation, confidence, information, training. Latvia at present is lacking publicity. I think that at the time when we will be able to read in newspaper announcements about a lobby of industrialists in the Saeima (Parliament) that has succeeded in adopting this or that amendment to a law or any other information of the kind we would make one more step towards real political responsibility and democracy.
Lubis: Yes, it exists.
The Memorandum was one of its manifestations. And this is an open manifestation of goals
and interests of the Industrialists Confederation. The Confederation is one of the
public organizations aiming at become a professional lobbyist.
Vahi: Certainly, lobbies
exist in Estonia. Politics is goal-oriented work of different groups interlinked by common
interests. And if at this moment I am an entrepreneur then I have certain common interests
with other entrepreneurs in order to improve the economic environment for Estonian