2020.12.08 08:00

Lithuania's outgoing ministers take care of their own – LRT Investigation

Mindaugas Aušra, LRT Investigation Team, LRT.lt2020.12.08 08:00

Some in the outgoing Lithuanian government have been filling jobs in ministries and state agencies with people close to the former ruling politicians, according to the LRT Investigation Team.

In January 2020, the Economy and Innovation Ministry started looking for a new head of the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA). Later, the ministry stopped the search because there were plans to restructure the institution.

But at the beginning of October, right before the parliamentary elections in Lithuania, the search for the new head was renewed.

According to LRT sources, the outgoing minister decided to appoint MITA’s head before the end of the government’s term because the institution will play an important role in distributing Lithuania’s long-term, multi-million economic stimulus fund, the so-called DNA of the Future Economy.

By 2021, MITA should allocate 83.2 million euros to five projects.

The search for the new head continues despite calls from the newly elected coalition to refrain from hasty appointments during the transitional period between the old and the new cabinets.

According to LRT’s sources, the current acting director of the agency, social democrat Gintas Kimtys, will most likely fill the position of MITA’s head. Economy and Innovation Minister Rimantas Sinkevičius met with the candidate before announcing the search.

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The minister said he did not discuss MITA’s leadership in the meeting with Kimtys, but did not deny having encouraged him to participate in the competition. “I encouraged everyone, all 40 candidates, including Mr Kimtys,” said Sinkevičius.

When approached by LRT, Kimtys could not remember whether the minister asked him to participate in the competition.

“I don’t want to be inaccurate. It happened a long time ago,” he said. “I would have applied [anyway]. It is the question of personal determination.”

Career progression

According to LRT Investigation Team, Sinkevičius has been concerned with appointing people close to the ruling politicians since this summer.

In July, Eglė Sakalauskaitė, who has been working in the Economy Ministry as legal and personnel adviser since 2015, became the head of the Tourism Policy Division. The ministry did not organise a public competition, saying that it looked for a person in-house to fill the position.

Sakalauskaitė is a daughter of Benjaminas Sakalauskas, a social democrat and a former head of the State Forest Enterprise and the current director of Zarasai Municipality Administration. LRT Sources said that Sakalauskas is a close friend of Sinkevičius, as the two men hunt together.

The minister has confirmed that Sakalauskas is his acquaintance, but said they stopped hunting together five or seven years ago and are not personal friends.

According to the minister, who was previously in the Social Democratic Party before moving to the Social Democratic Labour Party, Sakalauskaitė became head of the Tourism Policy Division because she passed the internal evaluation. He said that a woman, who previously worked as an adviser, was qualified and had the necessary skillset for the position.

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Her public biography, however, shows that Sakalauskaitė has never had any responsibilities related to tourism. The ministry’s Communication Department said that the position was related to law rather than tourism.

“Sakalauskaitė was transferred to the position as an employee with many years of work experience in the legal field. She has been involved in evaluating the legislation by the Tourism Policy Division since the beginning of the pandemic,” the department wrote in an email.

“The aim was to ensure a smooth process and proper institutional representation in drafting legislation to assist the tourism business during the Covid-19 pandemic,” it added.

According to the Economy Ministry’s website, the primary function of the Tourism Policy Division is to formulate the government's policy in the development of tourism and resorts, as well as to organise, coordinate, and control the policy’s implementation.

Lower requirements and higher wages

The requirements for positions in the ministries and their subordinate institutions have changed this summer. In the past, ministries could require candidates to have specific education and work experience. Now, only one of these requirements is sufficient.

“The goal [of the change] was to liberalise the recruitment of people into civil service,” said Gediminas Miškinis, head of the Civil Service Department.

The changes were useful for Giedrė Pupšytė, a 25-year-old former adviser to Agriculture Minister Andrius Palionis, who has become a senior adviser to the Sustainable Agricultural Production Policy Group this autumn.

Pupšytė is also a daughter of Arūnas Pupšys, a member of Šilutė District Council and Palionis’ colleague at the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party.

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Pupšytė won the position through a public competition, held under the lowered requirements. The candidate to a senior adviser position had to have four years of specific education or four years of work experience in the legal field.

“She had a master’s degree in law. She passed this requirement and did not need four years of work experience,” Miškinis said.

In May this year, before the changes were implemented, the agriculture minister hired another senior adviser. Despite stricter requirements, this candidate received a lower salary than Pupšytė.

Representatives of the ministry said that requirements for the positions differed because the two advisers served different functions. They added that one adviser earned more than the other because “the positions are of different importance and scope of functions”.

Strange situation

According to LRT Investigation Team’s sources, the competition for the position of the head of the Communications Department at the Transport and Communications Ministry could have been adapted for Aldona Grinienė, the current spokeswoman for Minister Jaroslav Narkevič.

The requirements of the competition are low, the sources said. They do not ask for knowledge of English or another foreign language because Grinienė is not strong in this area. The position has been vacant since February, but the competition was announced in September, a month before the elections.

In spring, the ministry also organised a competition to fill the senior specialist’s position at the Communications Department. One of its requirements was advanced knowledged of English.

“It is strange that a specialist is required to speak English, but the head of the same department is not. Knowledge of a foreign language is important for the head of the ministry’s Communications Department as far as international relations are concerned,” Miškinis said.

According to the Transport and Communications Ministry, the competition for the position was public and that everyone could participate. It did not say whether Grinienė was one of the candidates.

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