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Rokas Masiulis
© DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis says that the recently surfacing corruption in the sector he curates are a natural matter. "There are areas that were touched and those that weren't. The transport and communications sector has not been touched, thus now that shifts are happening, naturally these bad things are uncovered," he explains.

The minister said in an interview with Delfi that what he saw on arriving from the Ministry of Energy left him with a sense of déjà vu.

"Perhaps it was only the simplicity of it that was surprising, as well as the appropriations and abuse being practically unconcealed. In the energy sector they would at least try to cover their tracks, but they aren't even doing so here," he said.

R. Masiulis also discussed the conclusions of the National Security and Defence Committee conclusions, which were ratified by the Seimas, on business influence on politics, explained in what ways he is striving to change prior established practices with new ones. "The main matter is changing people. You can construct any system you want, but if the people are unfair, it will proceed unfairly," he mused.

The minister believes that from 2008 to 2016 when Eligijus Masiulis and Rimantas Sinkevičius were heading the Ministry of Transport and Communications, neither the transport sector, nor Lietuvos Geležinkeliai contributed to the progress of the country, being frozen in time and experiencing no change.

"The long-term leadership of Mr. Stasys Dailydka was not the brightest time for our railways. I worked in the cabinet in another office, in the post of minister of energy and would always be left with questions about how not everything is transparent in the railways, how it is a black hole and no one knows, what is going on, only feeling that something is wrong.

There were many suspicions, which as we now see are turning out to be true – that competitions lacked transparency, that there were meetings with potential victors prior to competitions. It is early to say, but the railways perform their own research and analysis, thus I believe that law enforcement will have things to evaluate," R. Masiulis said.

The minister points out that his negative view of S. Dailydka's leadership of the national railways is due to so-called internal transactions where railway daughter companies could opt to not organise public procurements and were delegated numerous procurements, which should normally have been chosen through public competitions. This led to constant use of the same contractors, which was an indicator of a lack of transparency and increased costs.

When asked if he participates in the changes ongoing in Lietuvos Geležinkeliai, the minister explained that everything has been delegated to the company and he does not interfere. "What is most important is to build a team and then the responsibility for working is left to them," he stated.

In regard to what changes are ongoing in Lietuvos Geležinkeliai now, the minister first highlights changes to the company's public procurements, how the process has become transparent, clear and how internal transactions have been abolished.

"The big black hole is gradually becoming fairly understandable, clear. Rational long term planning has also appeared, the company has a long-term strategy – what it would like to invest in, how it sees the future of rail transport many years ahead. Finally a supervisor has appeared, who predicts and forecasts long term work, rather than day to day goings on," the minister stated, continuing by pointing out administrative reform, with around a thousand five hundred layoffs having been made in middle management. According to him, the company has become leaner, more flexible and innovative, with further results to become apparent over the coming five years because such vast companies do not make cardinal changes rapidly.

As was revealed by the NSGK conclusions, the national railways' public procurements would be arranged so that they would be won by the company Mitnija. R. Masiulis explains that this would be prevented following the changes made to the company, due to procurement procedures being more transparent, purchases from a sole source being removed and, he emphasises, staffing changes: "You can construct any system you want, but if the people are unfair, it will proceed unfairly. However, I hope that the new management has brought together a team, which is not corrupt."

The NSGK conclusions also describe how Daivis Zabulionis was made deputy chief of the Lithuanian Road Administration in 2016 potentially in order to support MG Baltic and Kauno Tiltai. He was fired in 2017, returned to his post by courts and then once more fired by R. Masiulis. The minister recounts that he received data on D. Zabulionis' contacts with MG Baltic and backing certain projects already before the NSGK conclusions. This material was handed to the Road Administration, which fired Zabulionis. According to the minister, the core reason, why the institution lost in the lawsuit against D. Zabulionis was a failure to adequately prepare for the court proceedings.

When asked, whether Mitnija or Kauno Tiltai have "their people" in the Lithuanian Road Adminstration now, the minister was unable to answer, pointing out that the staff there are not directly subordinate to him, but he expects there to be none, fewer or soon to be none, given core reworks for the institution, as well as other road maintenance companies.

In terms of countering individuals, who have not been uncovered to be corrupt, the minister points out that prevention and vindication offices have been established in the companies, typically former special services (such as the STT, FNTT and VSD) officers, who are tasked with corruption prevention within their host institutions.

R. Masiulis laments the lack of financing, which makes it difficult to attract new hires. He points out that previously the wages were more acceptable given that certain individuals would obtain earnings on the side. The minister expresses hope that the planned state service legislation will create conditions to raise wages and retain fair and competent individuals. He notes that this situation can be seen across a wide range of institutions and services. The politician explains that he is less concerned with higher managing positions, however and instead a more significant issue is when it comes to lower management positions or engineering staff.

One of the most recent pieces of news to arrive from the Ministry of Transport and Communications is regarding regional road maintenance company audit, which uncovered abuse of public funds, ranging from mass work trips abroad, trainings in exotic countries, baseless bonuses and public procurement breaches. These issues follow after other audits, which have unveiled issues in the Centre of Registers, Lithuanian Post, Oro Navigacija and other institutions and companies. The minister explains that certain areas have come under scrutiny before, while others haven't and the transport and communications sector faced less scrutiny, which led to the current circumstances.

"What we are doing in the transport and communications sector is uncovering history. History of 5, 10, 15 years, where there were no changes. I am not dramatizing this or panicking, it is simply a stage of the country cleansing itself. When we conclude it, such questions will no longer arise and we will then focus on small corruption. But the major, systematic corruption, which forms conditions, ignores breaches and abuses, where it is acceptable to abuse state office as a norm – it will disappear from this sector. The country is cleansing itself, we are a young country and we must comb through all sectors, must cleanse all of them, there's no other way," R. Masiulis said.

The politician was unwilling to answer, what sectors still need scrutiny, only noting that what he saw on arriving from the Ministry of Energy left him with a sense of déjà vu.

"Perhaps it was only the simplicity of it that was surprising, as well as the appropriations and abuse being practically unconcealed. In the energy sector, they would at least try to cover their tracks, but they aren't even doing so here. This shows that for a number of years there was no scrutiny from anyone," he said. The minister expresses confidence in the long term effects of the changes, pointing out changes in the energy sector, where as he describes, young, ambitious leaders arrived, aiming to build their reputations and aid the country rather than profiteer.

When asked on his views of penalties and fines, the minister explains that unveiling culprits and punishing them is necessary. For one it can be seen as a preventative measure, which leaves people unwilling to commit misdeeds, however for another, the minister notes that this also grants society a sense of justice, that justice is served in the country, something that cannot happen without punishment.

At the same time, R. Masiulis highlights that the punishments must nevertheless be wisely enacted and everything done in line with the law. "However, there where there are grey zones, it sometimes happens that people have the goal of finding something bad and not building up the state as a healthy body. Then justice is used for persecution, but after all our goal is not persecution, but for the state to be clean and healthy in the future. Perhaps there are even areas, where on reflection, those who did wrong can be given a second chance if they have the potential to give benefit to the state later on. There are people, who did it unconsciously, those who did it because their boss told them. There are certain breaches, which can be separated from the worst," the minister of transport and communications said.