The audits carried out by the State Audit Office show that both security ministries, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry Interior, have the cooperation not characteristic for public administration with hunting clubs, which enjoy privileged status concerning the use of public resources for their own needs.
In the case of the Ministry of Defence, these are particularly favourable agreement terms and conditions for the use of forest areas belonging to the National Armed Forces (NAF), while firefighters subordinated to the Ministry of Interior have shown a preference for the use of fire-station rooms for the game-cutting process.
Who manages the Ādaži firing-ground forests – soldiers or hunters?
In 2017, the Ministry of Defence took over the forest properties with a total area of 5,281 ha from JSC “Latvijas valsts meži” (Latvian State Forests) in order to expand the area of the Ādaži firing-ground required due to the enhanced presence of Allied forces and the increased intensity of military activities in the Baltic States. NAF also “inherited” agreements with hunter organisations from JSC “Latvijas valsts meži”.
The terms of those agreements make the State Audit Office doubt and question whether they primarily serve the interests of the concerned security agency. Also, the fee for the use of hunting grounds has not been collected since 2017 because the security agency has no specialists who are familiar with the specific and complicated fee calculation methodology.
The agreements also include the duties not characteristic of the army that create an additional administrative burden for troops. For example, review applications from hunter organisations to use preferred hunting areas and respond within 10 days. The NAF is obliged to inform hunter organisations by an E-mail, by phone or orally if hunting areas are required for military purposes. Besides, agreements have been concluded for a maximum term stipulated by law, that is, 30 years, not even considering the possibility of concluding those agreements for a shorter period.
“In our opinion, with the NAF taking over the forest areas, the interests of national security are not sufficiently appreciated. In this situation, hunter organisations are more privileged than NAF. When evaluating the agreements concluded with the teams of hunters, the State Audit Office raises the question of whether the takeover of those hunting agreements has benefited the interests of the concerned security agency. Is it possible to agree with the hunter organisations about the time and place of use of the hunting areas they prefer during the period when it is even difficult to find time for the National Guard training due to the loading of the firing-ground?” stressed Auditor General Elita Krūmiņa.
Among other things, the audit found that hunting rights in the Ādaži firing-ground have been transferred to the association “Army and Sports Club “Lilaste”” as well. The agreement concluded in 2001 expires in 2021, and one of the provisions of the agreement even states that the NAF undertakes not to hinder the hunter organisation from using the hunting grounds for hunting and maintaining the hunting farm for the duration of the agreement.
One of the recommendations of the State Audit Office reads, “To charge the hunter organisations for a fee and to transfer it to the state budget. The recommendation will be considered as implemented when the state budget receives funds not collected from hunter organisations for 2017 and 2018.” The current deadline is 1 October 2019.
The audit led to the fact that the Ministry of Defence has begun to address the issue of calculating the fee because an agreement is concluded with JSC “Latvijas valsts meži” on calculating the necessary hunting area leasing fees.
The State Audit Office considers that further co-operation of the security agency with hunter organisations should be regulated and made transparent, the compliance of the agreements concluded with the hunter organisations with the rules of the security agency should be assessed, and the necessity to amend the regulatory enactments regarding the restriction of hunting in military objects should be considered.
The NAF has signed agreements with three hunter organisations that manage in the forests of the Ādaži firing-ground, Hunters Sports Club “Vanagi”, Hunting Club “Asni”, Association “Vecmurjāņu mednieku klubs” (Vecmurjāņi Hunter Club).
Firefighters are generously devoting their premises and resources to cutting the game
During the audit on real estate management in the home affairs sector, the State Audit Office discovered a year ago that various hunting-related events were organised in the fire station of Ogre Regional Ķeipene State Firefighting and Rescue Service (SFRS). The pricing of the paid services for the use of the premises of that facility was not approved, an agreement for the lease of the premises was not concluded, and payment for the use of the premises was not demanded either.
A hunter club “Plauži” was registered at the address of Ķeipene Fire station since 2009, whose Board was chaired by an official from the Fire Safety and Civil Protection College, but the indicated contact phone number of the hunter club was the telephone number of another SFRS official. Thus, several high-level SFRS officials knew about the organisation of events at the Ķeipene Fire Station.
According to publicly available information, Hunter Club “Lady HUNT” organised pheasant hunting in cooperation with Hunter Club “Plauži” in 2016 and 2017. For the needs of those events, both the territory and interior of the SFRS fire station were used.
The inspection carried out by the Ministry of Interior also confirmed that the fire station facilities were used for the needs of the hunter club where the game was cut in fire-hose washing room, premises were used for organising meals and overnight stays, which indicates special privileges for the members of hunter club, including several high-level SFRS officials.
The State Audit Office assesses that it was the use of state property for private interests, which is prohibited by the Law on Preventing the Defalcation of Financial Resources and Property of the Public Entity and the Law on Prevention of the Conflicts of Interest in Activities of Public Officials. The State Audit Office has already approached the Ministry of Interior in the course of the audit and informed the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau as well.
The State Audit Office does not support the idea of allowing teenagers to use hunting weapons
The State Audit Office has always actively expressed its position regarding changes in the regulatory framework of hunting and weapons circulation. The State Audit Office did not support the changes planned in the Law on Weapons Circulation in February this year, which were still adopted and allowed the use of firearms for hunting starting from the age of sixteen already. The proposal to include such a provision in the law was promoted without sufficient impact assessment; there was no consultation on it, although objections from several organisations were received regarding non-compliance of such a provision with the principles of protection of children’s rights.
When asking to support the provisions controversially assessed in the society, the opinion was voiced that even younger children were involved in the shooting lessons of the Young Guards. In the opinion of the State Audit Office, it is wrong to use this fact in the reasoning regarding the amendments to the Law on Weapons Circulation, as the State Audit Office has concluded in the recent audit on the operation and development of the Young Guard that not all the necessary steps were fulfilled so that the lessons in the Young Guard would be considered of high-quality. The State Audit Office emphasised that immediate significant improvements were required in the training process of the Young Guard, including the safety of organising the classes.