As a former veterinarian, one would have thought that Latvian finance minister Atis Slakteris would be a dab hand at putting things out of their misery in a swift and painless manner.
Unfortunately, where working out a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is concerned, he seems to have been happy to prolong the agony as long as possible.
The whole affair has been bordering on the farcical, with each attempt to exert authority and gain some sort of control simply resulting in more confusion and a rapidly-increasing chance that Latvia will end up the terminal patient on his botched operating table.
Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?
It started badly when Slakteris and others adopted the line that though they would ask the IMF for assistance, they didn’t actually need the money. That is akin to being approached in a bar by someone who slurs in your face: “Lend me a fiver for a drink, will you? I don’t actually need your stinking money because I can afford to buy drinks if I want to, but lend us a fiver, eh?”
It would’ve been entirely reasonable for the IMF to have delivered a two word answer at that point, but presumably they simply couldn’t believe their ears.
Since then we’ve had a string of big announcements that were due to be made any time now… but never quite got made. Like how much money the IMF was being asked for. As Latvian citizens will be the ones who ultimately pay the loan back, it’d be nice if they were told roughly how much they were being asked to stump up.
One can have some sympathy for Slakteris, he is so clearly out of his depth. Economy minister Kaspars Gerhards should surely have pitched in at some point, but the only way he could be more invisible would be by turning up to parliament wearing dark glasses and swathed in bandages.
PM Godmanis has been working hard – just look at his ravaged face – but despite getting top marks for effort he warrants an ‘F’ for results. His schtick about serious times requiring serious measures is getting almost as grating as his simultaneous insistence that there is no crisis.
Shut That Door
The most popular stick with which to beat Slack Atis (any Larry Grayson fans out there?) has been an ill-advised interview he did with Bloomberg TV. Despite the fact that no-one except the sort of terminal tightwad you pray doesn’t sit next to you on a plane actually watches the channel, local media jumped all over Slakteris accusing him of disgracing the country with his poor command of English.
That was unfair and missed the point. He actually speaks excellent English – better than all but a couple of his cabinet colleagues. Accusations to the contrary smacked of intellectual snobbery from the Latvian media which perhaps underestimates how appreciative anglophones are of foreigners who dare to be interviewed in English, no matter how accented.
Slakteris’ fault lay not in what he said but the way that he said it. Clearly nervous, his confidence buckled after a few minutes and he started doubting his own vocabulary, calling off camera for prompts. Having lost his nerve he started making basic presentational gaffes like clasping his hands over his mouth when he realised he’d said too much, instead of brazening it out.
His ‘crime’ was a tragic naivete which in some circumstances can be endearing. But when playing with the big beasts of the IMF, such naivety risks you getting your finger bitten off. Just above the elbow.
At some point the IMF will want to make an example of one of the countries asking it for a handout, to show others that there is no guarantee you will get what you ask for and that you’d better be well prepared and professional. The Latvian government’s amateurish overtures seems to be doing a pretty good job of making sure Latvia is the country the IMF will tell to stand in the corner facing the wall until further notice.
Slakteris reminds me of Mr Chinnery, the well-meaning but disastrous vet in The League of Gentlemen, trying to help, but ending up leaving a trail of cuddly corpses in his wake…