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MPs scramble to protect state property
13 Aug 2012 Beata Balogová Politics & Society
SLOVAK parliamentarians rushed in early August to preserve the state’s immunity from seizure of its property via debt recovery proceedings – or so-called execution – after the Constitutional Court in late July ruled that the extent of the state’s immunity, as defined by existing legislation, was unconstitutional. Parliament, using fast-tracked legislative proceedings, amended the Execution Act, which governs the debt collection process, with 115 of the 116 MPs present supporting changes to preserve state immunity. The Constitutional Court did not, in fact, question the state’s immunity from execution as such, but rather its extent, when it ruled unconstitutional two provisions in the Law on the Administration of State Property and the Law on the State Treasury which had previously guaranteed immunity for the state.
“By this [move] the state remained bare; there are no barriers that would prevent unlimited [seizure] of state property,” said Prime Minister Robert Fico after a special meeting of his cabinet on August 7 to address the situation, as reported by the SITA newswire.
The issue is particularly pressing given that several state institutions reportedly owe significant amounts. For example, public broadcaster Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS) reportedly has at least €5 million in outstanding debts, SITA wrote.
If debtors were able to secure repayment of these debts via seizure of property, the state could in theory be stripped of significant assets.
The Justice Ministry has now included on the list of state property which should not be subject to seizure: the immovable property of the state, except immovable property in temporary administration; state budget revenues; funds held in the accounts of state budgetary organisations; and receivables. State-owned securities and ownership of the state in legal entities as well as resources to be used to cover the state budget deficit and national debt were also included on the list of items exempt from seizure.
“We sought – and in my opinion we have found – the right balance between the fact that on one hand the state should be protected considering its irreplaceable functions and on the other hand [the fact that] those who have justified claims towards the state can be satisfied,” Justice Minister Tomáš Borec said, as reported by SITA.
The measure was adopted almost unanimously by MPs, with opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) lawmaker Ľudovít Kaník saying that “if the interests of the country are in question then we are able to promptly find agreement”.
The whole process was sparked by an unsuccessful inheritance proceeding at a Bratislava district court. The notary involved had failed to track the complete property of the deceased, which resulted in additional costs for the inheritors, who then sued the government ministry responsible for record-keeping for approximately €250, of which €40 remained unpaid by the ministry, Sme wrote.
In November 2010, the Bratislava judge asked the Constitutional Court to judge whether the state should enjoy absolute immunity in executions, according to the Sme daily.
Despite its smooth passage, opposition MP Gábor Gál, of Most-Híd, who is a member of parliament’s constitutional and legal committee, warned that the latest amendment could end up back at the Constitutional Court. He referred to the fact that the amendment enables certain types of state property not covered by complete immunity still to be shielded from court-ordered seizure. In such cases, the government is obliged to provide evidence that the property, considered necessary in order to carry out the tasks of the state and for the public good, should be protected via immunity, TASR newswire reported.
The Constitutional Court has via several previous decisions implied doubts about the extent of the state’s immunity from execution, Sme reported. For example parliament tried twice to exempt health-care institutions from execution, but back in 2000 the court ruled that such an exemption was not in line with the constitution, according to Sme.
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