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POLITICAL PLATFORMS ONCE AGAIN FEATURE PROMISES TO SLASH BUREAUCRACY AND SLIM DOWN SIZE OF GOVERNMENT

Vows to cut red tape renewed

AHEAD of the nearing general elections, many political parties are making bold promises to cut bureaucracy to an unprecedented extent in order to please the voter.

AHEAD of the nearing general elections, many political parties are making bold promises to cut bureaucracy to an unprecedented extent in order to please the voter.

Analysts warn, however, that similar promises have become a regular election agenda that has repeatedly proven hard to fulfil.

Yet, despite the infamous history of attempts to cut the number of state jobs, many political parties that have a chance to make it to parliament after the June 17 general elections are again promising a major decrease in bureaucracy.

Among the boldest statements are those of Vladimír Mečiar, the leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and of Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Ján Slota.

At a HZDS programme conference held on April 21, Mečiar said that Slovakia currently has more state offices now than in 1998, when his last term in office as Slovakia's prime minister ended.

"Two thirds of them could be shut down within 24 hours and no one except the bureaucrats [working there] would notice," he said.

HZDS spokeswoman Magdaléna Fajtová explained to The Slovak Spectator that the party's programme included "several steps connected with the state administration."

"Our goal is to approve measures that will increase effectiveness of the state administration. We will push for a reduction of regional and local state administration bodies and increased transparency of the network...We will support decreasing the number of cabinet members and ministries," Fajtová said.

The SNS also plans to close several ministries, such as culture and construction, and incorporate them into the education and economy ministries, respectively.

SNS leader Slota said that his party wanted to invest billions into the construction of flats for young families. One way to find the required money in the state budget is cutting state and public jobs.

"There are almost 600,000 people working in public administration. If we decrease this number by a third, we'll save at least Sk50 billion," Slota said at a press conference held on April 27.

Other parties also seem open to cuts in state bureaucracy. The Free Forum said it would merge the environment and agriculture ministries, for instance.

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said recently that he could envisage closing the Economy Ministry and cancelling the post of deputy prime minister for EU affairs and minorities.

A part of the Economy Ministry's current agenda would be transferred to other ministries.

The Construction and Regional Development Ministry could take over tourism, for which the Economy Ministry is currently responsible, according to Dzurinda, the Transport Ministry could take over the energy infrastructure.

The SDKÚ's election programme, "It's About a Successful Slovakia," which was approved at a programme conference on May 1, also foresees the cancellation of other state offices.

The party wants to move some offices under existing ministries, for instance, the state material reserves office, under the Finance Ministry. It also plans to merge the telecommunications and post office and the antitrust authority with the public procurement office, and it intends to reorganize the regional and district education offices.

The SDKÚ also wants to "cut the number of offices so that citizens can arrange as many official matters as possible at one desk."

According to the election programme of the former ruling Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), among other goals, the party pledges to focus on increasing the competitiveness of Slovakia's regions.

In line with this agenda, the KDH has listed a number of goals including "the municipalization process in line with the continuing public administration reform" and "supporting the principle of solidarity in order to restrain the growing regional disparities".

"We will secure more finances for the development of underdeveloped regions, especially for public investments and the further education of people. We will work towards increasing the quality of the existing housing fund through higher state support," reads the KDH program.

Like other parties, the KDH is also open to cutting state jobs.

"We will decrease the number of state offices through mergers or the cancellation of some of them or including them under various ministries. This arrangement will affect the National Security Office, the Office for the Protection of Personal Data, the Office of Geodesy, Cartography, and Cadastre, and the Office for Normalization, Metrology, and Testing," said Anna Andrejuvová, KDH spokeswoman.

According to Lívia Solymos, the spokeswoman of the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), her party plans to "carry out an overall audit of the whole state administration with regard to the need, effectiveness, and expediency [of the individual offices]".

"We also plan to carry out a personnel and systematic audit in each central state body and in regional and district offices of the specialized state administration similarly as was done in some government ministries during the current election term [the construction and finance ministries, for instance]. This could lead to a 15 to 20 percent reduction in the number of state bureaucrats," Solymos said.

However, not all parliamentary parties are excited about these plans. According to Ladislav Jača, the central secretary of the Slovak Communist Party (KSS), the aim of cutting state jobs is a "cynical pre-election agenda".

"It is a well-known fact that in the current election term, some ministries increased employee number, and various offices and institutions were created whose existence was explained by the need to create specialized offices for decision making at individual ministries and the government as a whole," Jača told The Slovak Spectator.

"On the other hand, foreign companies were invited as advisors on privatization projects, and received billions of crowns in taxpayer money for their help in ruining the Slovak economy.

"This confirms the mendacity of the statements of some political parties," Jača said.

However, the KSS also supports the idea of merging some ministries and reducing the number of state bureaucrats.

"Along with decreasing the number of bureaucrats at individual ministries, some ministries should also be merged, for instance, the culture and education ministries. The [little property] that is left in state hands after privatization could easily be handled by a single ministry, which could replace the current economy, transport and other ministries," Jača said.

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