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EDITORIAL

The truth comes out

AS LUCK would have it, our focus on legislation this week came at a time when there was plenty to write about. Nationalization, expropriation, and regulation - not a pretty mix, but compared to the honeymoon of the Fico government's first six months in office, it's probably more true to the mentality of this administration.

AS LUCK would have it, our focus on legislation this week came at a time when there was plenty to write about. Nationalization, expropriation, and regulation - not a pretty mix, but compared to the honeymoon of the Fico government's first six months in office, it's probably more true to the mentality of this administration.

The draft Labour Code was posted on the web on February 7, and it smells of the dank decades leading up to 1989. It intends to herd us all back to the classic full-time employment contract, and to return unions to their "proper" position atop the swarming labour heap.

The Regulation Act amendment was passed the same day, and will give the government greater control of the "independent" market regulator.

February 7 was also the day the Health Ministry published its draft Health Insurance Act amendment that, if passed, will require about a million people to return to state health insurance companies, and will outlaw private insurers from making a profit.

The amendment to the Construction Act, meanwhile, would allow the state freeways administration to expropriate property without first agreeing with landowners on adequate compensation.

With the exception of the Labour Code, these laws have one thing in common: all of them are in conflict with the Constitution, and all will unleash a storm of legal challenges if passed.

If the first six months of the Fico government encouraged us to regard it as benign - as socialist in name, but with a big wink to business and the pragmatic demands of running a country - its performance in 2007 has confirmed some earlier misgivings.

First, this is a government that will always prefer the populist gesture - fighting health care "speculators" and energy market "monopolies" - over rational or legal behaviour.

Second, it will prefer its friends - freeway construction companies, industrial energy consumers - over the rest of Slovak citizens, although this preference will be heavily camouflaged with populist rhetoric ("there is social demand for new freeways", "this new law will lead to fair energy prices", etc.).

Finally, with its impending control of the Constitutional Court - President Ivan Gašparovič is apparently just clearing his throat before nominating 9 government appointees to the 13-member court for 12-year terms - the government could probably care less if its populist, paternalist, anti-business and outright illegal legislation is challenged. The Constitutional Court, after all, has been conquered.

This is a government that has left the flat tax intact and pledged to adopt the euro in 2009. But don't be fooled.

To visualize the mentality of the Fico government, imagine an ageing and fussy petty bureaucrat with glasses perched on the end of his nose - a man who licks his thumb to turn pages, and who can do nothing for you if your documents don't bear the right stamps.

It's an image of someone the world has passed by.


By Tom Nicholson

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