The test of whether Robert Fico is really such a strong prime minister as he pretends will be his government's promise to reduce spending on the state administration. It is too early to predict how it will work out, but if betting shops were taking odds on whether the government will manage to abolish regional state offices as well as fire 20 percent of state employees, the skeptics would not stand to make a lot of money.
Doubts that the government will follow through on its spending cuts have been fanned by statements from various ministries, all of which have advanced reasons for why this or that office cannot be abolished, but instead should be "upsized" or merged with another office that is on the chopping block. The prime minister's silence on the matter also speaks volumes. We know him well enough by now to be sure that if things were looking promising, he would long since have called a press conference to crow the good news.
We are right to be skeptical given the experience of other countries, in which politicians have overcome resistance to downsizing from the bureaucracy only in times of budget crisis, where the alternative is suicidal cuts to social spending. It would be against the laws of nature if the Fico government were able to kick 20 percent of the state's bureaucrats out of their warm offices at a time when the budget is brimming with income. Furthermore, the way in which the parties of the ruling coalition have divided up state posts from the penthouse to the cellar assures us that they will fight for their turf until the last bullet.
Sme, February 23
5. Mar 2007 at 0:00