Last year was a good year - at least for Finance Minister Ján Počiatek and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák. Both earned a couple million in addition to their ministerial salaries. It was a good year for the boss of the ruling coalition's Slovak National Party, Ján Slota, and his coalition colleague, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia leader Vladimír Mečiar. The public will hardly learn further details about how, when, where and for how much these politicians have accumulated their wealth while serving in public office. The details will certainly not be found in the official property reports that they have submitted to the parliamentary Conflict of Interest Committee.
It was a good year for politicians but another bad year for transparency in the political arena. Year after year, journalists encounter the same reluctance on the part of politicians to change the requirements for submitting records or to limit the immunity of members of parliament. Over the past decade, politicians have produced an incredibly colourful selection of arguments as to why they should not be obliged to tell more about the source of their extra income or their mushrooming real estate and wondrously acquired "unspecified lands." Sometimes it's "it is not the right time to change the rules," and at other times, "there is no political will." When there is political will, then someone says "we have shown enough" or that "the current regulations are just fine."
When the time comes for the public officials to submit their property reports, journalists sense a weird déja vu of asking the same old questions, for example, about the origin of Vladimír Mečiar's lavish villa, his apartments and his children's chattels. In a way it is almost like a "commemoration" of an era when politicians made their money in rather interesting ways, and yet also a reminder that that era has obviously not fully passed.
Looking at Mečiar's property report, for example, is like looking at a distorted map that shows us the names of the cities and some of the roads, but never shows the real size or hints at the real distance.
Politicians once again made bold statements about how they have no problem giving the public more details about the value of their property, while Gábor Gál, head of the parliamentary Conflict of Interest Committee, said it would benefit the politicians themselves.
It is very probable that next year the public will see the same old property reports that hide just as much as they show.
Journalists who have inquired about the wealth of some politicians have heard amazing stories of sudden fortune or secret good-hearted investors who lend money in return for a smile. The prize for the most absurd narrative still goes to Mečiar, who, a couple years ago, said that a Swiss businessman named Peter Ziegler lent him somewhere between Sk40 million and Sk100 million and that it was a loan with a 10-year maturity.
However, Mečiar has not always been so up-front about the source of his fortune.
In 2002 he tried to hit JOJ TV reporter Ľuboslav Choluj after the reporter asked Mečiar twice where he had gotten the money to pay for his sprawling Elektra villa in western Slovakia's Trenčianske Teplice.
Journalists also have the "story of betting fortune" in their long-term memory. Former defense minister Pavol Kanis, when asked how he earned enough to finance his Sk15 million (€500,000) villa, said that his gambling winnings made up a significant portion of his annual income. Kanis finally resigned his post under strong media pressure. However, Mečiar has never stepped down and he has never faced serious consequences for refusing to give the public the explanation it deserves.
This year, Slovak National Party MP Rafael Rafaj shone light on the matter for the journalists who asked why politicians refuse to publish details about their property. Rafaj told them: "I don't know whether it would be kosher to publish the exact value [of politicians' property] because it's really all relative."
By Beata Balogová
16. Jul 2007 at 0:00