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Rapid pace of legislation hurts quality

The government of Mikulaš Dzurinda has over the last year quickly put into effect many needed laws for the economic transformation of the country that the former government of Vladimír Mečiar had left on the shelf. Though analysts have applauded the pace of reform, however, they have expressed doubts about the quality of the new legislation.
Because many crucial economic laws are passed in accelerated legislative proceedings in parliament, little discussion or profound consideration of the effects of each bill is possible. As a result, badly framed laws often need to be revised to counter their unforeseen effects on the economy. The constant need to repair approved legislation is also creating a back-log, delaying the passage of important bills such as the bankruptcy law.

The government of Mikulaš Dzurinda has over the last year quickly put into effect many needed laws for the economic transformation of the country that the former government of Vladimír Mečiar had left on the shelf. Though analysts have applauded the pace of reform, however, they have expressed doubts about the quality of the new legislation.

Because many crucial economic laws are passed in accelerated legislative proceedings in parliament, little discussion or profound consideration of the effects of each bill is possible. As a result, badly framed laws often need to be revised to counter their unforeseen effects on the economy. The constant need to repair approved legislation is also creating a back-log, delaying the passage of important bills such as the bankruptcy law.

The new tax law is a case in point. Parliament first tackled revisions to the tax law in September, pushing them through the same month. However, they had to come back to the law two months later, passing alterations on November 23. The law is expected to be revised yet again by the end of this year when provisions for the bankruptcy law are enacted.

Juraj Renčko, an advisor to Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová, criticised the tax law revisions, saying they had diminished the overall quality of tax legislation. "Why wasn't it revised just once?" he asked. "When a law is revised several times, lawmakers have to compare the latest changes with previous changes and in the end, they forget what the law was all about in the first place." Renčko also called the time spent making revisions a waste.

According to Miroslav Maxon, former Finance Minister and a deputy for the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the main drawback of laws approved during accelerated legislative proceedings was that amendments deserving full and thoughtful discussion were rammed through the chamber in very short periods.

"Laws must be considered carefully," said Maxon, who sits on the Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Currency and Budget. "Within the tax law package I can mention the newly approved law on licenses for small and medium-sized businessmen, which I am quite sure will have to be revised sometime in January or February," he said. "There was no need to hurry with approving this law."

Jaroslav Volf, a deputy with the ruling SDK party and head of the Parliamentary Committee for Economy, Privatisation and Business, agreed that besides amendments to laws related to the state budget, which are commonly passed in accelerated legislative proceedings, other laws approved during the past several months were of lower quality. "They [problematic laws] are laws which should have been prepared in advance, and I think that the public and analysts are absolutely right when they say that accelerated legislative proceedings influence the quality of these laws," Volf said.

Where is the problem?

Both government officials and analysts faulted ministries for rarely sticking to legislative deadlines, tardiness which forced some laws to be approved in the accelerated legislative proceeding. "It is better to have at least this quality of laws than nothing," said Ján Tóth, a senior analyst with the Dutch investment bank ING Barings, adding that ministers should be held accountable for their poor performance.

Katarína Mathernová, an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš, agreed that improving the efficiency of the state bureaucracy would have a corresponding effect on the quality of legislation. "The results of some ministries have been nothing less than catastrophic," she said.

She went on to say that this current period was key for transforming both the macro and micro economic situations, and that the approval of new laws and revision of old laws could not be put off any longer. It was thus no surprise to Mathernová that "with speed like this, quality is the real problem."

Now and then

According to Renčko, the pace of legislative renewal first picked up in 1998, when the currency plummeted and the government was stuck with a poor balance of payments. "The current situation is not a standard one, and so legislative procedures cannot have a normal pace," he said. "We have to solve economic crises by approving many crucial laws."

Renčko added that many high-quality pieces of legislation had been passed this year, and that the rapid pace of amendment had also answered a need for rapid change in the economy. "The package of laws on the capital market, including the Law on Inscribed Stocks, the Law on Collective Investment and finally the Law on Provisions, were something that many people had desperately called for during the previous government but didn't get," said Renčko. "These laws reflect the experience of developed countries and are very important for the effective functioning of our capital market."

However, if Dzurinda's government wants to complete its original legislative plan for 1999, they still need to revise - apart from the Bankruptcy Law - the Commercial Code, the Civil Code, the Act on Court Executors and Executive Activities and several other laws.

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