Hungarian Bugár (right) says his party's pressure should get the credit.
The laws, passed October 3, give municipalities a clear idea of what property they will start to administer from January 1, 2002, and with what financial backing.
An earlier Competence Law had given municipalities a decision-making role in granting construction permits. But the recently passed law on municipal property hands over real estate and additional land to municipalities. Town officials now believe their future communication with potential foreign investors will become easier and more flexible.
The speedy passage of the laws was also important to meet the requirements of one of the coalition's parties, the ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which in August this year threatened to leave the government if the laws were not passed by the end of September. The SMK chairman, Béla Bugár, confirmed October 3 that his party would remain in the coalition.
Apart from the laws on municipal property and the property of newly-created regional elected governments, parliament also passed an amendment to the budgetary rules for municipalities, and a law setting the wages of the heads of regional parliaments.
At a press conference October 8, Michal Sýkora, head of the Association of Slovak Towns and Villages (ZMOS), said that Slovak town mayors "appreciated that the public administration reform process will finally get started with the remaining laws being passed."
But he added: "We also see some problems which will probably have to be fixed when we start using these laws in real life".
From January 1, 2002, municipalities will be allowed to give out "minor construction permits for family housing estates, and permits to rent advertising space in towns," said the ZMOS vice-chairman, Milan Muška. Municipalities will take over issuance of all types of construction permits in 2003.
However, the municipalities are disappointed that only properties such as schools, hospitals and social facilities will be transferred to their administration. In addition, because these institutions serve essential public needs, they can only be used for their original purposes.
"It's a shame that we weren't given more property, especially land, which we could offer to potential foreign investors for regional development projects," said Muška.
He said that "due to lack of political will", the municipalities had not been given all state-owned land that lies within their territorial jurisdiction.
In 2000 the SMK proposed that all land unclaimed by those who had owned it before it was nationalised by the communists in 1948, and which has been administered since 1989 by the state-run Land Fund, would be transferred to municipalities. This was objected to by the coalition Democratic Left Party (SDĽ).
A compromise was finally achieved when it was agreed that only land lying within town borders would be transferred to municipalities, while land lying in wider rural municipal areas would remain under the Land Fund administration.
Municipalities will therefore only be able to offer town properties to potential investors. Muška said he thought this was a "pity".
"If investors are interested in building a company in the outlying municipal areas, approval must be obtained from the Land Fund, which can slow down the process," he said.
But Laurie Farmer, managing director of the Spiller Farmer real estate consulting firm, said he did not see this as a major problem, explaining that most foreign investors would "probably be interested in building their firms or housing projects inside towns or cities anyway".
Farmer also believed that giving municipalities partial competence in giving out construction permits was "a positive step".
"Municipalities understand the needs of their towns better than people [bureaucrats] sitting in Bratislava. We expect that communication will become more flexible, and that things will become easier for foreign investors," he said.
Although politicians admit better laws could have been drafted, they said the best possible results had been achieved.
SMK's Bugár said: "We can imagine better laws as well, but within the existing limits we managed to achieve the maximum possible.
"If it wasn't for the SMK's pressure on coalition partners we wouldn't even be talking about public administration reform laws at this point, because they still wouldn't have been prepared."