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MPS OFFEND PUBLIC WITH DEMANDS FOR LIFELONG STIPENDS, BIGGER GOLDEN HANDSHAKES

Cashing in for life

AS THEY near the end of their four-year terms in the legislature, some members of parliament (MPs) are designing generous financial packages to soften the shock of unemployment should they not be re-elected in September 2002.
MPs first suggested they be paid a lifelong monthly stipend in case they do not make it back into parliament. But after the proposal sparked protests, they argued that the existing end-of-term compensation package for MPs who do not get re-elected should be raised from the current five times the MP monthly wages to eight times.
The proposal would increase the package from Sk180,000 ($3,740) to 288,000 ($6,000). The sum would take the average Slovak almost two years to earn at the nominal national wage.

AS THEY near the end of their four-year terms in the legislature, some members of parliament (MPs) are designing generous financial packages to soften the shock of unemployment should they not be re-elected in September 2002.

MPs first suggested they be paid a lifelong monthly stipend in case they do not make it back into parliament. But after the proposal sparked protests, they argued that the existing end-of-term compensation package for MPs who do not get re-elected should be raised from the current five times the MP monthly wages to eight times.

The proposal would increase the package from Sk180,000 ($3,740) to 288,000 ($6,000). The sum would take the average Slovak almost two years to earn at the nominal national wage.

The suggestions have angered the public, particularly as the country is struggling with 20.8 per cent unemployment and a record planned fiscal deficit.

Nor have MPs acquitted themselves responsibly in their jobs. Two weeks ago, Speaker of Parliament Jozef Migaš had to cancel a parliamentary session due to the absence of MPs. The chamber was paralysed and unable to conduct business, even though Slovakia must pass over 40 laws by June to meet a deadline for reforms connected with European Union entry.

The MP's wage amendment will be discussed at the upcoming parliamentary session starting on March 14.

"Why should we have to pay them anything? I'm offended that they had the arrogance to come with such proposals at all. They should be ashamed of themselves," said Jozef Martinek, 32, from Brezno.

According to a survey carried out in January by the Focus polling agency, 80 per cent of Slovaks are convinced that the majority of Slovak public officials put their personal interests over public concerns.

MPs, however, said that none of the wage proposals were definite, and that they had just been "talking among ourselves," according to Jozef Mesiarik, a Party of Civil Understanding (SOP) MP.

Jozef Krumpolec, an MP for the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), said that MPs had originally discussed setting life long monthly stipends at between the country's minimum wage of Sk4,000 ($83) to Sk12,000 ($250), the average national wage

Krumpolec, however, refused to say who had started debate on the proposal.

"I don't want to put anyone down. Just blame it on me," Krumpolec said.

"I don't remember exactly who it was; it was more a collective, spontaneous suggestion," said Mesiarik, whose SOP party last week registered 0.7 per cent voter support according to the MVK polling agency survey.

The Slovak Taxpayers Association (ZDPS) protested the proposal, calling it "a mockery of all hardworking citizens".

Migaš conceded that the suggestions were "rightfully angering the public" and said MPs should concentrate on effective and disciplined work in parliament rather than "debating unfounded, second-rate topics".

But Martin Kujan, an SDK MP, defended the compensation package increase.

"After tax it's only some Sk80,000, which I think isn't so much money because MPs many times stay at sessions very late and even work on the weekends," he said.

The amendment, which was originally submitted to parliament in July last year to change the wages of the Supreme Audit Office representatives, has grown in size over the past few months, as proposals were added including MP benefits such as free domestic air transport.

The suggestions may have been inspired by the fate of Ján Ľupták, who from 1994 to 1998 headed the Slovak Workers Association (ZRS) party in the Mečiar government.

After his party failed to attract sufficient voter support and did not get into parliament in September 1998, Ľupták had to register with the National Labour Office. He collected unemployment benefits for several months.

Citizens, however, show little sympathy for such cases.

"If we don't re-elect MPs it's because we're not happy with their work. It's absurd we should pay someone who did a poor job until the end of his life," said Martinek from Brezno.

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