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DEBATE NOW CENTERS ON IF DECENTRALIZATION OCCURRED

Law carves Slovakia into more regions

Coalition deputies delivered a one-two punch in Parliament's July session when they approved two bills that will redraw the country's political map both geographically and administratively. First, coalition deputies overrode President Michal Kováč's veto on July 3 and reapproved without changes the regional division bill that was first passed in March. The law increases the number of regions in Slovakia from four to eight, while the number of districts balloons from 34 to 79. Kováč had vetoed the bill on the grounds that it reduced Bratislava's independent status, a charge echoed by opposition deputies.

Coalition deputies delivered a one-two punch in Parliament's July session when they approved two bills that will redraw the country's political map both geographically and administratively. First, coalition deputies overrode President Michal Kováč's veto on July 3 and reapproved without changes the regional division bill that was first passed in March. The law increases the number of regions in Slovakia from four to eight, while the number of districts balloons from 34 to 79.

Kováč had vetoed the bill on the grounds that it reduced Bratislava's independent status, a charge echoed by opposition deputies. The next day, coalition deputies pushed into law a measure reorganizing the state administration at the regional and district levels. The second law mandates that there will now be a state administrator for each region who is in charge of appointing an administrator for each district.

Closer to the people

Interior Minister Ľudovít Hudek, who defended the state administration bill in a speech before the chamber, said it will "bring state administration closer to the people" by transferring most state administration powers to the regional and district level. But the bill's opponents maintained that the creation of more regional and district offices does not transfer any power at all; instead, they argued, it only serves to strengthen the state's grip by creating more state administration employees controlled by the government.

A step back

Opposition deputies see a copy of Communist-style central rule in the new legislation. Under Communism, the government run by the Communist party had its branches at all regional, district and municipal levels. There were no directly-elected municipal governments.

After the 1989 revolution, one of lawmakers' first decisions was to mandate the election of municipal governments and to decentralize the state's power by transferring it to municipalities. But that has still not happened, opposition deputies argued. "We can clearly see the ruling coalition's goal is a strong, centralized state with ineffective elected municipal governments," said Ján Langoš, chairman of the Democratic Party (DS).

"From the point of view of putting the power in hands of one political party, [the new legislation] is ingenious," Langoš continued. "This is a lesson from Communism. Local masters who are members of a political party...whatever the people need, they will have to go to them." Under Slovakia's system of government, the Cabinet appoints one state administrator for each region, who in turn appoints the members on the regional state administration board. In addition, the regional state administrator also appoints the district state administrator. The district state administrator is empowered with appointing all the members of the district state administration board.

Members of the opposition point out that the distribution of finances, as defined by the new legislation, is still centralized because the funds still come from the state budget and decisions on how they are spent are made by Cabinet appointees. Hudek explained that the new system is better for the people, because the regional and district offices will be given new powers to decide and disburse national funds for regional and district public works projects, schools and other bodies. "This government aims to decentralize the state's power," Hudek told The Slovak Spectator.

"Nonsense," answered Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) vice-chairman Peter Weiss. "Decentralization is when the state transfers a part of its powers to elected municipal governments and makes sure those are adequately financed from taxes collected in the region."

Appointment game

Now the game begins of who will be appointed to all the new posts. The opposition claims to have reliable information that the leaders of the local HZDS organizations are already being hand-picked for the positions. HZDS deputies denied this to be true.

"Party affiliation or membership in a party is the free choice of the people," said one HZDS deputy, Jozef Rea, who chairs the parliamentary committee on public administration, territorial self-administration, and minorities.

While HZDS may be happy, their coalition partners are not, because they are seemingly dissatisfied with the number of appointments their party faithful are going to receive. "Don't ask me to comment on anything,'' said Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Ján Slota with a sad grin. "Everything is in hell."

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