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PARLIAMENT TURNS DOWN A BILL THAT WOULD HAVE FORCED ASSET DISCLOSURES FROM PUBLIC OFFICIALS' NEXT-OF-KIN

MPs not interested in conflict law

ANTI-CORRUPTION bodies accused politicians of hypocrisy after members of parliament (MPs) last week rejected a bill that would have increased public supervision of their assets.
While many MPs have spoken out against corruption, and while the issue has become a key one in Slovakia's entry to bodies like Nato and the European Union, the revised conflict of interest law was defeated on May 30 by a solid 15 votes in the 150-seat chamber.
Both sides of the house combined to kill the bill. Several MPs representing coalition government parties abstained, while others did not vote and a few even openly opposed the legislation, which had been approved by cabinet March 20.


SOME MPs would prefer their assets be hidden from public view.
photo: TASR

ANTI-CORRUPTION bodies accused politicians of hypocrisy after members of parliament (MPs) last week rejected a bill that would have increased public supervision of their assets.

While many MPs have spoken out against corruption, and while the issue has become a key one in Slovakia's entry to bodies like Nato and the European Union, the revised conflict of interest law was defeated on May 30 by a solid 15 votes in the 150-seat chamber.

Both sides of the house combined to kill the bill. Several MPs representing coalition government parties abstained, while others did not vote and a few even openly opposed the legislation, which had been approved by cabinet March 20.

The bill would have obliged the spouses, children, and people sharing the households of public officials to make asset declarations available to the public under the access to information law.

The revision also required an extended group of public officials to submit asset declarations while in office, and for two years after leaving office. The expanded group would have included the president, MPs, members of regional parliaments, judges, the heads of state companies, mayors, public attorneys, as well as the ombudsman.

The need for the revision was stressed in the European Commission's (EC) 2001 regular report on Slovakia.

Anti-corruption groups also said the existing 1995 version of the law needed sharper teeth, noting that in the six years it has been in effect, not a single public official has been punished or even investigated for a conflict of interest.

"Citizens should bear in mind the stances these MPs took with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections, they should remember who was against and who was in favour, who was willing to be accountable to citizens," said Emília Sieáková, head of the Transparency International Slovakia (TIS) watchdog.

Of the 121 MPs present for the vote, 75 supported the revision, seven voted against, 36 abstained and three did not vote. Among those who voted against the revision were Vladimír Palko and František Mikloško, coalition MPs from the Christian Democrat (KDH) party. The eight remaining KDH MPs either abstained or did not vote.

Four MPs from the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and three from Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party also abstained.

The KDH's Palko said while his party was in favour of the revision, it had several objections to the current version which had not been satisfied in the debate prior to the vote.

"Why should I support such a law if I know that it contains stupidities?" Palko asked a few minutes after ballots were cast.

Other MPs who opposed the revision said they saw no reason why mayors of towns and villages should be banned from holding office as MPs, as the draft proposed. Almost a dozen Slovak MPs are in such a position, such as the SMK's József Kvárda, mayor of the village of Eenkovce.

Other objections included the obligation for relatives of state and public officials to submit and display annual property declarations.

In early 2002, Roman Vavrík of the SDKÚ asked: "Why should wives and children have to declare their assets to the public just because they share a family with people who hold public office?"

Opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Anna Malíková argued that the changes were unlikely to deter corrupt officials. "They [MPs, public officials] can even have their grandmas and grandpas checked, provided they are still alive, but property can still be passed over to silent partners or friends," she said on June 1.

Such views contrast with the determination government politicians have declared to fight corruption and regain public trust. Recent surveys indicate that the majority of Slovaks believe politicians put personal over public interests when doing their jobs.

In the wake of public criticism of the KDH for failing to support the revision, Palko said the party had been misunderstood, and that it had been putting asset declarations by KDH members on the Internet for two years.

He explained the party had simply objected to a clause in the revised bill preventing deputy ministers from returning to parliament if they left their ministry posts.

But Orosz called Palko's reasoning "ridiculous".

"It sounds like a small boy's excuse. It's an absolutely trifling reason. It's as if you wouldn't accept a whole house because you don't like the tiles in the bathroom."

While the KDH pledged to submit a new revision to parliament after the next parliamentary elections in September, Orosz too said he was hopeful.

"This is not the end of the story. Sooner or later we'll approve this law."

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