CABINET leaders say they have achieved all that was realistically possible since 1998.
At an August 7 press conference cabinet officials said the government had achieved as much as realistically could have been expected since being elected almost four years ago, but acknowledged their failure to contain a nearly 20 per cent national unemployment rate or launch crucial health care, welfare and pension reforms.
Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš said the current cabinet had taken over administration of a state that was in "serious economic crisis" and "internationally isolated" resulting from the policies of the previous Vladimír Mečiar cabinet.
Critics of PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's government, however, have said cabinet failures cannot all be laid at Mečiar's doorstep.
"This has been a cabinet of unfulfilled promises", said Peter Tatár of the Civic Conservative Party (OKS), which originally entered the ruling coalition under the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) umbrella led by Dzurinda.
Ministers present at the public evaluation of the government's programme declaration - a 46-page document outlining the priorities of the cabinet that was approved in December 1998 - argued that Slovakia had enjoyed its best cabinet since the country's founding in 1993, and said they hoped Slovaks would come to appreciate the claim.
"I'm convinced that we have nothing to be ashamed of," said Deputy PM for Human Rights Pál Csáky.
"This cabinet was the most pro-reform Slovak cabinet since 1990. The most honest thing we can do now is to admit that it wasn't in our power to achieve more."
"After four years the cabinet is passing the country on [to the next cabinet formed after September 20-21 elections] in better shape than it was when [the current cabinet] took it over," added Dzurinda.
Observers agreed that the cabinet's greatest achievement was improving Slovakia's image abroad and turning it into a hot candidate for both Nato and European Union (EU) membership invitations later this year. In 2000 Slovakia also became a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the first step in a dramatic turnaround from the country's international isolation under the autocratic Mečiar.
But with nearly 20 per cent unemployment in 2002, compared to less than 14 per cent at the end of 1998, many Slovaks say they have been disappointed following cabinet's 1998 vow to cut the jobless rate to less than 10 per cent and assure a "new quality of economic growth".
"The fact is that we failed to face high unemployment," Dzurinda admitted, adding that the country's western integration would bring Slovakia more foreign investment and create more jobs.
Vladimír Mečiar, a three-time former Slovak prime minister and chairman of the country's strongest party, the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), dubbed the cabinet's self-evaluation "a ridiculous, naive, and propagandist" document.
However, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, said Dzurinda's statement that the country was in better shape now than in 1998 was "correct".
"A number of reforms have been started, and basically all were the result of hard-fought political compromise in the broad coalition cabinet. We also have to consider that the left wing coalition parties tried to soften, slow down or even stop some reforms," Mesežnikov said.
Ľubomír Fogaš, Deputy Prime Minister for Legislation a member of the ruling Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), rejected accusations that the left, including his former communist SDĽ, was to blame for failure to meet cabinet reform goals.
"On the contrary," said Fogaš. "We [left wing politicians] were looking for a wider agreement in society to enable the reforms to be carried out."
Despite haggling over some reform steps, the cabinet and parliament worked closely to pass a record number of laws to bring Slovak legislation in line with EU standards, government officials argued.
While parliament passed around 350 legislative measures, cabinet and parliament performed 868 of the total 945 legislative tasks necessary for EU entry, including rewriting the Slovak Constitution, increasing the independence of the judiciary, improving free market conditions and protection for creditors and minority investors, and electing an ombudsman, an apolitical defender of human rights.
Tatár, however, said that the cabinet was unjustly trying to take credit for passing laws that were the work of MPs, such as tax cuts, a law increasing public access to information, and the revision of the Constitution itself.
"All of these were parliamentary [rather than cabinet] initiatives," said Tatár, adding that the cabinet had failed to "reduce such pathological phenomena as corruption, cheating, asset stripping and abuse of office".
While the Dzurinda cabinet drew up around 1,700 measures in its National Programme to Fight Corruption, the issue remains a top concern for both common Slovaks and international observers.
"Corruption was here before 1989, and it was here until 1998 too. We were the first government that neither covered the problem up nor underestimated it, and which has made real progress in fighting it," Dzurinda argued.
"The basic political evaluation of the four-year performance of this cabinet has to be that Slovakia is on the right track," the PM said.