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NGOS, POLITICIANS IN FAVOUR OF STRICTER LEGISLATION ON PARTY INCOME CONTROL

Sk12 million campaign limit to be eliminated

FINANCE Minister Ivan Mikloš said the current control of party spending in election campaigns was ineffective, and proposed the elimination of a law limiting pre-election promotional spending to Sk12 million (287,000 euro).
A number of politicians and NGOs agreed that instead of limiting party spending in election campaigns, tougher controls of party income should be put in place.
The proposals came in the midst of a scandal that has raised serious questions about the transparency of the financing of Slovakia's political parties. The speculations surfaced from transcripts of telephone calls between Bratislava entrepreneur Ján Badžgoň and a member of the ruling Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ), Gabriel Palacka, in which they talked about a Swiss bank account.

FINANCE Minister Ivan Mikloš said the current control of party spending in election campaigns was ineffective, and proposed the elimination of a law limiting pre-election promotional spending to Sk12 million (287,000 euro).

A number of politicians and NGOs agreed that instead of limiting party spending in election campaigns, tougher controls of party income should be put in place.

The proposals came in the midst of a scandal that has raised serious questions about the transparency of the financing of Slovakia's political parties. The speculations surfaced from transcripts of telephone calls between Bratislava entrepreneur Ján Badžgoň and a member of the ruling Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ), Gabriel Palacka, in which they talked about a Swiss bank account.

A number of politicians and NGOs agreed with Mikloš that the legislation limiting parties' spending in election campaigns needed to be revoked, with deputy chairman of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, Ľubomír Lintner, stating: "Under the current conditions, everybody knows that parties are spending more [than the Sk12 million limit]."

The limits on promotional spending by political parties ahead of parliamentary elections was a hot topic prior to the September 2002 national vote.

During discussions at that time, former constitutional judge Ernest Valko said the existing law was vague and thus "[legally] indefensible" at a potential court trial.

According to a report on party spending ahead of the 2002 parliamentary elections, which Mikloš presented in parliament on February 25, only ANO exceeded the limit, having spent Sk12.9 million (308,600 euro).

Since the law took effect in 1994, ANO was the first party in Slovakia's history to go over the legal limit, despite the fact that in previous election campaigns Slovaks have seen such extravagant gestures as German supermodel Claudia Schiffer appearing beside then-PM Vladimír Mečiar of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party in 1998.

The Finance Ministry has complained in the past that it lacks the tools to confirm the veracity of the reports on election spending that political parties are obliged to submit to the ministry.

"With respect to the low effectiveness of the control of political parties' promotional activities ahead of parliamentary elections, which results from the Finance Ministry's limited control over such matters, we propose the law be abolished," reads the report presented by Mikloš.

"We need to look for a different solution," Mikloš said.

Zuzana Wienk, head of the Fair Play Alliance watchdog organisation, which before the 2002 elections asked political parties to submit reports on their promotional spending, agreed with the move.

"The law is indeed a piece of badly prepared [legislation], which does not allow for the fulfilment of the aim of legislators [i.e. to make campaign spending transparent]," Wienk said.

According to Wienk, politicians should introduce legislation that would shed light on sources of income for political parties, rather than on where the money is spent.

"Eliminating [the limits], however, is not a solution. The real solution would be a new definition of complex rules for political parties' financing, and not only during election campaigns.

"This sphere has so far been neglected in Slovakia, which has led to the low transparency of [political parties'] financing, very limited public access to information on party financing, virtually nonexistent control, incomplete laws, and suspicions of misuse of the loopholes," she said.

Wienk told The Slovak Spectator that her organisation was convinced that "Slovakia needs new rules that will be effectively enforced".

"Those [rules] should shed more light on the financing of politics, through increasing the amount of information that the public is entitled to access, and publishing information on who gives politicians money, whom politicians owe money to, and what they spend money on.

"A truly independent and permanent control of financing should also be in place. Finally, stricter rules for using state support and a more scrupulous accounting system should be introduced for political parties," she said.

Lintner of ANO agreed: "We all realise that the Sk12 million limit is exceeded by parties and they get round the law [when they report their spending]. We need to prepare a new law on the financing of political parties so that there is transparency in their expenses, their contracts with sponsors, and so on."

A new law on political parties' financing was part of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's cabinet's agenda. The prime minister confirmed recently that such a law was being prepared by cabinet office' legislators.

Dzurinda said: "We are preparing a new law on the financing of political parties. There was a big discussion about this theme ahead of the [2002] elections, and I have said several times that we need to set down transparent rules for political parties' financing."

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