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CABINET ASKED TO PREPARE ANTI-SLEAZE LEGISLATION DURING EXTRAORDINARY SESSION OF PARLIAMENT

Fico: Slovak politics riddled with corruption

SLOVAK politics is burdened with suspicious untransparent deals, opposition Smer party leader Robert Fico declared in a special session of parliament, which concluded that the cabinet must address bribery as a priority.
Ninety-five out of 135 coalition and opposition MPs present approved a resolution binding the cabinet to submit to legislators a list of concrete measures aimed at rooting out corruption by May this year.
Calls for the March 6-7 extraordinary session of parliament were initiated by Fico after questions arose about the influence of members of the business elite in political decision making.

SLOVAK politics is burdened with suspicious untransparent deals, opposition Smer party leader Robert Fico declared in a special session of parliament, which concluded that the cabinet must address bribery as a priority.

Ninety-five out of 135 coalition and opposition MPs present approved a resolution binding the cabinet to submit to legislators a list of concrete measures aimed at rooting out corruption by May this year.

Calls for the March 6-7 extraordinary session of parliament were initiated by Fico after questions arose about the influence of members of the business elite in political decision making.

Apart from mentioning a number of corruption scandals currently dogging the government, in his speech to parliament Fico appealed to the US embassy in Slovakia to publish what it knows about an unnamed Slovak politician who allegedly has $40 million in a foreign bank account.

The US embassy in Bratislava refused to comment on Fico's statements, telling the media that US authorities had complete trust in the Slovak authorities responsible for investigating the allegations.

Slovakia's attorney general Milan Hanzel said he had scheduled a meeting with Fico regarding the information he presented in parliament.

Prior to the parliamentary session, Fico also suggested that Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš was one of the richest men in Slovak politics. According to Fico, Mikloš allegedly gained wealth from various privatisation deals he participated in when he was deputy PM for economy under the previous Dzurinda administration.

Mikloš, however, denied the allegations, and said that his regularly updated property declaration was publicly available on the Internet. He said he would sue Fico over his statements.

At a March 9 political talk show broadcast on the public Slovak Television, Mikloš said to Fico: "I have filed charges against you, suing you for one crown because that is how much I value your opinion. I did it so that you are obliged to explain your accusations in front of an independent court."

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, meanwhile, accused Fico of demagoguery and said that the parliamentary session had achieved nothing but to give the opposition leader a chance to bring what he called "political agitation of the lowest kind" onto parliamentary premises.

"His demagoguery no longer works at his [party's] press conferences and so he has transferred it to parliament," Dzurinda said on March 8.

Dzurinda, along with a number of his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party colleagues, said that a parliamentary resolution listing a number of laws the cabinet should prepare as part of its anti-corruption agenda was a waste of time.

"The [parliamentary] resolution was redundant because all the tasks named in it are already part of the cabinet's legislative plan," he said.

The resolution calls for the speedy preparation of a law on lobbying, revisions to the country's law on the financing of political parties, and revisions to the so-called conflict of interests law and a law on proving the origin of property.

But despite the PM's dismissive attitude towards the outcome of the parliamentary session, anti-corruption watchdogs saw the special session as a positive step.

"If nothing else, the session helped to return the issue corruption to parliamentary territory, and the attention that it received could lead to a greater effort on the part of legislators to approve anti-corruption measures," said Emília Sičáková-Beblavá, head of Transparency International Slovakia.

"If we look at the current situation regarding the approval of anti-corruption measures, some progress has certainly been made since the [former Dzurinda] cabinet approved a national plan to fight corruption in 2000. But despite that, the pace of approving the measures could be faster. We cannot wait another year until the cabinet decides what it is going to do about corruption," Sičáková said.

Slovakia is expected to join the EU and NATO in spring 2004, along with other post-communist states. It is regularly reminded by representatives from both organisations that it needs to address corruption more effectively.

During his March 10 visit to Slovakia, NATO's secretary general George Robertson said corruption was like a "cancer that preys on democratic governments", noting that Slovakia had to step up its fight against bribery.

In numerous surveys Slovaks have said they are fed up with corruption. According to one poll, carried out by the Polis Slovakia agency in January, 52 per cent of Slovaks were convinced that state corruption was negatively affecting their quality of life, and more than 80 per cent thought state bodies were not dealing with the problem effectively enough.

The cabinet, however, says that all the ruling parties have a genuine interest in rooting out corruption, noting that the problems Slovakia faces are no different from those in neighbouring post-communist states.

"It is true that we are no better off than the surrounding states when it comes to corruption, but we are not worse off than them either," said PM Dzurinda.

Interior Minister Vladimír Palko added: "Corruption is a serious problem and no one is denying that. I can assure you that in the ruling coalition there is a genuine desire to fight it."

Palko denied that the state would be reluctant to uncover bribery cases involving past or present state officials.

He said dozens of former state functionaries were currently being prosecuted on charges of corruption, misuse of posts, and other untransparent practices.

Palko also appealed to all those who care about eliminating corruption in Slovakia to assist the investigators, police, and other state bodies with uncovering such crimes.

"All who say they care about fighting corruption must help," he said.

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