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MPS AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS MAY BE FINED OR LOSE JOBS FOR BREAKING PROVISION

Law escapes conflict

PUBLIC officials including MPs, cabinet members, municipal leaders, and heads of various state bodies may lose their jobs if found breaking the recently approved conflict of interests law that the parliament passed on May 26.
The new law came, after years of efforts to adopt such legislation, as a compromise between the current conflict of interest law that has not penalised a single public official since 1995 when it took effect, and a norm proposed by Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, whose drafts were rejected by MPs in the past.


THOUGH a positive step, law could go further, say critics.
photo: TASR

PUBLIC officials including MPs, cabinet members, municipal leaders, and heads of various state bodies may lose their jobs if found breaking the recently approved conflict of interests law that the parliament passed on May 26.

The new law came, after years of efforts to adopt such legislation, as a compromise between the current conflict of interest law that has not penalised a single public official since 1995 when it took effect, and a norm proposed by Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, whose drafts were rejected by MPs in the past.

In the compromise proposal submitted to parliament by a group of MPs involving both the opposition and the coalition, some of the clauses originally proposed by Lipšic were softened, resulting in a majority of 118 out of the 142 present MPs voting for the law.

The law stipulates that public officials, their spouses, and their children must publish their property declarations on request. The law also introduces so-called post-employment limitations for public officials who leave the state service, preventing them from taking well-paid jobs, instead of state subsidies, in organisations or companies to whom they had approved assistance.

If officials are found breaking the law, they can be fined by up to 12 times their wages, or even lose their jobs.

In the case of MPs, proceedings will begin provided that a three-fifths majority - 90 legislators - supports the move. In the proposal of the Justice Minister Lipšic, a simple majority of 76 MPs was required.

"The new conflict of interest law is better than the current one," Lipšic said shortly after the law was passed, noting, however, that because of the higher quorum required for the start of proceedings against MPs, the law may turn out to be more difficult to implement.

Jirko Malchárek, an MP for the ruling New Citizens Alliance and one of the co-authors of the new law, said that the passed law was "one generation better than the current one" and that it was "the form that MPs were able to agree on".

He also added that every time there were sufficient and convincing proofs, the parliament has managed to gather the three-fifths majority.

Unlike national MPs, municipal officials, including mayors and local MPs, may be fired for breaking the law if only half of their peers are in favour of the move.

This has angered municipal leaders. Michal Sýkora, head of the Association of Slovak Towns and Villages said that, while the "MPs took care of themselves, we will have to face recalls".

Malchárek argued that if a simple majority of votes was needed in case of national MPs, he feared that the law could be politically misused.

Lipšic has already signalled that in the future he would propose amendments to the law to make the legislation more enforceable. Opposition party Smer MP Dušan Čaplovič agreed.

"MPs should finally approve a tough law against themselves," Čaplovič said on May 30, during a political talk show on the public broadcast Slovak Television.

Observers have welcomed the new legislation, admitting that it was an improvement over the current Slovak conflict of interest law. Nonetheless, Pavel Nechala from the Stop Conflict of Interest Alliance, which unites various think tanks, civic groups, and anti-corruption watchdogs, said that the law could have been better if Lipšic's proposal was approved.

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) MPs failed to support the legislation. Their party boss and three times ex-PM Vladimír Mečiar, voted against along with party member Dana Podracká, and 22 other party MPs abstained from voting.

When asked why he did not support the law, Mečiar slammed a door in the faces of reporters. To this day, Mečiar has been under media criticism for what is seen as an insufficient explanation of how he financed the construction of his lavish villa, Elektra, in Trenčianske Teplice.

Ján Kovarčík from the HZDS said that his party disagreed with the provision that required spouses and children of MPs to publish their property details.

Provided that the Slovak president signs the law, it will take effect in October.

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