THE SLOVAK parliament recently demanded public access to the investment contracts negotiated by the ruling coalition. Could this turn of events scare away potential investors? This requirement is standard among democratic states, and could even serve as a model of transparency for other countries, said Ján Hrubala, head of Slovakia's anti-corruption department, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Has the analysis prepared by the Justice Ministry reached the desired effect, now that parliament has obliged the cabinet to submit the Kia contract to parliament within 10 days?
Ján Hrubala (JH): The cabinet took into account the Justice Ministry's legal analysis last week. The analysis is unambiguous. However, concrete steps, even retrospective ones, are issues for the concrete ministers - they are the ones who, in terms of the analysis, are responsible for the decision on whether they publish or keep concealed the documents submitted to the cabinet or parts of them.
The cabinet agreed with the analysis, which means an obligation to respect its conclusions, and this is what we wanted.
As far as the parliament's demand that the cabinet submit the Kia contract is concerned, perhaps it was inspired by our analysis. However, this activity of the parliament is not directly linked to the duties set by the law on free access to information.
TSS: Could the process of declassifying the contracts in any way influence the interest of foreign investors in putting their money into Slovakia?
JH: I think that is a question for investors. The Slovak Cabinet is obliged to publish the texts of materials (proposals, reports, and analyses) submitted at the sittings of the parliament. Only classified information, personal data that pertain to an individual's privacy, data that are subject to commercial secrecy, or information pertaining to criminal prosecution remain concealed.
It is impossible to conceal information that pertains to the handling of tax money, including the property of the state and its municipalities.
Investment stimuli and aid that the state provides to large foreign firms from its own pocket (which again is the money of the taxpayers) should be made public according to the law. The foreign investor must be aware of that. As far as the investor is using advantages we pay for, the investor's plans are at that point subject to public control.
TSS: Do the governments of surrounding countries make strategic contracts public?
JH: European Union countries build their policies on transparency and making the public control of their policies possible - including the control of public finances. Certainly, no one demands that the cabinet makes public its strategy and limits for negotiations with strategic investors. I assume that from the moment of completing the negotiations and submitting the official material based on the results of the negotiations, it must not even occur to a government of a democratic state to ban free access to the information on the volume of public finances flowing into the pockets of the investors.
However, it is true that not all the countries of the enlarged EU have such a strictly and widely defined duty to actively publish information as, for example, is defined by our law on the access to free information, and a certain unification of such rules would be desirable.
By the way, our law on free access to information has been praised at all the international forums, and I think that its anti-corruption effect should serve as an example for many countries.
6. Jul 2004 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová