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EDITORIAL

Letting bygones be bygones

THOSE who have made their fortune in Slovakia in what might charitably be called a creative fashion may now relax. Because it’s official: the legislation which three years ago was introduced to discipline those who became astonishingly rich overnight – while peddling “I always worked hard” or “I invested wisely” stories in their property reports - is at odds with the country’s constitution.

THOSE who have made their fortune in Slovakia in what might charitably be called a creative fashion may now relax. Because it’s official: the legislation which three years ago was introduced to discipline those who became astonishingly rich overnight – while peddling “I always worked hard” or “I invested wisely” stories in their property reports - is at odds with the country’s constitution.

The Constitutional Court struck down the law, which would have entitled the state to seize property valued at more than a thousand times the minimum monthly wage if the owner could not legally document how he or she had obtained it.

The legislation was extremely short-lived, even by Slovak political standards: it was passed it in June 2005 and the Constitutional Court suspended it in October the same year.

It then took the court three years to decide that the law was unconstitutional.

The reason it has given is that it would have moved the burden of proof from the state to the citizen, interfered with rights to property ownership and was retroactive. It seems that the end is in sight for the transparency legislation which had been promised to the public by politicians all stripes: liberals, conservatives, socialists, populists, those in power and in the opposition as well.

It is hard to credit, but almost two decades on from the Velvet Revolution, no government has been able to come up with a law which would be both sufficiently tough and effective, and at the same time would conform to the country’s constitution and its international obligations.

Given the existence of the so-called wide privatisation era of the early and mid nineties, when businesses and companies were given away for next to nothing to friends, supporters and sponsors, Slovakia is still in urgent need of a property transparency law.

The country still has politicians who come up with outrageously obscure stories when asked about their wealth, despite the fact that it is patently obvious to everyone that their salaries as public officials could never have funded their villas, luxury cars, aeroplanes and other baubles of the rich.

Robert Fico’s Smer was in opposition when his party initiated the doomed law and its adoption was in fact one of the highlights of its agenda. At the time, Fico told The Slovak Spectator that the law was necessary because "there are many people in Slovakia who have obtained their property illegally, through fraud or manipulation.”

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has been against the legislation from its very inception viewing it as a political crusade. In fact, it was HZDS deputies who challenged the law in the Constitutional Court.

The Sme daily has reminded Fico of one of his statements from 2005: “It is absolutely obvious that the political parties who since 1990 were repeatedly in power and conducted the greatest sell-out and discounts of state property in the history of the country are against it.”

One does not need to be a political scientist to figure out which parties Fico was talking about.

Today, some of these parties are his ruling coalition partners. Is Fico so naive that he thinks Vladimír Mečiar has metamorphosed into a transparent and decent politician who has no more secrets to reveal?

Is the memory of the prime minister so short that he does not remember Mečiar’s reactions to the media - or anyone else – with the temerity to ask how he had paid for his lavish villa in Trenčianske Teplice?

Or has Mečiar given him an explanation that has satisfied him? It also seems he is unconcerned by the luxury cars, villa, yacht and even aeroplane that Ján Slota has collected, in the same way that other people might collect postage stamps.

According to invoices leaked to the public, Mečiar paid Sk41 million (€1.1 million) in cash for the reconstruction of his villa. When he stepped down as prime minister in 1998, however, Mečiar claimed he owned nothing but a "small [Opel] Corsa." A German businessman, Peter Ziegler, claims he lent Mečiar enough money to allow the ex-prime minister to buy and restore the villa.

Yet, having a law which goes against the constitution would have been just as wrong as having no law at all. The problem is that it is hard after all this to believe that the interest of the government in having such a law is genuine. It is getting especially hard after learning about Fico’s doctrine on awarding state tenders, by which he regards it as perfectly acceptable for his party’s supporters, sympathisers and sponsors to be handed public contracts provided that they submit a project equally as good as the other bidders.

It is discouraging to see that almost two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and despite all the declarations of not wanting to let corrupt bygones-be-bygones, all the country’s political elite has managed to produce is a law which has turned out to be at odds with the constitution.


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