THE GOVERNMENT led by Iveta Radičová finished out its first 100 days on October 15. Expectations were high among those who voted for the four parties whose leaders sealed a coalition agreement in July and set off down the path of governing the country, for the first time under the leadership of a woman who promised to rule in a better and more transparent way. Three months on, summer has ended and some citizens are saying that the changes they were expecting have not been as deep or as quick as they had hoped.
Since July citizens have seen the new cabinet propose and pass five laws in fast-tracked parliamentary procedure. Other draft laws, including austerity measures designed to reduce the government deficit, have been endorsed by the cabinet and are awaiting action in parliament and the state’s budget for 2011 has been fleshed out to a large extent and is before parliament.
The government had to deal with summer floods across large parts of Slovakia, defuse controversy over Slovakia’s decision to not participate in an EU loan to Greece, and handle with several questionable practices involving appointed ministry officials. One state secretary involved in a signing a contract that considered unethical by the prime minister resigned from his position before the hundred days passed. And even this brief time in government was long enough for the opposition to attempt to dismiss the speaker of parliament – without success.
“We have passed the time of searching, setting the rules of the game, getting to know the new environment – a stressful time, under immense pressure of time and dissatisfied voters, [when we had to] prepare the state budget,” Radičová told a press conference which she convened on October 14 to review her first 100 days in office.
What’s been accomplished?
One of the first decisions facing the new government was what to do regarding the EU-backed emergency loan to Greece to help it deal with its public finance crisis. The decision by the incoming Slovak cabinet to not participate in the loan program, which had been approved by all other countries of the eurozone, led to some anger on the part of high-ranking EU officials and the president of the European Central Bank.
The cabinet has developed and approved its state budget for 2011 with the goal of bringing the public finance deficit down to a level of 4.9 percent of GDP. The proposal incorporates several significant changes in government revenue and expenditures such as increasing the VAT rate from 19 percent to 20 percent next year, modifying the process for calculating future pension increases, increasing the price of highway stickers for passenger cars, and cutting the budgets of most government ministries.
Greater transparency in government has been one of the major declared priorities of the four-party coalition and its prime minister. The first step taken by the government was to require that all contracts signed by state offices, as of August, be published. The prime minister and her allies have also pushed to pass a law in parliament that will limit the immunity enjoyed by Slovak MPs. But to change a constitutional law, the government needs a two-thirds majority in parliament which means it must attract votes of MPs from the opposition Smer party headed by former prime minister Robert Fico. The government has not managed to find a sympathetic ear for its immunity-limit proposal among Smer MPs and political observers do not believe constitutional changes will be made any time soon.
Polls show that Slovakia’s judiciary enjoys very little public support or trust among citizens at this time which seemingly makes changes in judicial procedures an easy target for fast action on government proposals. The justice minister has initiated several changes within the judiciary such as the modifying the composition of the Judicial Council, amending the law on judges, having all verdicts published online, and preventing former judges from returning to the courts after they have been in appointed political positions.
Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that “there are undoubtedly some positives” within the first 100 days, specifying that “there is much talking about the consolidation of public finances, but the fact is that the whole development of the country has been consolidated in line with the basic direction of societal development – declared as well as practised. Simply, the society is directed towards liberal democracy. That is a fact that cannot be overlooked.”
The government has been criticised for having a rather chaotic approach in communicating with the public during its first 100 days, with political analysts citing examples of ministers announcing a proposed measure on one day and the prime minister correcting the statements on the very next day.
“It’s definitely not very fortunate to present a solution that subsequently gets changed several times, often over a very short time span,” Mesežnikov said. “This betrays a lack of a strategic approach.”
Opposition leaders often used the word ‘chaos’ to describe the work of the government during its first three months.
“It’s one chaotic decision after another,” said opposition leader Robert Fico, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He characterised the situation as a “government of one-day decisions”.
Fico particularly criticised the government for measures that he said would lead to reducing economic growth in the country and to high inflation.
“It’s too bad for Slovakia that the cabinet did not have the courage to continue big projects,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR.
The new cabinet has withdrawn from several significant public investments such as construction of a national football stadium in Bratislava and the building of several stretches of the D1 highway that were to be financed via a public-private partnership project.
Radičová stated that her government did not have the traditional 100-day period to simply look around and evaluate the condition of the country.
“From the first moment we needed to solve the loan to Greece; then we needed to start preparing the state budget, which under normal circumstances starts in April,” Radičová said, as quoted by TASR. She declared that the government’s trial period is now over and that it will start a more standard approach to finding solutions and creating new laws.
20. Oct 2010 at 10:00 | Michaela Terenzani