MPs FOR the largest opposition party, Smer, have recently questioned the constitutionality of a new law and the division of power in parliament. In a complaint filed with the Constitutional Court in early April a group of Smer MPs sought to challenge the law which requires that state, regional and municipal bodies publish all their contracts, paid invoices and orders online – a measure which has been effective since January 1 this year and which transparency watchdogs have called the strongest anti-corruption measure taken by the current government. The MPs have since withdrawn their complaint.
The Smer MPs, represented by the party’s shadow justice minister Róbert Madej, requested that the Constitutional Court evaluate the constitutionality of the provision in the law according to which only contracts that are published online are valid. The government says this is necessary to make the law enforceable. Smer maintains that such a provision might cause insecurity in legal relations, particularly in transactions such as the transfer of real estate.
“We fully support the obligatory publishing of contracts on the web as governed by the current info-law,” Smer spokesperson Silvia Glendová stated. The so-called “info-law” – the law on public access to information – was passed in 2000 by the first government of Mikuláš Dzurinda.
“This provision [i.e. invalidity without online publication] is the basis of the whole law,” Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská told the Sme daily, adding that it is important that there is no need for any further control or sanctions for those who violate the law, and that the motivation for all concerned parties to publish contracts is incorporated directly into the law. Žitňanská also noted she did not encounter any complaints about possible unconstitutionality during the process of passing the law.
Smer did not publicise its complaint and soon after the Constitutional Court published its list of signatories and the media reported who they were, the MPs withdrew it, “so that it doesn’t get misused in political quarrels”, Smer boss Robert Fico stated.
Since the law came into effect over 2,200 contracts have been published on the Central Register of Contracts, a website where state ministries, their budgetary organisations and public-service institutions publish their contracts, according to Justice Ministry spokesperson Peter Bubla.
Regional and municipal authorities are required to publish contracts on their own websites. Smaller municipalities without websites must publish their contracts on the website of the Business Bulletin, which has so far posted 720 contracts.
Smer questions committees
Smer also doubts the constitutionality of the division of power in parliamentary committees. After the 2010 parliamentary elections, when the newly-created committees took shape, Smer MPs announced that they would challenge the composition of the committees which they believe deformed the division of power in parliament.
This is despite the fact that the opposition had supported the share of MPs in parliamentary committees in a parliamentary vote.
While the ruling coalition only has the support of 79 MPs in parliament, it effectively has 83 votes in parliamentary committees, since five ruling coalition MPs sit on two committees. Without such an arrangement the coalition would not have a majority in some committees and would be unable to pass some laws through committees to their second reading in parliament.
Smer MP Miroslav Číž claims that such an arrangement is unconstitutional and argues that during the previous, Smer-led government, each MP sat on only one committee. Číž said he is ready to file a complaint about the arrangement but admitted that his party does not see it as a priority at the moment as it could overshadow actual political topics.
“I suppose we will get back to that at some point in May,” Číž said, as quoted by the Sme daily.
2. May 2011 at 0:00 | By Michaela Terenzani with press reports