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EDITORIAL

Hired by the public

AT A TIME when many regular employees in Slovakia have had to say goodbye to bonuses and benefits, the Slovak Parliament is still pampering its deputies, who earn approximately three times the average wage in Slovakia. On Thursday, January 31, alongside the parliamentary attendance roster was another sheet that deputies could sign if they wanted to reserve a seat on the Friday afternoon express train between Bratislava and Košice, with 13:30 as one of the two choices of departure, a time when parliament was still officially in session, the Sme daily reported.

AT A TIME when many regular employees in Slovakia have had to say goodbye to bonuses and benefits, the Slovak Parliament is still pampering its deputies, who earn approximately three times the average wage in Slovakia. On Thursday, January 31, alongside the parliamentary attendance roster was another sheet that deputies could sign if they wanted to reserve a seat on the Friday afternoon express train between Bratislava and Košice, with 13:30 as one of the two choices of departure, a time when parliament was still officially in session, the Sme daily reported.

Parliamentary deputies do not have to pay train fares, but they still need seat reservations for this particular train, which based on their signatures on the sheet were secured by parliament, according to Sme. Parliament was, in effect, assisting its own deputies to skip the end of the session. When Sme looked into parliament’s Friday, February 1 deputy attendance, it discovered that around 20 signatures were missing from the attendance sheet, noting that since there was no voting scheduled for that afternoon, there was no other way to determine how many deputies were actually present.

Several deputies who were asked about their attendance downplayed the issue, arguing that “deputies are actually not employees” and that they might be working even when they are not present in parliament.

The argument is in fact very similar to what Ján Slota, one-time boss of the now non-parliamentary Slovak National Party (SNS), used to say when confronted with his absences from parliament. Vladimír Mečiar, who had a similarly shameful record of parliamentary attendance, especially after losing the parliamentary elections in 1998, also used similar arguments when pressed by the media for an explanation.

Recently, Mikuláš Dzurinda, the former boss of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) achieved the worst scores when measuring his parliamentary deputy activities: he has been absent from more than a third of the voting, and has failed to submit any blueprint for a law or revision proposal, according to Sme. Dzurinda too has argued that his absences do not mean that he is not working, and that his membership of various international bodies requires him to travel often.

While the deputies’ opinions on what constitutes a good or poor performance in parliament differ, one thing is certain: many of them still do not understand that they are in fact employees and they are employed by the public. The public pays them via taxes allotted to the state budget and would at least like to know whether the shenanigans of people like Rafael Rafaj, an SNS MP who was alleged to have repeatedly forged the signature of his boss Slota on the attendance sheet when Slota was not present, are still in practice.

Especially now, when the state is squeezing taxpayers even harder for extra cash to mend the holes in its coffers, these ‘nuances’ deserve more attention if the politicians do not want to eradicate what little faith their voters still have in elected officials’ ability to work in the public interest and not for their own enterprises. That faith is truly frail and it is being weakened further with each dubious contract and lavish deal reeking of wasted public money.

The Education Ministry paying €10,017 for the short-term rental of a luxury limousine will certainly not redeem this faith, especially since the car was rented from the firm of former economy minister Jirko Malchárek, who featured prominently in Gorilla, the document that purports to describe an operation conducted by the country’s main intelligence agency, the SIS, which collected information about the influence of the Penta financial group on senior Slovak politicians between 2005 and 2006. The ministry scrapped the deal after three and half months when Sme broke the story. Until now, the ministry has not specified who used the car, while top officials have denied ever having sat in it, Sme reported.

The limousine being rented by the same ministry that told striking teachers that there is not enough money in the coffers to meet their pay demands is only a drop in the bucket of voter bitterness, which has been spilling over for some time. Perhaps the situation requires a much more resolute “no” to those who simply cannot comprehend the fact that they are employed by the public, live from the public’s pocket and thus must actually do their best to work for the public.

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