Officials should hold just one post

IN A RARE moment of agreement the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party both claim that public officials should only be allowed to hold one elected office at a time. They are not alone, either, as even the ruling Smer party has new limits in mind.

Opposition wants MPs to serve one post at a time.Opposition wants MPs to serve one post at a time. (Source: SME)

IN A RARE moment of agreement the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party both claim that public officials should only be allowed to hold one elected office at a time. They are not alone, either, as even the ruling Smer party has new limits in mind.

The KDH has long had the “one mandate is enough” principle on its agenda and made it one of the highlights of their election programme in 2010. It was subsequently part of the programme statement of the Iveta Radičová government, but no concrete steps have been taken. This time around, SaS has proposed even stricter limits. Smer has hinted that it might rekindle its “constitutional bond” with the KDH, which saw the two pair up to pass changes to the judiciary and to define marriage as a unique bond between a man and a woman.

The incompatibility of functions is based on what is meant to be the theoretical division of power in the state – that is, that there are different people in the legislative, executive, and judiciary branch of the state power, said Erik Láštic from the department of political science of Comenius University’s Faculty of Philosophy.

How widely this principle is applied depends on the makers of the constitution. In Slovakia, the minimum variant is the requirement that a government’s member cannot at the same time hold the mandate of a parliamentary deputy and cannot be active as a judge, and vice versa.

“Both proposals [of SaS and the KDH] push this original limit further: they are both based on the conviction that several mandates or functions represent a problem for the constitutional and the political system,” Láštic told The Slovak Spectator.

One mandate is enough

The KDH announced on July 9 that they were preparing a constitutional amendment that would introduce the “one mandate is enough ”principle, but with a limited scope. Namely, members of the national parliament and the European Parliament would not be able to serve simultaneously as regional governors or mayors.

“It is simply impossible to adequately hold the office of a mayor or regional governor and an MP,” said the KDH’s Pavol Hrušovský, who will co-author the draft constitutional amendment with the party’s leader, Ján Figeľ. The KDH politicians claim that MPs spend several weeks of the month in Bratislava (MEPs in Brussels), and that simply does not leave them with enough time for their work in the regional or municipal administration.

“Let alone the fact that often there are conflicts of interest when voting in parliament,” Hrušovský said.

The MP-mayor combination, as well as combinations of other posts, is not rare in the Slovak parliament. Andrej Hrnčiar, the mayor of the central-Slovak town of Martin, was one such MP until recently, when he left parliament to co-found the emerging Sieť party. He does not agree with the KDH proposal and claims that it underestimates the ability of a voter to decide whom to vote for in democratic elections.

“Every candidate who is deciding whether to run for another post must be able to evaluate whether they can manage,” Hrnčiar told The Slovak Spectator. He, for instance, claims that he would not have been able to work as an MP during his first mayoral term, but as a second-time mayor he “had all the processes at the municipal office set” and was able to handle both posts, “obviously at the expense of my free time and my family”.

Liberal support

SaS goes even further in a proposal that it plans to submit for the next parliamentary session: it would ban MPs from simultaneously holding any other executive post, including mayor, regional governor, the head of the state-run Sociálna Poisťovňa social insurer and similar management jobs, the party leader Richard Sulík wrote on his blog on July 20. He claims that mayors who serve as MPs often have a conflict of interest and succumb to their local ambitions when voting in the parliament. Sulík also argues that what is good for a particular municipality might be quite bad for the country overall.

Sulík criticises the fact that mayors who are also MPs often manage to “arrange” things for their municipality in parliament.

“From the viewpoint of the inhabitants of the municipality this is a legitimate and understandable approach,” Sulík writes. “But from the countrywide viewpoint it is not right.”

Hrnčiar, on the other hand, believes the mayors’ good knowledge of the daily life of people in their region is an asset.

“Every mayor deals with the problems of the people and must be in contact with them on a daily basis,” Hrnčiar told The Slovak Spectator. This puts them in contrast with some MPs who have been sitting in parliament for as long as 20 years and “have lost the idea of the reality of life”.
“Currently, most MPs are from Bratislava,” Hrnčiar said. “Slovakia is not Bratislava and mayors in parliament can solve the problems of their region based on their real experience.”

Another constitutional partnership in sight?

Neither SaS nor the KDH ruled out cooperating in their efforts to introduce the one mandate principle, either by mutual support for each other’s proposal or by designing a joint proposal. The SaS-KDH pact might, however, not be enough to make the changes happen and the KDH’s constitutional amendment will require 90 votes in parliament, which cannot be achieved without at least some votes from the ruling Smer party, which has 83 MPs.

Smer did not explicitly rule out its potential support for the amendment. This could mean that the KDH and Smer could once again seal an agreement on ad hoc cooperation, as they did earlier this year, prior to the presidential election, when they jointly passed constitutional amendments introducing changes to the judiciary and a traditional definition of marriage.

This time around, a similar exchange might be in sight. While the KDH will push for its one mandate rule, Smer has come up with a plan to ban transportation and transit of water gained from sources of ground water, natural healing waters, mineral water, geothermal waters, water courses and surface water across Slovakia’s borders. Even though Smer representatives have been ambiguous about such a deal with the KDH, none have explicitly refused supporting the KDH proposal.

“They’re two completely different proposals,” Smer parliamentary caucus head Jana Laššáková said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “There is indeed scope for negotiations ... We’ll hold talks with political parties to secure the greatest support possible.”

One salary is enough

As recently as February, Smer rejected a similar idea – to allow MPs to be paid only one salary even if they hold multiple posts in public administration. At the time, the KDH was trying to introduce such a limit through an amendment on the salary conditions of some constitutional officials. Based on the proposal, MPs were to be banned from receiving anything other than their parliamentary salary, with some exceptions such as physicians and academics.

Several months later, at the June 28 congress of the ruling Smer party, Prime Minister Robert Fico mentioned the accumulation of posts as one of the problems of the public administration.

“Smer must come up with an initiative so that a constitutional official with several posts will only have one salary and will be paid only the minimum wage for holding other posts,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR.

Focus on attorneys

Meanwhile, another proposal by KDH MPs on its way for debate in the September parliamentary session is aimed at barristers. The Slovak Bar Association (SAK) should suspend barristers’ activities for persons in a public post, except municipal and regional deputies, according to the proposal.
“The aim of the proposed amendment is to prevent the conflict between the personal interest of the attorney and the interest of their clients on the one hand, and the public interest [...] on the other hand,” MPs Július Brocka and Alojz Přidal argued, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

“The conflict of interest when providing legal services is solved in the law on barristers for individual cases, and it should also be evaluated individually,” Katarína Marečková from SAK told The Slovak Spectator.

There are currently 11 MPs registered as attorneys in Slovakia, according to SAK.

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