PM on Government Manifesto, initial reactions follow

The Manifesto approved by the government on April 13 puts an accent on four broad priorities, including the fight against unemployment, regional disparities and corruption, and introduction of policies ushering in a functioning state.

(Source: Sme - Jozef Jakubco)

Premier Robert Fico listed these priorities at a press conference and also announced that the Manifesto will be up for debate in Parliament on Monday April 18.

“It’s especially the fight against unemployment which contains ambitious goals that have been embraced by the new governing coalition,” PM said. “There’s a goal to create 100,000 new jobs and squeeze the unemployment rate under 10 percent. These objectives are ambitious, but also absolutely realistic. I also welcome the fact that we've agreed on introducing stricter conditions for those who do not want to work, avoid opportunities to find jobs and rely on the social system of our country instead.”

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Read also: Government introduced its manifesto Read more 

The second broad priority concerns regional disparities, according to Fico. “It is true that we’ll continue implementing the law of the least developed districts adopted as of November 1, 2015. We’ve planned five away-from-home sessions for the government by mid-August when we want to approve the remaining 11 action plans for the least developed districts,” Fico said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “The coalition partners – Smer, Slovak National Party (SNS), Most-Híd and Sieť/Network – want to extend the scope of this law to other districts, too.” He added that the cabinet also appointed a proxy for implementing this law. Furthermore, the four-member governing coalition has pledged to narrow the scope for corruption and non-transparent behaviour, including adoption of  an even more efficient law on shell companies. They are also committed to writing the entire Rule of Law initiative as presented by employers into the Manifesto and into an action plan; while also applying the principles of open government.

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“Although we don’t have a constitutional majority, we want to return to the legislation on proving the origin of one’s property with a view toward adopting a new constitutional law, thereby breaking down the barriers set up by the Constitutional Court in its earlier decision,” the premier said. “Furthermore, we want to focus on the receiving and providing of unethical benefits, as well as on material accountability of people dealing with public resources. We’ll extend the system of mandatory publication of contracts, introduce anti-corruption clauses into drafts of individual laws, while the process of introducing more professionals into the state administration and defining the scope for political nominations will also continue.”

The fourth area is a well-functioning state.” Here we’ve focused mainly on education and health care,” Fico summed up. “And… I hereby announce that we have the ambition to put a total of €2 billion more into the Slovak education system from 2016-20.” According to Fico, the first moves of new Health Minister Tomas Drucker have confirmed his trust in him. The PM also slammed the media image of health care which allegedly does not reflect the reality because a “huge amount of work” has already been done in this sector.

SaS: Let us see how it’s implemented

The opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party in its initial criticism of the Government Manifesto said the proof will be in the pudding – that the main pitfall of the Manifesto will lie in its implementation. “Based on previous experiences, we have to declare that political parties have learned to draft government manifestos that look pleasing to the eye on the surface,” reads the statement published April 13 as quoted by TASR. “Unfortunately, they haven’t yet learnt to govern in compliance with them.” The liberals claim that the single-party government of Smer (2012-16) also had noble sounding plans for fighting corruption in its manifesto, yet the subsequent reality did not correspond with the document. “It also had plans to combat tax evasion and fraud, yet the current case of entrepreneur Ladislav Bašternák demonstrates that this fight was applied selectively,” according to SaS. “Therefore, we take the current proclamations of the fight against corruption and tax evasion in the Manifesto with a large grain of salt.” SaS concedes that some of the proposals and goals in the Manifesto sound promising, such as those in the sphere of education, the attempt to reform health care, to introduce guidelines for political nominations and strive to professionalize the state administration.

However, the liberals also harbour fundamental objections. “We see the plan to acquire a balanced public budget by 2020 as a cheap trick, used by the future government to cover its inability to consolidate public finances by 2018 – as promised,” SaS opines. “Also, the reduction of income tax for companies to 21 percent is absolutely inadequate and works to erode the competitiveness of Slovakia within the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia). We see no sensible reason to wait with the scrapping of tax licences until 2018.”

Although the governing coalition talks about the intention to improve the business environment, its tendencies to introduce a special levy for chain stores, special incentives for spa businesses and attempts to increase the share of Slovak groceries on the domestic market are counterproductive and lead to discrimination and protectionism.

Columnist: No trace of real reforms, mere cosmetics

The Government Manifesto is a nice piece of literature full of good resolutions but “there is no trace of real reforms which this country needs”, columnist Peter Schutz wrote for the Sme daily. To reduce the tax for legal entities by one percent or to slash tax licences “are merely cosmetic changes”, according to him. And he deems the postponement of a balanced budget to 2020 “a fiscal putsch”, heralding loosened budgetary ethics and the continuity of brining the electorate. This conflict of the intention of “budgetary discipline” and its postponement in two years evokes caution also in other parts which can cause less criticism, Schutz sums up.

In the foreign orientation, he misses the listing of Russia among security threats. Schutz finds the “joint European insurance against unemployment” extremely funny – sheer science fiction. 

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