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Parliament's Office makes concession, it will not open letters

Both the head of the Parliament's Office Daniel Guspan and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák stand behind the Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, denying that it was he who decided on the questionable order.

Head of the Parliament's Office, Daniel Guspan(Source: TASR)

On April 26, Guspan announced that he has removed two points from a directive making it possible for the Parliament Office to open letters sent to individual MPs that lack the sender's address or were sent by a private individual. He also scrapped a provision allowing letters containing vulgar speech to be archived and later shredded, instead of forwarding them to the addressee.

“Even though point No. 5 was meant as a bona fide way to help MPs with post containing vulgar content, carrying out this action will be suspended until the next parliamentary gremium,” the head of the Parliament's Office said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “All post with offensive content has already been distributed to individual MPs," said Guspan, adding that the gremium should also decide on the fate of post that nobody wants to collect. “I reject any accusations that the Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko (SNS) decided on this measure or that he's been interfering with MPs' correspondence, given that it isn't within the powers of the parliamentary chair to adopt decisions for the Parliament Office.” Guspan also denied that MPs' letters had been read by Parliament Office staff.

Minister steps in

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák (Smer) does not think that the order is typical for Danko, and he told media he doubted it was the speaker who worded the decision on manipulating the delivered post. Thus, Kaliňák also does not think that Andrej Danko should leave his office. „This is not his style of acting,“ Kaliňák said, adding that the decision seems rather to be some individual initiative of a clerk – which happens, sometimes. The minister does not think either, that there was intention to harm the opposiiton, as the envelopes of both the coalition and the opposition were opened.

Kaliňák also explained, as cited by the SITA newswire, that the directive itself from the Interior Ministry was adopted after courts and other institutions were confronted with delivered post containing dangerous waste – with traces of radioactive elements, and not just washing powder or sugar.

Labour Minister Ján Richter opined that the case was a failure to communicate the measure properly, rather than anything else.

Opposition OLaNO-NOVA leader Igor Matovič on April 25 showed reporters an order issued by Guspan dated April 7, 2017, which contains the cited instructions for front desk employees. According to Matovič, Guspan took this course of action on the direct orders of Danko, instructing his and his subordinates at Parliament's front desk to open letters addressed to lawmakers if they are being sent by individuals – anonymously or under a full name. If any profanities or offensive content are found in a letter, they are ordered not to deliver the correspondence to the lawmaker, but to archive it for three months and then shred it instead.

It had happened also earlier

Moreover, Matovič claims that Parliament Office staff used to open letters sent to individual MPs even before Guspan issued the directive on April 7 on opening post addressed to lawmakers sent by private individuals and on withholding post if profanities are found. He said that he was told this by a senior staff member of Parliament's front desk. The same person allegedly confirmed that the seized post was then forwarded to Guspan.

Read also: Read also:Danko’s office opens MPs’ letters

“We were at the front desk on Tuesday, and we saw a box containing 20 letters, including one postcard,” Matovič explained. “We found only seven letters today. When I asked [a member of staff] where the others had gone, she told me that they had been handed over to Mr. Guspan. So, despite claims by the parliamentary chair's [Andrej Danko's] spokesperson that it's at the disposal of only a single staff member with appropriate clearance – the seized post was taken away by her superior, who claimed that he would take it to Mr. Guspan.” When Matovic asked why all the seized post wasn't presented to Guspan, he was allegedly told that only letters received before April 7 were given to him, while post suspended after that date remained in the box.

While at the front desk, Matovič also forcefully took possession of a seized postcard sent to him in early February.

Parliamentary security head Milan Marko, who took the post from the box to Guspan, allegedly explained his course of action by stating that he has been working in security for 38 years. “I believe that this is the problem. He's brought [former communist secret service] StB practices into the 21st century," said Matovič.

Not just opposition

Apart from the opposition MPs, the Culture Minister and Smer vice-chair Marek Maďarič also commented on the recent case, saying that any provisions that are unconstitutional should be removed from Parliament Office head Daniel Guspan's order concerning how to handle letters sent to MPs in Parliament. Maďarič considers it nonsense to have clerks opening letters addressed to a specific person, reading their content and, based on their own judgement, deciding how to process them. “I believe that the clerks who are doing this should come to their senses and, of course, any provisions that fly in the face of the Constitution should be done away with immediately,” said the minister.

Matovič believes that the main culprit for the situation is Danko as Guspan's direct superior. So, if Danko doesn't resign by noon on April 28, the opposition will initiate an extraordinary parliamentary session with a no-confidence motion in him, he added, as cited by TASR. OĽaNO-NOVA also intends to file a criminal complaint over the violation of the privacy of correspondence. It also expects the General Prosecutor's Office to take action. Also another opposition party, SaS, has called on Andrej Danko to assume responsibility for the censorship. It will hold an inquiry into the matter and ask parliamentary leaders and the Parliament Office for more information.

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