Law on Mayor/MP Conflict of Interest Finally Passed. But There’s a Catch…

Well, hip hip hooray, bravo and jolly good. In what was the seventh attempt since 1993 the parliament last night finally passed a law establishing a conflict of interests between holding an office of mayor and MP at the same time. Thus a grave anomally of Slovene political system is fixed, since local and state matters are separated.

Luka Juri of Social Democrats. He too, should ask himself one question… (source)

As both readers of this blog know, Slovenia boasts an impressive two hundred and eleven municipalities. Within muninicipal jurisdiction one can find services such as primary health care, kindergartens, elementary schools, some waterway maintenance, parts of the road network, public transport, drinking water and seweage services, to name but a few. All of this is administered by two hundred and eleven mayors, municipal (or city) councils and administations, each passing its own acts and decisions. Among those two hundred and ten mayors, twenty-six enjoy a special privelege. Besides holding mayoral office they are also members of the parliament, serving as elected representatives of the entire nation.

So, you gotta ask yourself one question…

According to the constitution, each and every MP is a representative of entire nation. On the other hand, mayors are representatives of their respective municipalities and voters/residents. A conflict of interest in this case stands out like a sore thumb. Example. A zoning act is needed to allow for building of a new rail road network. But a particular municipality, through which the rail road would pass, wants to have an extension of its road system on that very spot. So, how does our illustrious mayor vote? Does he cast a vote for a much needed rail road which the country badly needs or does he vote against, because voters in his municipality want yet another road? And, ultimately, why should a mayor be in a position to hold the entire country hostage to his municipalitiy’s particular interest. You can also look from the other side. 210 mayors, all competing for various forms of state funding. But only 26 of them have direct access to the decision-making process which distributes the monies. Fair? I don’t think so.

Be that as it may, the new law now solves all that. No more wearing two hats at once, drawing from two different straws and whathaveyou. It’s time for them to ask themselves one question. What will it be, sir? Mayor or a Member of the Parliament?… Not so fast. First of all, the law will be used for the first time for 2012 parliamentary elections. So, no one will be forced to leave office on account of this law. Which is fair enough. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. However, the parliament is not the only game in town.

Problems ahead

Municipal elections follow parliamentary elections with a two-year offset. We just had one, fairly recently. Which means that those twenty-six double-hatted representatives of the people have a good three years of their term left. And since the game is not changing only on national but on local level as well since mayors/MPs can choose which of the two positions they will serve. Thus one could argue that the new law should be implemented only in 2014, when the current term of municipal authorities ends. This makes pengovsky far from happy, but is bound to happen. Too many people stand to loose too much to let it just slide.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The new law applies to MPs who additionally serve as mayors or deputy mayors. And therein lies the rub. Deputy mayors are in fact municipal councilmen picked by the mayor to serve as his aides. However, they retain their councilman status and – most importantly – their vote (the mayor does not have a vote in municipal council although he/she presides over council sessions).

So, the law creates a situation where one city councilman who happens to be deputy mayor can not run for MP whereas his non-deputy colleague, who otherwise has exactly the same range of powers, can freely not only run but get elected to serve in the parliament, where he can still enter a potential conflict of interest.

And now for the ultimate fuck-up

Municipalities are overseen by the government. But only the parliament has the power to establish or dissolve a municipality. Therefore it entirely possible that a city councilman who serves as an MP (a situation which is allowed by this law) gets to vote on the future of his municipality. And although the right-wing SDS and SLS stand to lose the most with this new law, the most clear case in point is actually an MP of ruling Social Democrats Luka Juri. Although not alone in this enterprise he is bending over backwards to prevent establishing the municipality of Ankaran, now part of the City of Koper, despite a decision by the Constitutional Court that all conditions for establishing the municipality have been met. He is in a clear conflict of interests but even under the new law he gets to keep his double position.

Don’t get me wrong. This law was long overdue and – again – hip hip horray, bravo and jolly good to the parliamentary majority (spearheaded by Franci Kek of Zares) for passing it. But this was only a step in the right direction, but as this will inevitably end up with the Constitutional Court, we’re not there yet…

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A Parlamentarian Vignette (throw him the fuck out!)

Tadej Slapnik, Zares and Zmago Jelinčič, SNS (source)

SCENE: A parliamentary investigative committee on the Patria Affair. Headed first by Zvonko Černač and then by Branko Grims, both members of SDS, it is aimed at proving that the Patria Affair was concocted to influence the result of 2008 parliamentary elections when the left wing coalition led by now-PM Borut Pahor defeated Janez Janša and forced SDS back into opposition.

Branko GRIMS of SDS, head of the committee
Tadej SLAPNIK of Zares, member
Zmago JELINČIČ of SNS, member
Franc PUKŠIČ of SLS, member

THE PLOT: Just as they did with Černač, the ruling coalition aims to have GRIMS replaced as the head of the committee by declaring him a witness in the inquiry. This would further hamper the work of the committee. The approach was pioneered during the last parliament, when SDS used the tactic to replace Milan M. Cvikl of Social Democrats, who ran his Patria investigation committee but was prevented from finishing the job on bogus claims that he must testify in front of the committee. As a result, the committee never filed a final report on the issue.


GRIMS: Esteemed colleague, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: What’s that suppose to mean, ‘you too’?
GREMS: Order, please! Look, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: You’ll get your cunt slapped, I’ll show you ‘you too’!
GRIMS: … if you don’t have a clue about the law and procedures, I can’t…
JELINČIČ: You watch now!
SLAPNIK: What’s the matter? You want me to throw you out the window?
SLAPNIK: Who are you to threaten me?
GRIMS: Would you please stop…
SLAPNIK: Jelinčič, who are you to threaten me
JELINČIČ: Call security and throw him the fuck out!
SLAPNIK: Just try and hit me…
JELINČIČ: Call security and get him out of here…
SLAPNIK: You bum!

Further on in the scene SLAPNIK refuses to give in and continues to argue, when PUKŠIČ walks over to him and turns off his microphone

In case you’re wondering, the above really happened. Word for word. It is taken from a transcript of the session of the committee, released by the parliament on Zares‘ demand.

Very well-mannered people, Slovene MPs, no? 🙂

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So, You Want To Amend The Constitution, Huh?

Lately, talk of amending Slovenian constitution is in vogue, it seems. Janez Janša‘s SDS announced it but failed to give it substance, Gregor Golobič‘s Zares presented their own version and gave it some substance and the government of Borut Pahor as a whole announced it is joining the fun as well. High time for pengovsky to chip as well, so try this on for size:

Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (source)

Abolish the National Council. I mean, what’s with having special interest parliamentary representation in the first place? Sure, it’s nice to hear the voice of all walks of life when passing policy decisions, but there are ways to do it other than creating a second chamber and then amputating it from the start. Fourty-four representatives, all of them elected indirectly is an utterly failed attempt to mix the U.S. Senate with element of corporatism which serves no real purpose but to give give a group of people without a clear mandate the power to call a referendum and generally spend away taxpayer’s money. Cut the crap and create a true single-chamber parliament. Life will be much easier for everyone. After-all it is not as if people sitting in the National Council don’t have enough power as it is through various unions, industrial and commerce chambers and other pressure groups.

Increase number of MPs to 121. Not just because 121 is 11 squared (a nice number, ain’t it), which would make it possible for eleven MPs to be elected in each of the eleven voting units (an increase of three from the existing eight per voting unit). It would also decrease the number of voters per MP, thus increasing the relative representation of the people and – perhaps most importantly – give us an odd number of MPs, preventing the possibility of a 50/50 stalemate in the parliament. And you know how awkward that can be.

Institute a mayor/MP conflict of interest In fact, institute a conflict of interest between serving as an MP and serving as any other elected official, be it on municipal or regional level. Each and every MP represents the entire population of Slovenia. Not just his immediate voting precinct or unit. Mayors who also serve as MPs tend to a) support decisions which are in favour of their municipality and not necessarily in the interest of the entire country and b) have the possibility to indulge in pork-barrel politics, often at the expense of other parts of the country. This simply can not go on. There are municipalities running out of space for new state-funded infrastructure and highway-exits, while others still have problem stuff as basic as sewage.

And don’t forget, you can achieve this also by simply passing the appropriate law.

Amend election rules. This was done before, so it is nothing new, even though you could (as with previous item) get it done by amending the law and not necessarily the constitution itself. Specifically, what is needed is introducing an absolute preferential vote, whereby voters would vote for a specific candidate and thereby vote for candidate’s political party. Should the candidate not receive enough votes to be elected to the parliament, his votes would be added to the votes other candidates of the same party received within the same voting unit and then divided proportionally among those candidates, starting from the top of the list. Technically, this is called “proportional system with strong elements of majority system” and was actually called for by the Constitutional Court. So despite the fact that it is Gregor Golobič’s Zares which advocates this measure (and the one about conflict of interests), it should not be viewed as a party position but as a long-overdue and fundamentally necessary amendment to the constitution.

Create regions Six of them, with Ljubljana having special status as the capital city. True, you’d be creating yet another level of administration, but the advantages are numerous. You can strip the 210-or-so Slovene municipalities of most of their competences and transfer them to regional level. If you want equal access to things like health and education, you can not have municipalities handling it, because most of them don’t have enough money to provide either, let alone maintain their existing infrastructure (unless of course their mayors serve as MPs). This would also enable you to redistribute personal income tax revenue on a much more efficient level. As things stand now this revenue is directed to municipalities’ coffers, which is one of the main incentives for continuous creation of new municipalities (that and the notion that the state will chip in whatever monies the municipality is short on). This of course leads to a lot of municipalities handling minute amounts of cash. Do this on a regional level, however, and suddenly you can actually do stuff with that money. As a side-effect, less money will from central budget and municipalities will suddenly find that they will be better off if they unite rather than split up.

Oh, and why six regions? Because this is the numbers of dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia. People are used to this division. It is also a division which has stood the test of time plus the borders are already drawn. This is probably one of the few good ideas the Catholic Church had in this part of the world, so why not use it?

Simplify the procedure for establishing government As things stand now, the President nominates the candidate for prime minister, who must survive the vote in the parliament. He/she then assembles the cabinet, submits candidates for ministers to a parliamentary hearing process (which has no legal effects whatsoever) and then has to survive the vote again in order to have a fully empowered government. This is bullshit. It was fun while Slovenia still had the assembly system (three-chamber parliament, a delegate system without freedom of vote, the works), but in a liberal democracy things just don’t work well that way. First of all, why should the PM go through the same procedure twice in as many weeks? Why should it take two or more weeks to establish a government anyhow? And why shouldn’t the PM be able to fire ministers on the spot? He/she can’t do it under the existing system. Since the parliament appointed the minister it is only the parliament who can dismiss him/her, effectively tying the PM’s hands and possibly putting him in the position of having to work with an uncooperative minister. It has happened, you know.

If there is a clear parliamentary majority (which would always be at hand if we had an odd number of MPs), there really is no need for such a prolonged process. The power to nominate the candidate for PM would still be with the President and after the parliament appointed the prime minister he/she would simply assemble his cabinet and send the list to the president for approval. And if you really need a safeguard, you can empower the Prez do refuse the cabinet list, at which point the PM-in-waiting would have to ask the parliament to vote on his cabinet. The same would apply for dismissal of a particular minister. Or, if you want the really effective version, you can leave the power to appoint and dismiss ministers solely with the PM, once he is appointed by the parliament. In any case, you have a much more effective government and a much stronger leadership role by the PM. And most importantly, the loyalties of individual ministers can no longer be torn between the government in which they serve and the parliament this appointed them.

Don’t mess with referendum. Just because the opposition fucked you with referendum bids a couple of times, this doesn’t mean that you can go about limiting who can call a referendum. OK, so it might be prudent to increase the number of signatures needed to start the referendum bid in the first place, but you don’t have to change a constitution to achieve that. Always remember that the point of the referendum is to check moves and motives of an excessively autocratic government (or parliamentary majority).

The fact that referendum provisions are being abused to block legitimate policies on a daily basis is not a legal question but rather a question of political manners. Because as long as no punches are being pulled as long as playing hard-ball is the norm rather than the exception and as long as any end will justify any means, so long will legislation and rules and procedures continue to be abused to derail policy agendas just for the fun of it. There is no way you can limit the system of checks and balances in a manner that will be both democratic and prevent abuse. You just can’t do it. It simply isn’t possible.

And should you by any chance manage to institute such limitations, trust me, they will come to haunt you faster than you can say “election defeat” (if you catch my meaning).

This, basically, is it. Anything beyond the above will either result in fundamental restructuring of the republic or will simply be yet another abuse of democratic mechanism aimed at paving the way to power without presenting anything close to a viable political platform.

And this is the gist of it, methinks. What this country needs is not some sort of a new social contract or (God forbid) a Second Republic, but rather a common awareness among political players that destructive behaviour will only increase the amount of shit we all will have to deal with. Fact of the matter is that lately nothing is sacred any more. Even the legislative procedure is abused in order to facilitate a desired outcome, case in point being the last events on establishing municipality of Ankaran (more on that some other time). The problems this country is facing are real and institutional changes can only take you so far. Especially if you play around with the constitution, which is suppose to stand the test of time rather than be changed according to daily (political) needs.

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A Pow-Wow Turned Photo-Op

Earlier today Duša Trobec Bučan was confirmed as new minister for local self-government and regional development, thus succeeding Henrik Gjerkeš who resigned from position after he was caught driving under the influence. With this ends yet another episode of inter-coalition tug-of-war which some hoped would bring down the government of Borut Pahor but instead – as usual – fizzled out into a quick photo-op.

Coalition leaders. A family photo from happier times (source)

Namely, the last few days Slovene political scene was abuzz with a top-level coalition huddle which took place yesterday and was supposedly called to close ranks and plug some holes in a government which just scored a new low with only 23 percent approval rating. However, amid “a flurry of expectations”, which just journo-speak for hoping that a general fist-fight will break out, the only thing the yawning press core got was yet another statement about “a firm decision that this government will within next-year-and-a-half “do everything in its power to ensure economic and social recovery”.

So, what happened? I mean, noises were made and the scene was set for at least a mid-season political cliffhanger. To an untrained eye, it may seem as if the stars of the feud are DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Indeed, the pensioner party is becoming ever more obnoxious, especially after they broke the 10-percent mark in public opinion polls, besting even the ruling Social Democrats. On the other hand, Zares seems to be opting for some hard-ball politics, seemingly going after DeSUS for not supporting the pension reform and the Budget Act, both of which are key documents. Thus Zares’ second-in-command and president of the parliament Pavle Gantar said in no unclear terms that a party which does not support key documents has no place in the coalition (note that the statement did not come from party leader Golobič). On the other hand, Erjavec struck back saying that it was Zares’ MPs who voted against the government on multiple occasions, so would Zares please shut up, thank you very much.

But this is not the real feud. Despite ego-inflating poll results and his loud-mouthing about how he’s already thinking about 2012 elections, Karl Erjavec’s interests are primarily short-term. He is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria case and at the moment his party’s high ratings serve no other purpose than strengthening his position within the party, half of which would replace him given half a chance (exactly which half of the party that is depends on the situation at hand). What we are witnessing is Zares actually pushing Social Democrats into a bit of a tight spot, cashing in favours and support and thus carving out more manoeuvring room for it self. The party is currently near rock bottom poll-wise and has lately done a bit of bag-carrying for PM Pahor personally, notably with going all-out against building of a new Šoštanj coal power plant (siding with PM against local SD strongmen, although there are more angles to the story) and sacrificing the new law on RTV Slovenia on the referendum (provided that was the plan as detailed in this post).

So, rather than this being a Slovene version of Faces of Stupid contest between Zares and DeSUS, it looks more as if the former is trying to reposition itself vis-a-vis Social Democrats, which – the story goes – have often supported Zares’ legislative initiatives only after claiming them as their own. And it looks as if Zares is in for a fight. The grapevine has it that Gregor Golobič will soon come under heavy fire for his initiative of research and innovation centres. Golobič negotiated some serious money to be pumped into ten-or-so combinations of hi-tech companies and research facilities which have the highest potential to generate added value through innovation and subsequent production, but apparently allegations (probably in the form of “anonymous tip-offs”) are expected to arise that tenders were won only by people close to Golobič. That’s the word on the street, anyway.

But for the moment, Zares and Gregor Golobič seem to have gotten their way at least partly. Today their MPs abstained from the vote on Duša Trobec Bučan. Thus a message was sent that they too can leave the coalition should PM Pahor forget to take their interest into account as well. And while DeSUS’ possible au revoir to the coalition would be bad considering the five seats it would take with it (down from seven, by the way), it would not be catastrophic. However, should Zares and Gregor Golobič bid farewell and take their nine MPs with them, that would probably be the end of Prime Minister Pahor as well.

But the immediate disagreements seem to have been settled before yesterday’s big pow-pow. DeSUS got away with it yet again, Zares made a big show of saying they will not be pushed around (and took a swipe at DeSUS as well), while PM Pahor got his new minister appointed and is closing ranks yet again. And the media got yet another photo-op. Until next time.

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One More For The Road

Q: How much must a Slovene drink to score .25 on a breathalyzer test? A: Nothing for at least three days.

Ex-minister Gjerkeš during an interview for The Firm™ (source)

Minister for local self-government and regional policy Henrik Gjerkeš resigned yesterday after being taken into custody by the police for driving under the influence at 4 AM on Tuesday whilst returning home from ministry’s end-of-the-year party. Apparently he scored .63 on breathalyzer test, which is not at all surprising if one takes into account the fact that the party apparently started at 2 PM on Monday. While it is not known whether Gjerkeš was there for the entire fourteen hours, one can imagine that he did put some back into it. Especially given the fact that he was pulled over for driving on a motorway with a flat tyre. Oh, and he was driving a government Audi :mrgreen:

Obviously, Gjerkeš had no choice but to resign immediately, putting additional strain on an already embattled government of Borut Pahor. That quick resignation minimised the media and political fallout is a no-brainer, but it has started a chain of events which will further drain energy and resources of the government in general and the prime minister in particular.

Techincally, Gjerkeš was appointed by the parliament and it is the parliament who will a) have to note his resignation and b) appoint his successor. This will apparently be Duša Trobec Bučan who until now served as state secretary in Gjerkeš’s ministry and was his right-hand woman. The mechanics of the transfer are relatively straightforward, doubly so given the fact this is in fact a ministerial position without portfolio and that the Ministry for local self-government is in fact a government office, elevated to ministry status on a per-government basis.

However, the new would-be minister will first have to attend a parliamentary hearing in front of appropriate committees and then she and PM Pahor will have to go though a special session of the parliament where you can be sure no punches will be pulled. Doubly so because this ministry is in charge of acquiring EU cohesion funds and the sight of €€€ being pumped into his/her constituency makes many an MP go rabid. Doubly so if they also serve as mayors in their respective municipalities.

Gjerkeš’s resignation might seem normal and the only decent thing to do – and it is – but the sad truth is that it does set new standards in Slovenian politics, since there are well documented cases of MPs driving under the influence and even causing accidents and yet they not only got away with it, they even got re-elected. Pengovsky knows of one other case years when a minister caused a traffic accident (no one was hurt) and not only did he get away with it, he even managed to put a lid on it and the media didn’t report it. He later bragged about it to pengovsky during (the irony) one of many end-of-the-year receptions.

Bottom line: this was a totally stupid mistake to make on Gjerkeš’s part. Especially since he turned out to be quite capable, regardless of his virtual anonymity before becoming minister. As it is, he is now only a statistic – the sixth minister PM Pahor will have to replace, the second in this particular office.

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