Getting Fired For Actually Doing Something?

Finance daily ran a story yesterday about PM Janez Janša is set to kick interior minister Vinko Gorenak and justice minister Senko Pličanič out of the government come Autumn. While the government communication office denied the rumours (PM Janša remains mute on the issue) the story might actually have legs given its proximity to last week’s scare about the vote of confidence.

In foreground: Senko Pličanič, left and Vinko Gorenak, right (Photo by Matej Družnik/

At any rate, a government reshuffle is quite embarrassing this early in the term of the current administration, but is also far from problematic. In fact, it has become something of a tradition for a Janša administration. Early on during his 2004-2008 stint at the top job Janša had to find a replacement for Jože P. Damijan, who resigned his post as development minister after only three months in office, reportedly due to falling out with then-finance minister Andrej Bajuk over (non)selling of NLB. Slightly off-topic: in hindsight it appears Damijan had a point back then and lost no time rubbing it in the face of his former boss (Google translate here)

It should also be said that neither Pličanič nor Gorenak (offically) have any knowledge of PM’s alleged bad blood, with Gorenak writing up a rather heavy rebuttal (again, google translation) but, interestingly, avoiding the finer points of Finance story. In fact, a lot of it is actually a classic non-denial.

But the gist of the story is somewhere else entirely. A week or so ago PM Janša appeared on Vroči Stol (Hot Seat) programme hosted by Vladimir “Vudu” Vodušek. What was basically a farcical re-run of a similar event four years ago would probably be forgotten soonest , had Vudu (now owner of a financially embattled Info TV cable TV station) not been arrested the very next morning on charges of extortion and blackmail, unofficially of a CEO of a hardware company. It was all highly embarrassing for the prime minister, who – according to the Finance story – went apeshit over not being told that Vudu was a target of a criminal investigation. And this is where things get interesting.

The only thing is that the PM is probably the last person on earth who can be told of an ongoing criminal investigation. In a democratic state politics stays out of police work. It takes the widest berth possible. Which is why Janša’s (again: alleged but not denied) reaction is highly symptomatic of how this administration sees this country: as a top-to-bottom controlled organism with no horizontally or vertically independent sub-systems and with the head knowing everything and making all the important calls. There’s a word for that and it ain’t democracy.

Minister Gorenak maintains that he never spoke to Janša about the investigation. Which is fine, even though one can understand the sentence as if he himself did have prior knowledge of the investigation (which he shouldn’t have, as the police is under his portfolio but not direct control). Which would – bizarre as it sounds – mean that interior minister Vinko Gorenak did something right for a change and is looking down the wrong end of a gun-barrel for it. Go figure. Not that he would be sorely missed, but still…

And as for minister Pličanič, he too is apparently getting the short shrift for doing too much rather than too little. According to media reports the past six months have seen (some sort of) results solely in the areas of financial austerity and public administration, the former being the portfolio of finance minister Janez Šušteršič while the latter is the domain of minister Senko Pličanič (both, incidentally, of Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List)

What Pličanič apparently didn’t understand was that he was meant to do as little as possible save perhaps a token effort here and there. He really should have gotten the message when the State Prosecution was detached from his portfolio (justice) and joined with internal affairs (ran by Gorenak). But as things stand, he seems to be poised to play the sad role of collateral damage.


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Administrative Reform Packages, pt. 2: On Fiscal Rule

Continuing the series on the sweeping constitutional changes proposed by SDS, SLS, NSi and DLGV, we turn our attention today to the so-called Golden (or fiscal) rule, where – broadly speaking – the constitution would be amended to limit the percentage of GDP up to which the state could borrow against or something along those lines. The idea is fairly simple. In order to keep public spending in check, a top limit of indebtedness should be set and anything above that would simply become impossible. The whole thing makes sense on a certain level, especially if you subscribe to the Thatcherian vision of having to run the economy the was you run home finances. The problem, however, is that should Article 148 of the Slovenian constitution be changed indeeed, we’re pretty much fucked.


Namely: the last draft does not specify the percentage of GDP against which the state can borrow money, but rather institutes the demand for a balanced budget. And – truth be said – even though it is the coalition which came up with this piece of Merkozy-induced crap (or is that Merkonti-induced crap), Positive Slovenia and Social Democrats happily went along with it. That much became clear after Monday’s huddle chez Janša, despite some reservations being voiced by the two opposition parties. The gist of it: a balanced budget would be mandatory, with an automatix tax increase the following year should a deficit be run in the current year. Lovely, innit?

First and most important of all, the constitution is no place for setting budgetary and tax policy. A budget is an annual thing, basically an elaborate accounting document which is part guess-work, part wishful thinking and all politics. A budget is a government’s primary policy tool, despite the fact that as much of 60 percent of any given Slovenian budget was, is and probably will go for funding various public, state and welfare services. Constitutionally setting the basic outlines of a budget would therefore unnecessarily restrict incumbent and future governments in their policy-making abilities, especially if a tax-hike loomed every time something didn’t go according to plan.

Second: Getting everyone to agree to a constitutional change requires time and energy that would power a small-sized city. This will become even more apparent as more details of constitutional changes emerge and people’s brains finally get in gear. If changes to Article 148 are rammed through and end up having negative effects (which they will) the enthusiasm for any other, perhaps more necessary constitutional changes will have disappeared faster than capital gains in Iceland.

Third: budgets do not exist to be balanced, they exist to be well spent and invested. Balancing the budget is fairly easy. You just slash everything on the spending side until it rhymes with the income side. The trick is to keep everything going while keeping public finances (that is to say, the budget, public debt and various non-budget funds) in some sort of an order in the long term. A balanced budget will do you no good if it means you can’t pay the teachers, cops or soldiers, can’t build new roads or can’t invest in R&D (to give some examples at random).

Fourth: What if the dictate from Berl… eeeer…. Brussels changes? What if suddenly Merkonti were to realise all of a sudden that what we actually need is not across the board austerity but cutting some spending cuts combined with some pragmatic economic policies and – not compulsory, but welcome nevertheless – finally open that can of whoop-ass on the financial and banking sector (not unlike what Sweden did in the 90s and what Iceland is doing today). Will we be changing the constitution yet again? And will we be doing it over and over, every time some economic zealot gets a hard-on for one approach or another?

And last but certainly not least: if and when the political landscape is once again redrawn and the SDS finds itself in the opposition once again, you can bet your ass they will not be exactly reaching out to whatever government will come up with its own set of constitutional changes.

What the government of Janez Janša set out to do could very well be achieved sans all the constitutional hassle, simply pass a few laws and stick to a few pledges. But since this would include having buckets of shit thrown at them, it is much more convenient to point at the constitution and go “look, it says we have to do it!”. Thus, what we are seeing here is nothing more than political parties (the whole parliamentarian lot of them) shying away from their responsibilities thus letting economic ideology become enshrined in the constitution.

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Slovenes Reject Menial Work, Pollsters Miss By A Mile

In what appears to be an overwhelming defeat for the government of Borut Pahor, Slovenians today rejected the law on menial work by an 80/20 vote against. The turnout percentage was in the very low thirties, which makes it one of the more attended referendums in recent history (save the Arbitration Agreement referendum). That is in itself a sad fact, but there you go.

Lost. Ministers Katarina Kresal, Aleš Zalar, Ivan Svetlik and PM Borut Pahor (source: RTVSLO)

Politically, this is a slap-in-the-face for PM Pahor and his government that will hurt more than they will be willing to admit. True, the upcoming referendum on the pension reform is much more important and – if rejected – could even cause the government to step down. However, the law on menial work was a key part of labour market reform which will now still see plenty of tax evasion and companies which exploit students full time without guaranteeing them any social security whatsoever.

PM Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik played down the result saying that people apparently are not yet aware of importance of reforms. On the other hands, there are calls for the PM to step down (even over at the wonderful Drugi dom blog, which generally gravitates to the left). Predictably the opposition, spearheaded by SDS of Janez Janša are interpreting the result as a no-confidence vote for the government, even though this time around the opposition just tagged along in what pengovsky still maintains was an unholy alliance of special interest. Anyways, there’s no reason for the government to resign. Elections are a year and a half away and even if the government resigned today, elections could not be held sooner than in autumn this year, not to mention that we’d probably have to go through a period of extended political crisis, since the MPs are about as likely to recall the parliament as they are likely to, say, ratify Slovenia becoming part of Croatia. Point being, that resignation of the government would most likely cause more problems than it would solve. Especially, since the other guys are not even close to being ready to take over. In fact, despite their vocal calls for Pahor to back his bags, the current situation suits them just fine, because they have yet to substantiate their claims of 50+ result in 2012 elections.

This is also yet another defeat for pollsters. Public opinion polls did in fact forecast victory for the no-vote, but no single poll detected a 80/20 distribution. Not one. Sure, it was a beautiful day today and with low turnout the margin of error increases substantially, but how the fuck don’t you detect an electoral freight-train coming in your direction? But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they did detect it but no-one published it, since the law forbade it. Days ago, the Constitutional Court ruled that this particular provision is unconstitutional and in the future we can look forward to last-minute polls on Friday nights :).

The way things stand now, people with ideas don’t have the authority, and people with authority don’t have the ideas. Expect turbulence ahead. We’re in for a bumpy ride…

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