DEFICIT OF DEMOCRACY
Wiesława Lewanowska talks with a parliamentarian Kazimierz M. Ujazdowski about the abuse of parliamentarian law, lack of Sejm control and lulling the public opinion
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: - In the beginning of this year Sejm proved its effectiveness of action – in the extremely quick pace the Act was novelized which imposes the so-called forestry fee on the State Forests, a kind of an extraordinary tax. There was also rejection of ‘Democratic packet’, that is, an Act project which has beaten records of legalization in the so-called Sejm freezer. Does it mean acceleration?
PARLIAMENTARIAN KAZIMIERZ M. UJAZDOWSKI: - It is a typical example of morality of Kali: ‘If Kali steal a cow, it is good, is Kali has something stolen, it is bad’. In this case if something is convenient to the interests of the government, it is realized so quickly that the public good nor the quality of the enacted law are not considered. Whereas, in the case of acts unbeneficial for the government, the Civic Platform mostly uses the so-called freezer, that is, in fact it hides it from the public opinion. This hiding problems and issues inconvenient for the governing majority is an escape from a social discussion.
– There was quite a strong discussion about the so-called forestry extortion, but only after the fact…
– It was not the first time when this kind of an escape had been used. The act about the VAT rise has also been enacted very quickly. Officials of the government admitted that the project had been full of legal shoddy and inner contradictions. Now, this express take of money of the Forests is very significant; it proves a very late understanding of financial need by the government. Responsible government should have submit this issue with the budget project, that is, at least half a year before.
– Why did it happen so? For fear of the public discussion?
– Surely, yes. But also because this government acts in a big chaos and often makes actions of extraordinary character, because neither the prime minister, nor finance minister are able to control all the issues of the country.
– All extraordinary actions can be perceived as elasticity and effectiveness of governing, as an essential rescue action.
– And this is presented so by the governmental services of Polish Republic. And we must call things by name: here we deal with serious abuses of the parliamentarian law. Indeed the code of rules of the Sejm allows for applying the extra mode, but only in extraordinary sudden circumstances (a natural disaster of other unexpected events). It also happens that the Sejm makes a mistake and the necessity of compensation for this mistake also justifies using the extraordinary mode of legislation. However, as it concerns the principle, lawmaking always requires a suitable consideration. Apart from obvious cases being the subject of a wide agreement, the Marshal of Sejm should not agree to applying the extraordinary accelerated legislative mode.
– However, the Marshal of Sejm often meets with the accusation of slowing down legislation works.
– This is a righteous criticism, because in this case we deal with concealing Acts project inconvenient for the government.
– You agree with the general opinion that the Polish Sejm enacts just any unconsidered kind of law? Why do Acts return to Sejm just after clashing with the reality? What are the sources of this legislative incompetence?
– I grieve over it. But here I do not mean the incompetence of Sejm, but the incompetence of the governing majority; overwhelming majority of analyzed acts are governmental projects. The problem is that works on these projects both in their governmental and Sejm phase are not coordinated. There are often disputes – between government departments and particular ministers – which last till the end of the enactment process of a particular Act. And this is the source of incoherence and mistakes in Acts.
– Is it really difficult to prevent it?
– A political will and competence are needed. In my opinion, the repair of legislation in Poland should start with its concentrating and individualization of responsibility, that is, a clear determining the fact that one minister and one clerk known by his name and surname are responsible for a project prepared by the government. Also during the parliamentary works, one minister nominated by the prime minister should control this project.
– Is it just an ordinary mess, carelessness…?
– It is an illustration of a more serious problem. There is no host in the country who is effectively planning the policy of the country for the sake of the public good, and later implements its realization. In my opinion, the basic defect of political culture of the time of the Civic Platform government is general avoidance of responsibility. Nobody wants to be responsible for governmental projects which causes unending various political games around enacted Acts. Certainly, it is always at the cost of the public good. A drastic example of this pathology was the amendment of the parliamentarian Andrzej Halicki (to the Act about isolation of dangerous criminals). Halicki persuaded a parliamentarian of the opposition to submit the amendment to the governmental project against the public interest. This is an example of a clandestine influence on lawmaking which should be clearly condemned.
– Because of this kind of games, not only the public good may be endangered, but also economic interests of the country. An example: infirmity of responsible government departments for elaborating legislation in relation to shale gas extraction.
– That’s it. In such cases what is the strangest, is the infirmity of the very prime minister who should clearly nominate a person responsible for preparing law in this sphere. So, why isn’t he doing it? It is really difficult to understand it.
– What is really missing here? Is it a political will, understanding, time, attention?
– First of all, there is a lack of will to govern here. If I was to describe briefly the evil which is happening in the sphere of lawmaking, then, on the one hand, there is a lack of leadership and will of responsible governing, a will of being a host, and, on the other hand – permanent avoiding the public control. In the second case the purpose is to not to allow the public opinion to know a lot, because it is easier to conceal bad interests, mistakes and incompetence. We do not have either leadership or parliamentary control.
– So – not only does our parliament fail to fulfill its legislative function properly, but it also does not effectively fulfill its controlling function?
– We can say about insufficiency of parliamentary control which is not an abstractive category. Control is executed on behalf of the public opinion. In a good political system the parliamentary opposition is an advocate of the public opinion, so it must have real rights.
– Whereas you think that in the Sejm the controlling role of the opposition is strongly stifled?
– I think that it exists in a vestigial dimension. The Civic Platform wants to lull the society, distract citizens’ attention from public issues. A real parliamentary control would raise interest in public issues. Moreover, the Civic Platform, with an enormous protection from private and public media, wants the media, not the Sejm, to be a place of the political discourse. These are the reasons for which the prime minister Tusk is scared of a parliamentary debate based on the British model in which ministers stand opposite the opposition and for two hours they can be asked every question without any censorship and receive an answer ad hoc.
– Observing TV reports, it might seem to someone that it is just so…
– It is a very illusionary impression. Because, in fact, the public opinion is not a witness of a factual, affiliate – that is, based on equality and without censorship – discourse in a parliament, but it is observing a spectacle, in which the government is playing the main role, which is well directed by media friendly to him. The Polish public opinion has never experienced a real, complete parliamentary debate based on the principle of equality.
– What is exactly the techniques of the inner-Sejm censorship based on?
– First of all, on using the ‘freezer’ towards projects inconvenient for the governing majority. Secondly, on the fact that in Polish conditions there is not a formula of a really free parliamentary debate about the policy of the government. The current statute of Sejm gives the government a possibility to avoid answers to difficult questions and plan a debate by the prime minister and in favour of the government. Thirdly – the institution of public hearing (assuming the presence of social partners in the parliament) is inactive and always depends on the majority in the Sejm commissions, so in practice on the governmental majority. There was not any public hearing even in the issue so important, like the reform of the retirement system. At present there are works on novelization of the Act about higher education – public hearing has been blocked…A brutal element of the Sejm censorship is also a possibility of rejecting already in the first reading of civilian projects, which is often used by the governing party.
– So, we can say that Sejm does not fulfill its function of controlling the government?
– I do not say so, because the Law and Justice party is trying to fulfill this function despite difficulties. But the rights of the opposition in Poland are poor in comparison with mature European countries. In Germany, Great Britain and France the chief of the government is an authentic leader, he knows what he wants, informs the public opinion about it, whereas the parliamentary opposition has really strong rights. It must be added that these rights have been developed in the recent years. Germany and France react to the deficit of democracy just through strengthening the controlling function of parliaments.
– Can we speak about increasing deficit of democracy in Poland?
– The Civic Platform is deliberately increasing this deficit. And its strategy is the following: we are to govern for the next dozen years, the public opinion must be lulled, directed towards private issues, reconciled with this not another formula of the government, discouraged from being interested in public issues.
– So, is it possible to determine and describe the political system which is practically dominant in Poland?
– In practice we have an escape from leadership, dispersing responsibility. The prime minister used to say that he could not do anything and he still avoids responsibility. Making prosecutors dependent on the government is, in fact, avoiding responsibility for the public safety by the government. We must also add the mentioned weakened parliamentary control and a rate for lulling the public opinion. I am not an idealist in parliamentary control but I think that the more openness, control and civilian pressure in Polish conditions, the better authority we will have. If we used a debate in Poland, based on the British one, even some ministerial nominations would not have any chances.
– The British debate means that a politician must have his own opinion, program and capability to communicate with the public opinion. An authentic debate in the parliament checks it very strictly. Many of our current ministers would not endure such a trial, because it is clearly seen that they came to the governmental departments without their opinions or ideas, so in every case they must rely on clerks. What is more, it seems that the very prime minister would not endure the parliamentary debate of the British type, that is, confrontation based on equality and without censorship.
– ‘Democratic packet’ (repair of the Statute of Sejm), initiating the system reform, has utterly lost. What will be next?
– Surely, we must return to our most important propositions. I am going to submit again what is the clearest in the ‘Packet’. First of all, it concerns introducing an obligation of providing information by the prime minister before the EU meeting about the attitude of the Polish government. Another issue is giving civilian character to the works of Sejm. It concerns the prohibition of civilian project rejection in the first reading and democratization of the public hearing.
– Aren’t the earlier amendments in the Constitution postulated by the Law and Justice party considered anymore?
– That is true. The Law and Justice party has had a project of amendments in the Constitution since the year 2004. In order to implement it in a responsible way, elections must be won by the definite majority of votes.
– So, what would this ideal system be like?
– There has been an opinion since the times of Aristotle that the best political system is the mixed one, that is, the one which gives the country a strong leadership, opens a possibility of public work for competent people, and real political rights to the society. A good institutional solution must be found for this ideal.