Quickly forgotten pre-election promises

Marinko Culic

SUN, 05 MAR 2000

Zagreb, 29 February, 2000 - big tumult among the new ruling majority in Croatia was caused at the second session of the assembly by the proposal of Racan's government that salaries of state officials, members of the parliament inclusive, be reduced by forty per cent. Economically speaking, an insignificant sum of about ten million German marks will be saved in this way, since it turned out that some ministries in the former regime used to spend more than that on everyday technical supplies.

For example, the long delayed inspection of business books of the defence ministry which was disclosed to the public only by the new authorities, showed that two years ago this ministry spent almost thirty million German marks on laundry and dry cleaning, as if somebody had the idea that Croatia should have one of the cleanest armies not only in this part of the world, but probably even more broadly. Similarly extravagant was the ministry of internal affairs which according to the just revealed data spent just a little less than two million marks on its informers. It was immediately calculated by the press that 18 thousand decent salaries could have been paid from this spiesí fund and that is what they expect the new authorities to do as well as to introduce order into all other spheres given to them to control. Among other, into their own salaries.

These salaries have become the top political issue regardless of the almost insignificant saving that would be made by their reduction. This is the test of the extent to which the new political class is ready to share the destiny of the country given to it to control. Besides, the mentioned 40 per cent reduction of salaries was a pre-election promise, and this was a good opportunity to show whether the victorious coalition would fulfil its promises. It turned out that the assembly deputies of this coalition were not at all enthusiastic to have trustworthiness of the new regime tested on them. That is why they opposed such a great reduction to the joy of the deputies of the until recently ruling Croat Democratic Community (HDZ), although they had shown just a few months ago that their possessive appetites were much larger. Salaries of state officials were considerably increased at the time, from the head of the state Tudjman downward whose salary increased to approximately nine thousand marks, and assembly deputies did not fare badly either with salaries of about three thousand marks, because the salary of the head of the state was used as the basis for calculation of all other salaries in state administration. This monarchical model has been abandoned now and salaries are determined according to the average income in the country, so that this is felt the most by the new president of the state Stipe Mesic. He will collect slightly above five thousand marks while the salaries of junior state officials, assembly deputies inclusive, have been reduced comparatively much less.

When this proposal was first made public by the new government, deputies of the HDZ proclaimed it purely demagogic. They also considered that it was pure demagogy when it was announced that new ministers would be coming to work in their personal cars or even on foot (which was in fact abandoned after two days) or that prime minister Racan, foreign minister Tonino Picula and others would travel abroad on regular airline flights (which, at least for the time being, they are still sticking to it). But, when this proposal appeared in the assembly and when it became obvious that the new ruling majority is accepting it but unwillingly, members of HDZ immediately changed their attitude. They started applauding the government proposal, obviously assessing that money-loving former authorities would provoke less animosity if it proved that the new authorities were no angels either.

Indeed, deputies of the ruling coalition at first did not conceal that they did not like the proposal on new salaries, and a true "rebellion" occurred when Racan came out with the amendment on reduction, claiming that that it was not in line with the promise on 40 per cent given during the election campaign. Racanís amendment was rejected with a complicated explanation that a reduction of a little over 25 per cent would achieve the effects of the previous 40-per-cent one, if some of the former allowances were not included, which was in the end accepted. All things considered, Racan himself bears a part of the responsibility for this because his proposal was hasty and insufficiently elaborated, reducing the salaries of the officials so that they were much lower those of others who are also paid from the budget.

But, this is not the most important thing at all. All the most prominent members of the ruling majority, that is, from Racan to the last assembly deputy, had convinced the public that the first step of the new regime would be reduction of the imperial salaries inherited from the previous one. Now, however, it turned out that they all wished to get around their promise and silently let the responsibility for the unfulfilled promise be laid at Racanís door alone. Well, maybe the new Croatian prime minister does deserve to have his nose rubbed in it, if he has not done his job of the drafter of the law well, especially if he had intended to play the role of a wise supervisor who, like St. Francis of Assisi from his holy desert, was concerned not to let his coalition succumb to the sin of rapacity.

But things further complicate when one says that this is not the only pre-election promise the ruling coalition has not fulfilled, so that if Racan is to blame, he is to blame for much more than he is actually blamed for. The victorious coalition had promised before the elections reduction of the state budget by 17 per cent, and a few days ago it came up with a proposal of a reduction of only five per cent. It was also claimed that aid to former Herzeg-Bosnia would be put under strict control as part of the famous "transparency" everybody is talking about nowadays, but the first tranche was even bigger than the one planned by the budget the former authorities had passed. The promise about abolishment of the notorious VAT, which was once proclaimed a greedy blood-sucker on the body of the long suffering exhausted economy, has not been fulfilled either, and nobody is even mentioning it any more.

Finally, what concerns ordinary citizens the most, unemployment, is also observed nowadays through a different pair of glasses. Instead of the promise that already in the first few months it would be interrupted and then gradually brought to the level of the average in Western European countries, nowadays one can hear the trite liberal phrases about the state being unable to meddle with economic trends as the former regime and save companies which have no future. But, as it was already said, the new authorities will inherit from that and such former regime approximately the same budget, which means that the state will continue to direct major financial flows, but obviously more towards the state and, as deja vu, towards para-state structures than into the economy.

All this, however, did not cause even the least excitement among deputies in the assembly of the new regime. None of them uttered a single word, even subsequently, in protest because these promises were broken, although in certain cases this considerably deviates the "new course" of the policy of the victorious coalition, as it self-sufficiently advertises it. But when their own salaries were put on the agenda, they all jumped up to prevent a decision which allegedly is not based on facts. Now it might happen that the new authorities will want to present themselves as much more mature and democratic than the previous ones, because allegedly there is no blind obedience in them of the legislative authorities in respect to the executive ones. Cute! The only problem is that nobody will believe this.

Original article