Sunday, May 06, 2007

Opposition leaders on Healthcare

Being in political opposition is an interesting position for politicians. It is fascinating at times, in its vagueness, while also providing the venue necessary for future aspirations. Most people might think of Winston Churchill’s ‘wilderness years’ as an example of a politician who benefited from the experience. Interestingly, Churchill was not active in politics at the time. Either was Ronald Reagan when he gave his “time for choosing” speech in 1964, sparking the interest of Republicans that cumulated sixteen years later with his nomination for the presidency.

Finding oneself in opposition after being in government is a much more difficult experience. One is forced to accept the loss while seeing your opponent’s smug face across from you. You may pout in the backbench as Mr Hague did in 1997 or sulk in rejected silence as fellow Tory and successor Mr Duncan-Smith did in 2001. It is a bit different in the United States though Mr Kerry’s performance post-Nov 2nd 2004 warrants mentioning. Opposition gives the Party or Party’s the duty to hold the government accountable. This is true in Slovakia though fiction is being created from fact.

Opposition leaders Mikuláš Dzurinda (SDKÚ), Pál Csáky (SMK) and Pavol Hrušovský (KDH) agreed at their meeting on May 3 that it is Prime Minister Robert Fico, rather than Health Minister Ivan Valentovič, who is to blame for the "miserable situation in the healthcare sector".

Economists and historians will tell you that there is a cycle of five to ten years to see the affects of specific governmental policies. The difficulties in the healthcare sector existed under the Dzurinda era too. It is a bit bold for Mr Dzurinda and fellow opposition leaders to place all responsibility on Mr Fico for within such blame lies the fallacy similar to the one Mr Fico has used taking credit within recent months of the strength of the Slovak economy. There is an overlap in policy execution from government to government that is seen over years not weeks. Interestingly, a point not commentated on by Mr Fico or Mr Valentovič.

The opposition has said it will not propose a no-confidence motion against Valentovič at the next parliamentary session due to begin on May 9. The parties will propose, however, a declaration obliging the cabinet to submit a report on "the miserable situation in the healthcare sector" to parliament. Such actions though appropriate for parliamentary procedure belie a fact the opposition seems to forget: you cannot fault the Prime Minister and then ask his Cabinet to answer before the Parliament. The Slovak Republic is a Parliamentary-style not a Presidential-style government. Questions and blame lay in the Cabinet. Yes, the prime minister is responsible for overall policy but questions on and blame for the execution of policy lies with respective ministers. Mr Valentovič should be no exception. That is why cabinet reshuffles are so anticipated and feared in British politics every time policy fails.

Anthony Eden, British Prime Minister following Churchill’s death did not repeal England’s National Health Service, legislation introduced under the Labour government of Clement Attlee, even though both Churchill and Eden opposed it from the other aisle when it had been debated in the Commons. The United State’s does not have a national health service, but an issue equally divisive is social security. Ridiculed by business and Republicans when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt introduced it as part of his ‘New Deal’, successive Republican Administrations have kept and expanded the system. The health sector in Slovakia, a homogenous remnant of socialism and a decade of democratic policy, is in need of cash and reform. It is hoped these facts will be remembered on May 9.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Media & Mr Fico

Those of us familiar with American politics may criticize the conduct of the media, generally dubbed ‘the press’ over its failure to keep the Bush Administration accountable over the past seven years. This criticism comes from a deep memory of the specific relationship the press has had with public officials, specifically presidents. Whether it be the dogged interview style of a female reporter that kept Mr Van Buren in the Potomac River naked until he answered her questions or an exasperated Mr Grant commentating on the number of press and office-seekers hanging out in the Willard Hotel lobby that gave a title to a new group of Washington insiders. It could be the friendly and almost equal exchange of favors and information that characterized the Roosevelt cousins or the media inspired, media driven Camelot era.

From Watergate, a new golden age began, and though charmed for eight years by Reagan the press never lost sight of its role within the public discourse, acting as advocate and at times mediator. It is this history and the similar histories of western European democracies in England and France and Germany that has inspired the press in former communist countries. If the model cannot be followed in content then the hope often is to replicate in at least style. Unfortunately, in Slovakia, even this has proved elusive since the new government took office in May 2006. Reviled at best, locked-out in typical ‘Soviet’ style at worst, the Slovak press and Slovak government have a horrible relationship.

This relationship between the government and the Slovak media grew even more tense last week. At a meeting in Veľký Krtíš on April 22, Prime Minister Robert Fico did not even try to hide his disappointment with the media's conduct. Spurning all questions, instead he spoke to what he saw as media bias. This is a mantra often tried by politicians around the globe and its moderate success has made such repeated efforts possible. The difference last week is in how Mr Fico treats the press. Unlike Mr Blair’s bright smile or Mr Bush’s nicknames given to the American press corps that follow him Mr Fico actions indicate clear disdain. You know you are on the s#*t list if Mr Bush revokes the nickname or worse calls you by an expletive. Losing access to Whitehall is Blair’s equivalent. Mr Fico does not even bother with a list.

For Slovakia to evolve in its democratic experiment all elements need to function. This includes dialogue between the executive and the fourth branch of government, the press. Mr Fico likes to tout his populist credentials, it is important for him to remember that the people also hear his message by reading newspapers and watching television.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Preparations for euro introduction

Ninety-three percent of Slovak companies believe the introduction of the euro will have an impact on their work, according to a survey that aimed to find out how prepared Slovak companies are for euro adoption. The poll was carried out in March of 2007 by the Ernst & Young professional services company. This is very good news, however it is who was surveyed that was the trouble. The most advanced in their preparations were the financial sector and firms concerned with network industries and telecommunications. This was to be expected, what is a bit confusing and frustrating is though Slovak companies of various sizes participated as many as 50 percent of the companies were based in Bratislava, the capital.

Slovakia's motto is 'Little Big Country'. Yes, it is small, but from Trencin, Zilina, and Martin to the north; Banska Batrisa in the center and Kosice in the east there are many major cities with international business interests. Why did this poll not have more of a representation throughout the rest of the country? Education and prepardness are the two vital ingredients for the Slovak Republic before January 2009. These two ingredients will also go a long way in solving the apathy and silencing the cynics in the country, not to mention assist companies work out their strategic analyses. Time, one might argue is still on our side here in Slovakia. Candidates for the presidency in the U.S. hoping to move to a new residence in January 2009 would tell us otherwise.