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June 2013 in Slovakia – watchdog report

The Fair-Play Alliance continued with their monitoring of the judiciary in the second half of June, particularly with monitoring of the activities of the Judicial Council, a judiciary self-governing body. The Fair-Play Alliance regularly travels to the Judicial Council’s meetings, which as a rule take place in a different location. The Alliance argues the meetings are held in far-off location to prevent public scrutiny of the much-criticized institution. To illustrate their case, the Alliance reported that at the June meeting all 150 chairs reserved for the public remained empty and the Alliance was not able to report live as usually due to no internet connection. Nevertheless, the watchdog later alerted to the fact that the Chair of the Council, who also chairs the Supreme Court, criticized a report by the European Commission. The report was supposedly critical of Slovak judiciary. The Chair reportedly stated his opinion of the authors was no higher than of his own heel. The Alliance also reported that the Council had spoken in support of the Chair of the Constitutional Court who had recently been under wide-spread criticism from many experts due to alleged severe mishandling of her duties.

Also in the second half of June the Business Alliance of Slovakia alerted to the deterioration of the business environment in the first quarter of 2013. The Alliance, which publishes a quarterly Business environment index has concluded that the quality of the business environment reached only 72.7%, which is a 3.84% drop compared with the last quarter of 2012. The most-cited complaint of surveyed businesses was the lacking enforceability of law in Slovakia, which, according to businesses, results from the overall poor state of the judiciary as well as the lack of equality before the law. Businesses argue that in spite of its indisputable negative effects, the poor state of the judiciary is continuously overlooked by the authorities.

In the second half of June the INEKO Institute for Economic and Social Reforms protested the reform of the education system proposed by the Minister of Education. The Institute pointed out that the proposal was poorly crafted and failed to explain the rationale behind the proposed measures. Those included limiting the proportion of optional classes and language classes, while raising the proportion of sciences and practical classes. The Institute argued that language education is linked to higher employment and wages while manual labor is linked to lower wages.

The M.R. Stefanik Conservative Institute alerted to a law introduced to parliament in May, which aims to alter the distribution of power in local government. The Institute warns the proposed legislation would strengthen the power of mayors and weaken the mandate of local assemblies correspondingly. Interestingly, the Institute notes, 3 out of 5 authors of the legislation serve as MPs and as mayors at the same time. More specifically, the legislation proposes to put the power to appoint directors of organizations supported from the budget into mayors’ hands and to lower salaries of officials responsible for oversight.

Via Iuris, a legal watchdog, along with the civic association Podpoľanie over gold (Podpoľanie nad zlato) intervened and achieved a reversal of a decision of the Local Mining Authority. Via Iuris informed about the development in the beginning of June. The decision excluded Podpoľanie over Gold from proceedings aimed at determining the allowed area for gold extraction in the Detva region in Slovakia. The association is working to prevent mining in the area due to possible negative effects of the mining method, which is banned in several European countries. The negative effects may result from the high toxicity of cyanide, which is used in the mining process. Via Iuris represented the association at Supreme Court, which ruled that the association could not be banned from the proceedings. The case will now be returned to the first instance mining authority. This decision supports a high level of environmental protection in accordance with the European charter of rights.

Also calling for environmental protection, several environmental watchdogs have launched a campaign to prevent the passing of an amendment of the Law for the protection of nature and land. The organizations included Lesoochranárske zoskupenie VLK, SOS/BirdLife Slovensko, Ochrana dravcov na Slovensku and PRALES, o. z.. NGOs have alerted to the measure in the media while also intervening by means of filing a mass amendment on behalf of the public. The watchdogs argue that the proposed legislation will weaken environmental protection compared with the status quo. The organizations warn that the new measure will introduce a more complicated procedure when it comes to imposing environmental protection on privately owned land or expand the right to fell trees without permission to twice the perimeter which is allowed today. Furthermore, the proposed legislation is not consistent with European norms, the watchdogs argue.

Last but not least, the Roma Press Agency provided the Slovak public with detailed information of a police operation in Roma-populated areas in the east of Slovakia which took place on June 19th. Several tens of police officers including masked special force officers intervened in two mostly Roma-populated areas, claiming to be looking for wanted persons. The media reported 30 people were injured and the police have been accused of brutality. Fifteen persons were reportedly taken into custody and further assaulted by the police, including several social workers. The Press Agency published a press release calling for a thorough investigation claiming the case represents a violation of human rights. Thus attention was called to possible breaches of the right to human dignity and the prohibition of degrading treatment, as stated in the European charter of rights.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

 

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