Jan Macháček


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Czech Business Weekly

Add-on amendments, a lobbyist’s shortcut

23. 05. 2005
Since the end of the so-called opposition agreement three years ago, the image of the country – portraying Parliament and the government as having been kidnapped by special interests – has markedly improved.

Since EU entry, the economic statistics (especially on exports) are surprisingly good. Even unemployment is falling, and the recent government crisis is finally over. But, in the last couple of months, it seems some dangerous trends are returning. It is clear that strong lobbying groups have taken advantage of the government crisis to push through their agendas.

And these lobbyists were assisted by a group of MPs that is less interested in ideology than in special interests outside of Parliament. The recent successes of this across-the-board parliamentary mafia are sharply contrasted with the recent failures to pass any rational reforms or anything important for the common good. The recent failure to amend the bankruptcy code is a prime example.

One cause for concern is that, more and more, Parliament is using trailer bills – add-ons hidden in an existing bill that have nothing to do with the original legislation. There is nothing unconstitutional about this practice, but it goes against parliamentary ethics. Rules exist to facilitate public debate over legislation; a bill is discussed before it goes through three rounds of parliamentary readings.

MPs have often circumvented this process by inserting the add-ons during the second or third reading to avoid the attention of the public and the media. Lobbyists seek out important bills that are likely to be approved and tack on their own amendments.

A recent bill in Parliament simplified the procedures for registering new businesses. At the last moment, MPs smuggled into the law the so-called squeeze-out provision, a law that will allow majority shareholders to force the owners of minority stakes, many of them holdovers from the period of voucher privatization, to sell. The law is much harsher on small shareholders than any similar legislation anywhere in the West.

Another legislative scandal involved an amendment overturning an earlier decision that called for the managers of publicly traded companies to disclose their salaries. Without public discussion, a paragraph was attached to a bill on amending the business code and was quickly approved by both houses of Parliament and signed the same day by President Václav Klaus. No one seems to care that the law goes against the recommendations of the European Union that member countries must adopt. The deadline for doing so is a year from now.

This largely partisan effort has been led by the opposition Civic Democrats (ODS), but made it through the Chamber of Deputies with the support of a strong group of Communists led by MP Vojtech Filip. So now we have the Communists fighting for the privileges of capitalist bosses. What an irony.

In both cases, the add-on paragraphs were not properly discussed in public and were not prepared by the government under the proper procedures. They were instead the result of pressure from lobbyists, managers, large shareholders and the like.

Unfortunately, it seems the country is working hard to regain its image as a place that has given up on the fight against corruption.

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