Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Crossing the streams

The Civic Platform (PO)-led government could learn from that classic Ghostbusters interdiction: don't cross the streams. Given that we live in a media-intermediated world, having tons of high-ranking government officials say whatever they want doesn't suggest open debate. It bespeaks of chaos. It suggests division. It signals trouble.

The PO-PSL government has been guilty of crossing its streams over a raft of issues of late, none of which suggests a smoothly running machine ready to kick butt in the October elections.

Debate of the government's plans to rollback a previous pension reform provides a plethora of examples of a government that looks divided and undecided rather than open. Minister Michal Boni, on one side, and Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski and Labour Minister Jolanta Fedak, on the other, have been clashing publicly over the details of the plan to cut pension contribution transfers to privately managed pension funds.

I'm all for transparent government, but the debate between one faction in the government, another faction in that same government, and outside observers has created more confusion than cleared up potential opacity. The arguments of both government sides are also given in zero-sum terms that if one side is wrong, it would appear the other side is incompetent and should be fired. In the event, the government backed Rostowski-Fedak.

The government was also hit by another example of crossed streams earlier  Tuesday when its own Government Legislative Centre said the pension plans could contain an unconstitutionally short vacatio legis, the adjustment period between a bill being passed and going into effect. The centre noted that for such a big change, there needed to be a bigger than 14-day transition period, as planned by the government. Some say the vacatio legis should be a month or even up to 3 months or more.

No, no, this issue should not have been dealt with at an earlier phase and just before the government plans to expedite the changes through parliament.

Another recent schism occurred at the very top. Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski sent a letter to the European Commission saying Poland would be able to cut its fiscal deficit to below 3% of GDP in 2012 from 8% at present, as demanded by the commission. Two days later, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he did not think the 2012 goal was realistic and rather the deficit would be cut to below 3% in 2013.

This is a dumb example of miscommunication. Either it suggests Rostowski basically lied to the European Commission or the prime minister has no idea what he's talking about. Rostowski subsequently told a radio station Tusk's comments were misinterpreted and amounted only to a conservative view. But considering Tusk's forecasts actually looked realistic, the entire matter rather suggests Rostowski is trying to blow hot air up the EC's collective a**.

The PO wants a second crack at government, hoping to win the October elections. It is going to have to get its message straight to earn the right to a second turn. If not, when voters are asked "who you gonna call," they're going to say "anyone else".*

* (sorry for that;)

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