Opinion: Are political posts just ill-gotten gains?

Vytautas Dumbliauskas
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

The laws of the Constitution require that after a presidential election the government hand over its authority. The authors of the Constitution, however, did not state explicitly what the difference was between handing over authority and the government resigning. That’s why some specialists say that they are one and the same thing. Others say they’re different. This debate was settled by the Constitutional Court in 1998 when it advised that handing over authority does not mean the resignation of the government.

Nevertheless, our history shows that interpretation of constitutional terminology is one thing and political practice is yet another. The Constitutional Court’s interpretation that handing over authority is simply a gesture of courtesy did not deter first-time President-elect Valdas Adamkus in 1998 from taking the initiative to reduce the number of ministries and, at the same time, the number of members of the government. And so, 14 out of 17 ministries were left and some had their ministers shuffled.

In a few weeks’ time, newly-elected President Dalia Grybauskaitė will be sworn in and the government led by Algirdas Butkevičius will hand over his authority to her. Judging by press reports, there will be no significant changes to the make-up of the government. Even the ministers will remain the same, except those who are going to work in Brussels.

The president, though, has said openly that it’s not the ministers who cause her great concern but their vice-ministers. Unfortunately, it is plainly stated in the Government Act that it’s the prime minister who, upon the proposal of the ministers, appoints and dismisses the vice-ministers. And the head of the country has no influence on these appointments.

So what’s left for the president to do? Reports have appeared in the press of the “black lists” of vice-ministers who are suspected of murky activities. The head of state herself has said that it’s not her list but rather the Special Investigation Service’s list and she hopes that the governing majority will understand their responsibility when it comes to maintaining transparency.

Political commentators have varied opinions when it comes to the publication of the “black list”. I myself want to point out a few things. If a special council has in fact presented the president with information on non-transparency in actions of certain vice-ministers, then, other than making it public, she has no other means of influencing which vice-minsters are appointed and which ones are dismissed. And that she has already done as well as putting pressure on the ministers and the prime minister to review prospective vice-ministerial candidates.

The other important thing is that the appearance and announcement of the “black-listed” vice-ministers is reminiscent of the old issue on which the Homeland Union and Social Democratic Party did not agree on, the status of deputy ministers. As far as the Social Democrats are concerned, they must be career employees. As far as the conservatives are concerned, the vice-ministers must be politicians.

For the time being, the new ruling majority isn’t changing the amendments to the Government Act that were made in 2009 by the previous Seimas majority. It’s understandable that the elected party politicians want to consolidate their influence in the ministries which they’re entering for a short stay and where they must think of what they’re going to do so voters can see what work they’re doing.

If, however, the talk about the shady doings of certain vice-ministers is established, then that will only reinforce the opinion that political posts in the ministries are simply ill-gotten gains won in the elections. And if those posts aren’t just ill-gotten gains, but rather opportunities for doing something useful for the people and the country, then the possibly non-transparent activities of certain ministers will show that our parties do not have any suitable and competent people with clean reputations for these posts.

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