R. Urbonaitė. Wisdom is needed to implement legislation, but not really to pass it?

Rima Urbonaitė
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Several days ago Saulius Skvernelis, commenting about the developing situation with the ripping of journals as a result of the new alcohol advertising restrictions, pointed out a lack of common sense, accented that the legislation cannot be “vulgarised” and its application requires adherence to the criteria of common sense and proportionality. “Farmer” Seimas group head Ramūnas Karbauskis assured that these are “waves in a teaspoon”. It may be that to R. Karbauskis, but to the distributors of foreign print – unlikely, Rima Urbonaitė commented on LRT radio.

This is not the first time that the implementation of legislature has turned into scandal. A law was passed in June, which aimed at making pharmacy control stricter, but ended in a large number of people’s anger. Common medicines became inaccessible. It turned out that the pharmacies would sell prescription drugs without prescriptions and it is serious problem. We heard excuses – “we did not foresee, know it.”

However when having specialists who are unlikely to not know what is going on in pharmacies (because they visit them too) and also with half a year of time before the legislation comes into power, such a fiasco raises serious questions about the professionalism of the forecast impact analysis of the legislation, adequate preparation of the implementation mechanism and finally – the involvement of interest groups in the decision making process.

In other words these are serious problems of public policy formation. Even good legislation can have a number of hurdles in the passing stage when the interests of various political powers face off, votes are not gathered, communications, public information in order to secure support for the changes problems arise. But here we are observing a different case – there is often enough votes to pass the legislation, but competence to prepare the legislative act and adequately evaluate it is often lacking.

Problems arise in the case of the aforementioned alcohol advertising restriction legislation. And accenting the issues of alcohol consumption were the “horse” of the “Farmer” electoral campaign. True, already earlier there were opportunities to note ironically that this “horse” has turned into a “donkey” during legislative debates. And even then they managed to clone this “donkey”

Based on publically available information for which I have not seen a refutation, it turns out that the distributors of foreign publications contacted the Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department (NATKD) already in October with the question of how to resolve the looming problem over alcohol advertising in foreign publications. Upon receiving the response that the law must be upheld and everything else is not up to the department, the distributors contacted legislators. There was no response over a month and a half. How would you view a person who can see that a car is about to speed right past, but still steps into the street? Ask yourselves.

Also what do the proposals of the prime minister, who is a jurist, to not “vulgarise” the legislation mean? Commenting on a politician’s response that the “court verdict is being enacted gently”, professor E. Kūris once ironically asked “Then what is a harsh enacting of a court verdict?” Equally here it is worth asking, what exactly does “vulgarising” or “not vulgarising” legislation mean? Legislation must be logical, clear and not raise 115 questions of how it should be implemented. And if the criteria of common sense are only to be applied when the legislation is implemented, but not when it is passed, then these are problems of the Seimas and the cabinet, which often initiates legislature. Problems which reveal a certain impotence in questions of legislative preparation.

What is even more peculiar is that no-one feels accountability. The NTAKD factually ignored the distributors; appeal. Though based on the department’s provisions section one, the department is a government institution and “participates in forming the state policy in the areas of drug, tobacco and alcohol control and consumption prevention, based on competence it organises its implementation and implements.” But nevertheless the department had nothing to do with it. And that the PM thinks otherwise than the department’s representatives is also ok.

Minister of Healthcare A. Veryga explains that civilised solutions are being pursued. Yes, right on time. What is more, the prime minister says that alcohol bottles in restaurants can nevertheless stand on tables, while R. Karbauskis states that “perhaps we should not display those alcohol bottles and later explain to children what is there and what it means.” The legislation has now passed and there simply are no logical explanations as to what is happening.

These are only the most notable stories, but the amendment of recently passed legislation in other Seimas sessions is heard of often. And for well-prepared legislation we can probably prepare a red book [book of endangered species], it won’t be thick. But when several hundred new laws are passed during one session, one need not be surprised. Instead of resolving a question in depth, giving it enough time, it is instead resolved by constantly fixing mistakes left behind. But once again the fixing is done in a rush and the results in many public policy areas are what they are. And this government does not appear intent on changing.

You may like