Macedonia: Outrage Over Parliamentary Perks

Parliamentary deputies in Macedonia vote themselves life-long parliamentary privileges as early elections approach.

Macedonia: Outrage Over Parliamentary Perks

Parliamentary deputies in Macedonia vote themselves life-long parliamentary privileges as early elections approach.

A new law governing the rights and duties of Macedonian deputies has provoked a storm of protest from political analysts, lawyers and opposition politicians, who claim the legislation is a self-seeking attempt to secure unfair advantages.

Under the new legislation, passed on January 24, deputies who have served for at least 18 months would be entitled to early retirement and larger state pensions and all would be entitled to diplomatic passports for life.

Legal experts claim the law is in breach of the constitution and discriminates against ordinary citizens. Under existing rules, for example, diplomatic passports, which allow ease of international travel and certain legal immunities around the world, have to be handed back when a deputy leaves parliament.

Borce Davitkovski, professor of administrative law at Skopje University, said the new rules would make Macedonia a "circus state".

"In all states around the world at the moment the rules are clear - when a deputy's mandate ends, the state takes back the passport. The state is the owner of the passport. Everyone will laugh at us. It's strange and illegal," he said.

Deputies also voted to allow themselves to retire after 25 years of work, or when they hit 50 - much earlier than ordinary Macedonians. What's more, their pensions are to be equivalent to 80 per cent of their salaries. Everyone else has to make do with 60 per cent of salary on retirement.

"Why should someone who has worked half as long as others be allowed to retire on the back of a couple of years spent sleeping in parliament?" asked an outraged Davitkovski. "The shame is great - the disgrace is both domestic and international."

The law is also retrospective, so every deputy, in this or previous parliaments, who served for a minimum of 18 months, would benefit from the improved pension and retirement terms.

Slobodan Danevski, a Liberal party deputy, defended the legislation, saying the new rules outline duties as well as privileges, requiring deputies to give up outside occupations and docking their wages for failing to attend parliamentary sessions.

"Deputies should not be able to just come and go from parliament as they please," said Danevski. "There needs to be order. They need to be either deputies or doctors, professors or managers or whatever."

Another requirement in the January rules states that parliamentary representatives must register how much property they own on becoming elected and must update this information after two years in office.

Deputies from the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM, and a few smaller opposition parties voted overwhelmingly against the January 24 law. The SDSM claimed ruling parties' representatives simply wanted to guarantee themselves benefits ahead of a general election expected later this year.

"The law does not fit with the economic and social situation in the country," said SDSM deputy Ljupco Popovski, reiterating concerns from some economic experts that the enhanced pension benefits alone would put further strain on the already stretched state budget.

Deputies passed a similar law in 2000 but Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski refused to ratify the legislation and returned it to parliament for "polishing". The president's office has indicated that similar stalling tactics are under consideration this time around too.

Meanwhile, the Macedonian trade unions are challenging the legislation in the constitutional court. Davitkovski believes it will find against the new law.

Political analysts believe that even if it is overturned, the long-term damage could be considerable. Mistrust and cynicism among Macedonian voters may increase and the country's international reputation be damaged, they suggest.

Gordana Icevska-Stojanovska works for the weekly Kapital in Skopje.

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