Saturday, 3 October 2015

Polish politics enter a critical period

Populist politicians can seriously damage their country's macroeconomic fundamentals to the point where their stated aim - making life better for the ordinary citizen - ends up working in reverse. Take Brazil or Venezuela for example.

The interface between politics (which party you vote for) and policy (the competent delivery of a well-organised state) is complex and few voters see it in action.

Members of Parliament, posłowie, deputies - are elected legislators. Their job is to propose laws, shape those laws, vote them into force, thus changing the shape of the state - for better or for worse. The quality of that legislation is crucial, whether it be the transposition of EU Directives into national law, or determining the law at the national level where appropriate.

The law must be simple to interpret - so an administrator (urzędnik) in Białystok will understand the law's intent - and act accordingly - in the same way as an urzędnik in Wrocław or Łódź. To ensure the wording of the law is clear and unambiguous - and reflects the will of the people - legislators, our elected law-makers - must be up to the job. They have to be intelligent enough to grasp the complexity of what they do, and appreciate the consequences of their decisions.

My professional life brings me into close everyday contact with the consequences of Poland's elected law-makers' decisions. Whether it be the digitisation of medical services, municipal waste collection, vocational education, renewable energy or public procurement, I can see how the precise wording and interpretation of the law as it is set out by our elected posłowie has a tangible effect on people's lives. A well-organised state is an efficient and happy state. Bad things happen there less often.

Example. The Sejm is currently debating an amendment to the law on the delivery of medical services, to allow for telemedicine (remote diagnosis). This would allow a doctor sitting at a computer many kilometers from the patient to diagnose symptoms using online tools such as webcams, scans of ECG readouts or e-mails from specialists. Had not some bright spark spotted it, the amended law might have insisted that the room in which the doctor's computer sits be lined with washable tiles. And in the absence of such tiles, the doctor would have been liable to be fined or be struck off. Fortunately, this absurdity was picked up in the draft law's third reading.

My point is this. If you elect pop stars, actors, primary school teachers, farmers - they may mean well - but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of law making - a tedious and highly detailed activity - their attention may stray from getting the letter of the law right. And the consequences will be felt by us all. If they're not up for the hard grind of the legislative process, they will be letting down the electorate.

Law making should be left to those who can do it. Hustings should be more about competence than charisma. Experience is important, as is intelligence. We need legislators who can hang their egos on the coat peg as they enter the legislative chamber and focus long and hard on the outcome of their deliberations

Yet worse than amateurs in power, I fear idealogues. People who fail to see common sense, because they are guided by one ideology or another. Uncompromisingly they will force their agenda, irrespective of whether it improves the lot of the average citizen.

On Sunday 25 October, we'll be offered the choice of who is to govern Poland for the next four years. Poland is a great European economic success. The economy is currently growing at an annualised pace of 3.6%. No other large EU member state can match that. The danger is that with a populist tax-and-spend, economically nationalist, government in power, foreign investment will be discouraged, jobs growth will cease, entrepreneurs will up sticks and move elsewhere, inefficient state enterprises will be propped up with taxpayers' money, and rent-seeking cronyism will take hold.

So who to vote for? Until Ryszard Petru nailed his colours to the mast, I'd have stuck with PO. But they are a spent force, especially after the departure to Brussels of Donald Tusk. They have become stale, complacent. They need a jolt of reformist zeal. This could come from a junior coalition partner like Ryszard Petru and his .nowocześni party.

Polling 8.1% in yesterday's Radio ZET opinion survey, .nowocześni are in the running to make it over the 5% threshold and get into parliament. Despite the polls' increasing unreliability, it seem certain that Petru's party will make it into the next Sejm. The question who else of the smaller parties will.

The big question mark is Kukiz '15. Without any real policies, their support is evaporating from poll to poll. A protest party that can offer no meaningful alternative, it is currently polling around 6%-7% - enough to get into Sejm, but a far cry from the 20% that Paweł Kukiz polled in May's presidential election.

There's three weeks to go; the election will be crucial. The outcome can be either 'steady as she goes' with a PO-led coalition roughly continuing on a similar course the past eight years - though hopefully with a jolt of Petru, or turn in a populist, amateur, shambolic direction that would shame Poland internationally and harm its healthy economic growth prospects.

I shall be voting for Ryszard Petru and .nowocześni. (Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have gathered that by now!)

More on Polish politics between now and the election!

This time two years ago:
First intimation of new Biedronka store for Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Moni leaves home for Łódź film school

This time five years ago:
Out and about in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Funeral of Lt. Cmdr. Tadeusz Lesisz

This time seven years ago:
Puławska by night


student SGH said...

Michael, grab the most recent issue of Polityka and read over the article which addresses the question whether politicians actually deem voters to be idiots.

What PiS and PO too, though to a lesser extent, put forward, are quick fixes to make lifes of many people easier. Scrapping junk contracts, increasing minimum wage, giving away money - for those whose economic literacy leaves a lot to be desired, these hollow promises must sound appealing. Who cares the government, unless it has control the central bank and print money, is subject to the same economic rules as an enterprise which has a simple profit and loss account?

While by and large concurring with what you posit, I need to reiterate represents you Michael, me and maybe around million of Poles and their families who fare very well financially. It represents our interests and we have the right to have our representation in the parliament. It could make a good coalitional partner to motivate PO to carry through reforms moving Poland forward, but by no means should it lead the ruling coalition. Ryszard Petru is not hired by banks as his silly opponents claim (banks are the scapegoat for ordinary people, so accusing somebody of being paid by them is the biggest insult one can throw), but he represents interests of the richest citizens, sometimes most resourceful entrepreneurs, sometimes corporate beasts living off their employer's shareholders' money and with respect to's economic agenda, this should be told, as there's nothing bad, nor good about it.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH

I take your point but you have to make a decision and stick to it. Wave your flag. A strong reform agenda - kicking out the jams in the urzędy - will be of benefit to all citizens, not just the richest ones.

student SGH said...

True. Scrapping bureaucratic bedlam would benefit everyone, maybe except clerks bunking off and making lives of ordinary citizens harder. Yet putting in uniform and flat tax rate (VAT / CIT / PIT) of 16% would benefit the wealthiest most and whether the poorest would not be worse off is a debatable issue.

From my side, one and only plus for ZLew - they are the only party to mention kontrakty menedżerskie should be converted into regular job contracts whenever they have all features of a regular job contract!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH

YES! kontrakty menedżerskie are an anachronistic absurdity dating back to the times when Poland was considered a 'hardship posting' by ex-pat managers and such tax structures were needed to lure their impossible-to-find-on-the-Polish-market managerial talent.

There's absolutely NO reason why kontrakty menedżerskie should continue to be offered as a form of employment.

dr Marcin said...

Gents, please do not make me a bit irritated.

Mr Petru? Knew him, while working for the Ministry of Finance in times when he was in a team of Minister Balcerowicz. That guy, who has being later on a general economist position of several banks, being familiarized with many guys from there, has though in a mood and a manner of the Polish Banks Association ( Związek Banków Polskich). Many times I have had unfeigned impression like he is a voice of the bankers society. And very all good for banks is good for the rest. Being written some memos and notes for guys at the Akwarium (we called like that the first floor of the ministry building, because a hall, where minister and his political team were settled, was on the second side of the huge glass wall) were sent backed to us with remarks if "this or that is suitable and proper for the banking sector" and alike.... Saw that such remarks were also written by our Hero. I am almost sure, that if Mr. Petru has to be the Minister of Finance, then one of the first things that might be done by him might be to ease most of the burdens, obstacles and liabilities for the banks due to that Francs quasi-credit affair and bailout them. And obviously in a weight of the public budget. And the other thing is that I distrust political/economic/whateva celebs. Do not you remember, how he was in a favor for the Francs quasi-credits and to what extent he was convinceable as this is a secure and wealthy way for the need financing, while it was approaching its peaks? And what he preaches right now? Yes, is he a professional economist or a TV preacher? It is difficult to figure out, sometimes.

student SGH said...

The more opinions of Mr Petru from people who have worked with him I hear, the less favourable my opinion of him (which has never been high) is.

I would argue Mr Petru would not bail banks out, since they need to bailout. CHF mortgages, if left untouched, do not pose a problem for the Polish banking sector, they are a problem for some of the borrowers (yet those who struggle are in minority). Keeping hands away from banks would be more than enough to help the sector thrive...

As I told, bankers also have the right to have representation in the parliament ;-), although everyone lacks courage to call a spade a spade.

dr Marcin said...

Yes, then let they call themselves "Bankers Party of Poland", hence not certainly "Polish Banks Party", coz not such an animal already exists in a Nature. And let that Party gain min 5 per cent votes to settle its representation. Whom might be a chairman of the BPP parliamentary club then? :o

student SGH said...

Excellent. Let's call the bankers' party "BONKERS". Unfortunately bankers and their henchmen do not make up 5% of the society, there to boost their chances to make it into the parliament, they would need to join multinational corporations and successful entrepreneurs and together fight for seats in the lower house... Plus they'd need to rename themselves "Survival of the fittest party".

AndrzejK said...

One of the real problems with the enactment of new legislation In Poland is the fact that most new laws start as a document dreamt up in the given ministry which is then sent for "public" consulation. This would be great if only the time scale involved was a bit longer than the 14 days normally allowed for responses. And if the comments were actually taken into account. And thejn of course the law is picked apart by a committee of MPS's whose knowledge of the subject matter is limited.

In fact what should happen is that interested parties are consulted BEFORE a new law is drafted such that glaring idiocies are avoided.

Anonymous said...


I can't believe my eyes.

I expected you to become a Kaczyński's bloc follower - your revered Mr. Gowin is already there...