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Poland: Parties Set To Reorganize And Reform Government

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 21 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of Poland's ruling left-wing coalition are meeting in Warsaw today to discuss impending ministerial changes before a major reorganization of the government.

The principles of the government reform were approved by the parliament two weeks ago. The bill was signed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski two days ago.

The first changes will be enacted within weeks beginning in October, but only after the government prepares specific executive instructions. The entire program is to be fully implemented during the first three months of 1997.

The reform has three objectives.

To streamline the administrative operations of the government.

The reform provides a prime minister with considerably enhanced authority, giving the office the power to shape the cabinet, define specific responsibilities of individual ministers and control all aspects of their activities. The reform also unites control over various strains of administrative operations -- police and public order, local and central administration, border protection, fire fighting units and so on -- in a single ministry.

To simplify and redefine the relationship between the state and the economy.

The central government is likely to have less direct operational control over the economy. Specific changes include the creation of the new Ministry of Treasury responsible for protecting state general economic interests, including privatization of state enterprises. The reform also envisages the establishment of the Ministry of the Economy charged with formulating long-term directions for the economy. Annual budgets are to be prepared and supervised by the Ministry of Finance, while effective control over more than 1,300 major state industrial enterprises passes to provincial government administrators.

To set up a series of specialized agencies to provide the government with expert advice on policy formulation, particularly with regard to its relations with international bodies and long-term strategic planning.

The reform aims to cut bureaucracy. Several ministries will be eliminated, a few others will be merged. Many government employees will lose jobs.

All these institutional changes entail ministerial movement within the cabinet. It is this movement that is at the heart of today's talks within the ruling coalition.

The talks are likely to be difficult. The coalition consists of two parties: the post-communist Social Democrats and the populist Peasant Party. Each is determined to profit from the reshuffle. Each has its own priorities and plans. But these are more than often contradictory.

Disputes center on the control over the economy. The Social Democrats seem interested in expanding free market economy, but they want to control the scope and the pace of the liberalization. The Peasants press for limiting privatization and are adamant about the need to protect the farming interests, even to the detriment of larger economic objectives.

Speaking yesterday in Warsaw, Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said that decisions on cabinet changes "could not be expected soon." This reflected the essentially political significance of the reshuffle. Each party wants to have as many important posts in the cabinet as possible, hoping that this would gain it an advantage ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. This contest is to take place next year.

But the much-awaited reform of the government itself should be in place by then. Various changes in government operations and structures have been advocated for years by different cabinets.

But they have been difficult to accomplish, largely owing to political infighting between various parties and groups.

Now for the first time these different designs have finally acquired a tangible and comprehensive institutional form.