Polish members of parliament have been informed that they no longer need to declare additional employment contracts and income gained outside of their responsibilities as MPs.
Opposition MPs have expressed concerns over the new rules, especially the fact that they are backdated. They say that the system is open to abuse and conflicts of interests.
The parliamentary authorities, however, say that the regulations are in accordance with the law and will not make the system any less transparent.
A letter from the Chancellery of the Sejm – the lower house of the Polish parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party – informed MPs that the new payment forms they are required to complete no longer include a declaration on non-parliamentary activity and resultant income, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.
The amendment is based on a resolution of the Presidium of the Sejm, a body composed of the speaker and deputy speakers, from July last year. The deleted paragraph means that MPs do not need to provide information about income from additional contracts or properties.
Previously this had to be provided in writing to the Presidium of the Sejm, which includes opposition MPs, and could be rejected. Now, instead, MPs are simply required to “inform the speaker”, currently Elżbieta Witek of PiS, of their intention to perform extra work, Gazeta Wyborcza reports.
An MP from the opposition Civic Coalition (KO), Monika Wielichowska, who called the telephone number provided on the letter was informed that the change was beneficial to MPs as “you will be able to make some money for yourselves,” the newspaper adds.
As the new rules are backdated eight months, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that they could be used to account for the alleged abuses of the system by PiS senators Stanisław Karczewski and Margareta Budner, who failed to declare in writing earnings of 400,000 zloty and over 1.2 million zloty respectively for work they undertook as medical doctors in addition to their parliamentary salary.
Michał Szczerba, a KO MP, said that it was “unheard of” for such a change to be backdated, and that it seemed like a response to these problems in the government camp. He added that the new rules gave “huge room for abuses and conflicts of interest”, and that “controls on where an MP earns extra are reduced to a fiction”.
Katarzyna Lubnauer, another member of the opposition coalition, also expressed her concerns regarding potential conflicts of interests, saying that she had submitted a formal request to the speaker for an explanation, reports TVN24.
“Does this not mean that in a moment in the Sejm we’ll have MPs for hire?” she asked. “The situation must be clear and transparent. We can’t have MPs employed by companies, by lobbyists, and society none the wiser. That is how corruption starts.”
Lubnauer also suggested that the new system could allow state-owned companies to pay money to PiS MPs without informing the public.
A judge, Dariusz Mazur, told Onet that the new regulations “seem impossible to explain” could “roll out of the red carpet for corruption”. Mazur, who is spokesman for the “Themis” judges association, expressed concern that the rule are designed to “put MPs outside the law and beyond oversight”.
— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) July 17, 2020
Asked by TVN24 to comment on the new rules, deputy speaker Ryszard Terlecki, who is also the head of PiS’s parliamentary caucus, said he “does not know anything” about them.
The Sejm Information Centre issued a statement in response to the criticism, explaining that the resolution was passed by all members of the Presidium of the Sejm without any opposition, reports TVN24. Apart from Witek, Terlecki, and a third PiS MP, the other members are two MPs from KO and one representing Kukiz’15.
The statement said that the resolution “complies with the applicable law” and “does not to the slightest extent make the rules for MPs…undertaking additional employment any less transparent”. The Sejm Information Centre also noted that MPs are still required to make annual financial declarations of their earnings.
Ben Koschalka is a translator and the assistant editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.