FRI, 14 FEB 1997 21:58:26 GMT
AIM ZAGREB, 9 February, 1997
In his report of mid January on the state of the Croatian state and nation, Dr. Franjo Tudjman demanded that pensioners be finally taken care of saying that their income should increase by at least one fourth in this year. No one was surprised by this demand since Croatia is again facing the elections, and about 25 percent of the electorate consists of none other but pensioners. However, he placed the Government in a great dilemma: where to find all that money, as over one billion kunas ( over DM 280 million) are paid out in Croatia each month for pensions, and not a single cent has been projected for these purposes in the recently adopted 1997 budget. However, although the Government persistently claimed that there was no money, that it fully understood the misery of pensioners, but that the "ex ones" were guilty as they left empty accounts, an avalanche of ideas and concrete moves ensued, all of it with the aim of helping people who have completed their working life and are now on the verge of survival.
Pensioners with the support of the the majority of the opposition, claim that the state had robbed them of some 30 pensions since 1993 when the Decree whereby pensions were no longer adjusted to the increase of salaries had been adopted. They say that they kept silent while the country was at war as they did not want to jeopardize its integrity and strength, but they no longer see a reason for giving up on what is rightfully theirs. Namely, in 1992 an average pension in Croatia amounted to DM 95 and a salary to DM 125, while last year an average salary reached almost DM 600 and pensions were only DM 279. During these five years salaries grew by 4.8 times and pensions by only 2.9 times. This lagging behind was even more drastic in the last year. Present situation is such that an average pension barely amounts to 1,100 kunas, family pensions are something over 900 kunas, those of private entrepreneurs 844 kunas and farmers' 336 kunas. A large protest rally held last December in Zagreb, on the same day Tudjman came back from his medical treatment in the States, showed that pensioners no longer want to live below subsistence level and deprived of any dignity (according to estimates, a family of four needs over 4,500 kunas per month, at minimum).
The first thing the Government did was to propose a reduction of health insurance rates for pensioners from 25 to 18 percent, thereby automatically increasing pensions by seven percent, and an exemption of all 900 thousand pensioners from participation fee for medical treatment.
After that, in a summary proceeding, it submitted for Parliament's adoption a draft law on the adjustment of pensions from 1995 and 1996 to the increase of salaries. According to that law the state would start paying back this debt already as of March 1, and would conclude this process in eighteen months, at the latest. Further, as of February 1, 1997 pensions would be adjusted to the increase of the living costs. Also, the demand of the Pensioners' Trade Union for their representative to sit on the Management Board of the Pension Fund will also be fulfilled. In order to "cover" all this, the state will have to secure about 500 million kunas.
Simultaneously with these moves, naturally with the assistance of the state television and other state media, the ruling party launched a campaign of convincing everyone how this meant a significant improvement of the pensioners' standard. It was claimed that pensions would rise by some 22 percent, and all that as a result of Tudjman's direct intervention. It was pointed out that it was done in a situation when, according to the official data, there was one retired per each 1.7 active worker, while actually that figure was 1.2 as that is the number of those actively employed who do not live off the state funds. The Government included the increase of pensions among its major achievements, although the percentage of retired in total population increased from 14.9 in 1991 to 19 percent last year. Incidentally, it did not answer why was the number of employed constantly decreasing in all sectors, except for administration, military, police, education, i.e. those financed from the budget. It also did not offer any answer to the question who had, and in which way, ripped off the Pension Fund, since it is known that some of the newly rich have bought firms with the Fund's resources and then sent off people with 25 or 35 years of service to early retirement, thus inflicting double damages.
But, what is most interesting and what many opposition delegates have also observed, is that all this tumult about the increase of pensions and alleged paying back of the debt is nothing but a farce and scam primarily, or exclusively, in the function of pre-election campaign. Namely, if that fabulous and, at first sight, enormous amount of 500 million kunas is divided with 891,000 pensioners, and then by 18 months, it turns out that each pensioner will get 31 kunas a month on average, or about DM 9. On the other hand, Government's consent to increase pensions by the growth rate of living costs is actually a step back and, as Ivan Nahtigal, President of the Pensioners' Trade Union, sarcastically said, it may well happen that the pensioners will have to pay the state back. For example, according to the official data, living costs in 1994 were 1.4 percent lower than a year earlier. If the official statistics and projections can be trusted, this year salaries will grow by 12.5 percent, while living costs by only 3.8 percent.
Not only the state has no intention of paying back the stolen 30 pensions, but with the amendments to the Law which was in force until several days ago, although it was in the meantime abrogated by a governmental decree on account of war, it places pensioners into even more difficult position compared to other citizens. More precisely, it does not recognize their rights on account of past labour and treats them as a social category. Therefore pensioners and the opposition demand an immediate increase of pensions by 40 percent; sale of public enterprises and giving away of shares to the Fund without charge; revision of the past business operation of the Fund; the return of what the thieves have stolen and a fundamental reform of retirement insurance.
Anything apart from this the opposition as well as a majority of pensioners will consider a simple pre-election trick, since it is not by accident that the first rise, probably higher than the one promised, will arrive on March 1 - only sixteen days before elections for communal, municipal and district assemblies, as well as the District Chamber of the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia.
Had Government been serious about all of this, then it would have considered the problem of paying back debts from 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and the first two months of 1995 when it borrowed pensioners' money. Also, had HDZ meant business then the Constitutional Court would have long ago brought a decision on the charge against the Decree by which, in the name of stabilization programme, all pensions were frozen and did not follow the growth rate of salaries. According to opposition deputies, claims that there is no money are untrue, because then there would be no money for the rehabilitation of banks and enterprises, for budget reserves, for managerial loans, for assistance to the allegedly disintegrated Herzeg-Bosnia. And the Government's argument that times were hard for Croatia is out of place, because if it was war then it was for everyone, and not a chance for some to get rich, and to rob the others.
The game is more than transparent, but the question is whether the majority of pensioners will be able to see through it? Maybe of some help will be the recently published information on the privileged pensions, i.e. pensions of those who just because they lent their name to the HDZ and spent several months in Parliament, like actor Boris Dvornik, have pensions of five to six thousand kunas, or Antun Vrdoljak who, in addition to US $ 120,000 permanent support allowance from the International Olympic Committee, annually reaps additional 12,000 kunas of pension each month from the Pension Fund.