AIM: start

THU, 07 FEB 2002 12:24:42 GMT

Pre-Election Logic and Tricks

Both the government and the opposition in Macedonia are abundantly using the economy in order to improve their rating in the year of the elections. Although nobody knows yet when they will take place, the authorities are wooing the citizens by reaching various decisions that are useful for them, and the oppositionists are "bombarding" them with all sorts of revealed scandals in the ranks of the ruling coalition.

AIM Skopje, January 24, 2002

Macedonian economy is on its knees for a long time. Losses in all sectors of production and business operation are enormous. So is the number of paupers and people who have no food. The latest analyses of the Institute for Sociological, Political and Legal Investigations confirm that one fifth of the population has no money for bread, that 90 per cent of the citizens live in misery, and just 10 per cent in luxury and wealth acquired in the past few years. The situation is drastically deteriorating because of the political and security crisis this country has been in since last year. And instead to return to the reformist course that was abandoned because of the war, and to accelerate reforms that would be of general interest, since the beginning of the year, the government is doing something completely different. It is making moves that clearly show, according to the estimate of independent economic analysts, its wooing intentions and aim to improve its own rating and win the favours of the largest possible number of voters. At the same time it is continuing to snatch everything it possible can. It is the election year, uncertainty is growing, so it is necessary to be well prepared for every possibility. The main logic: nothing should be left to chance!

Although nobody knows yet when the elections shall actually take place, the oppositionists are not standing idle either. It is an open secret that they are busy digging up documents in various archives in order to get hold of as many arguments as possible for unmasking the arrogant behavior and crime of those who have seized executive power by lies, they remind. They promised new factories and jobs, prosperity and well-being. Indeed, they provided it but only for themselves and their close party soldiers and yes-men. They have brought the state and the citizens to the verge of ruin. In the past few days the public was simply "bombarded" with various scandals of coalition partners the value of which is measured in millions of convertible banknotes that make an ordinary mortal's head spin. Their main logic was: the names of political rivals and enemies should be blackened as much as possible!

The game has already started. It is proceeding according to the slogan that the end justifies the means, and both the authorities and the opposition are using their own tricks. The mostly forgotten "his majesty the citizen" is finally in the focus of attention. His moment of decision will yet to come!

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE has, for example, offered the citizens the remaining crumbs off the privatisation table from which the government has already "eaten" 90 per cent of the main dish. It was announced that privatisation of the remaining social property would be completed by distribution of vouchers. The idea was made public by the head of Macedonian stock exchange Evgenij Zografski, and hardly anyone believes in its sincerity and benevolence. Many economic analysts believe that it was nothing but a bluff and frivolous political marketing which has nothing to do with reality.

According to the data of the Privatisation Agency, about 90 per cent of enterprises in Macedonia have been privatised. The state has its capital in another 390 firms worth about 400 million euros, but it is practically useless. The idea has come too late according to Petar Gosev, deputy of LDP in the assembly of Macedonia and one of the economists who was in the beginning of privatisation the most ardent supporter of the application of the system of vouchers. Had this idea been accepted at the time, everything would have been different, he is convinced. The distribution of social wealth would have been fairer, many people more satisfied. Plunder that was going on behind the scene and even publicly during all these years of transition would have been avoided. All the attractive and profitable parts of Macedonian economy were sold to the new owners, mostly close to the state leadership, at a discount rate of 70 to 95 per cent; to some strategic investors from abroad literally for one dollar, but with enormous commission paid to individuals, the well-informed claim! Both the former and the current authorities, SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE, had highly developed methods. The problem is that the "pupils" have become much better than their "teachers", and ordinary people got the worst of it. In the state Privatisation Agency it is estimated that there is no intention to finalise Macedonian privatisation with vouchers. Dust was kicked up, there is no doubt, just in order to score points.

However, there are certain cases that some people profited from. There are twenty thousand people, for instance, who bought cars from Bulgaria at a very low price last year. There are speculations that Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and some local power-wielders from the ranks of VMRO-DPMNE not only knew about it, but approved it. In the business with Macedonian citizens who had to open private firms in order to buy cheap new or used cars, neighbouring Bulgaria made about 16 million euros net, according to calculations of local car dealers. Macedonian state budget was in this way deprived of 150 million German marks or 75 million euros. The reason - in this country, in comparison with the others in the region, the cost of cars is by far the highest. For a car purchased abroad, it was necessary to pay 18 per cent customs dues, 25 to 55 per cent of excise duty depending on the volume of the engine, and 19 per cent of VAT.

In order to, allegedly, correct the mistake, at the beginning of the election year the Government first proposed and the Assembly passed a correction of customs and excise duties. Customs duty was reduced to 12 per cent, and instead of two only one excise rate of 7.5 per cent was introduced. This reduced the total taxes from 67 to 43 per cent, so the prices of cars went down by one to two thousand euros on the average. This made some individuals who have enough money to buy a better car extremely happy. After that, without stating precisely for how long, European standards for registration of vehicles were temporarily abolished. The obligation of homologisation was left out of the amendments of the transportation law, and the age limit for import of cars was raised from six to ten years. This created conditions for legalization of the cars bought in Bulgaria. The owners, as the well-informed claim, mostly members or supporters of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, were given the time limit of 30 days to pay all the taxes to the state and have them registered at home. If they fail to do that, they will have to stay at least 20 days abroad every three months. Since the process is still in progress there are no data on the number of citizens who used this convenience or more precisely this government's gift, having most probably promised to give their votes when the time comes.

Government’s concession to the trade union of state administration workers is also considered as its intentional election marketing move. In order to prevent protests of twenty thousand discontented workers, it was agreed that they be paid last year's vacation allowance, the popular K-15 inherited from the time of socialism, in money and various food products: cheese in cans, flour in sacks, oil in boxes, and sugar, salami, hot dogs, sausages and cans in bags! The payment is under way. That is how everybody is happy. It is speculated that trading companies close to some ministers have made an enviable profit from the deal and the ministers got “some” commission.

For the sake of the truth it must be said that the government also had in mind the citizens who had deposited their foreign currency savings in the banks in order to exchange them for the new European currency. It drafted a law that guarantees safety of all savings accounts. The percentage of guarantee depends on the deposited amount. The smallest deposits - between 1500 and 3000 euros - in case of bankruptcy will be 100 per cent compensated for. Ninety per cent of the savings between 7500 and 10 thousand euros will be paid. Nobody can count on receiving a compensation of more than 10 thousand euros paid in local currency - the denars. This measure was introduced, as minister of finance Nikola Gruevski explains, in order to re-establish confidence of the citizens and encourage them to keep their money on savings accounts and not under mattresses and pillows. Except for the fact that it has come in the year of the elections, nothing else can be said to criticise it. the beginning of construction of 2200 apartments for the market can be classified in the same type of measures, because the government set 840 apartments aside with the intention to give homes to that many families that were living off welfare. The list of moves meant to woo the public is constantly increasing.

Unlike the ruling parties, pre-election offer of the opposition is quite modest. Almost all the media in the country are bombarding the citizens with reports of state auditors who looked into the books and cash registers of several ministries, units of local self-administration and public enterprises and revealed various irregularities in the use of state money last year and the before last. These reports refer to 1999 and 2000 and they detected abuses worth 5.5 and 20 million euros, respectively. As representatives of the opposition SDSM claim, the reports are not final, because the audit was carried out in a small number of budgetary institutions, indeed just 29 of them in the whole country. There is a number of data in them that are marked with the sign “state secret” and these will still have to be discussed in the sessions of the parliament.

They have come out into the public only after they had been secretly handed to the so-called independent media, first to Skopje A1 TV station and then to Utrinski vesnik and others. Although with a delay, the public learnt that, contrary to legal regulations, local officials in Veles, Bitolj, Ohrid and Resen, determined their own salaries; that the Ministry of Health transferred the money allocated for dialysis to its Fund which transferred it to the local accounts of VMRO-DPMNE; that the Privatisation Agency loaned money to firms that registered losses but were sponsored by the party in power. Among other, it is said in the reports of the Auditing Service, the following got money in this way: AD Makedonija tabak, NIP Nova Makedonija, Makedonija Sport, private capital market and Balkanska banka; that public enterprises Makedonija put (in charge of roads), Vodovod i kanalizacija (Waterworks and Sewage System) and Parkovi i zelenilo (Parks and Greenery) gave loans to private firms close to their directors, paid transportation and lunch expenses to the employees even while they were on vacation, bought office material and raw materials at considerably higher prices than the ones in the market...

Certain well informed economic analysts are convinced that behind the latest in the row of revealed scandals and financial tricks stands not the opposition but the current state leaders whose pre-election goal is to cover-up their extravagance!?! The activity of state auditing office which is believed to be too modest because it still has not even come near the main focal points of illegality (Ministry of Defence in which former minister Ljuben Paunovski himself is under investigation for nepotism and embezzlement of 6.5 million euros, certain big state firms, or the services controlled by the Ministry of Finance) should “prove the objectivity and uncompromising nature of the ruling oligarchy” which has according to the assessment of various institutions of the European Union sunk in organised crime “up to its neck”.

All this is very disturbing for the public in Macedonia. But it can be useful and help the citizens open their eyes and correctly form a judgment when their five minutes come!