“Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.” The words of Thomas Jefferson which remain as relevant today as ever they did. Indeed, some might argue that the consolidation of power by the current government in Poland, including appointments of PiS party loyalists to the boards of state-owned companies, is a text book example of corruption in action.
The government argues otherwise. Put simply, according to PiS, since the fall of Communism previous governments (especially the previous PO/PSL government led by PiS bête–noir Donald Tusk) have allowed former communists to acquire too much of the wealth of the state by improper means, which is a wrong that must righted. Too many of them remain in place it is said, including within the judiciary, hence widespread reform is necessary to create a future for Poland that is free of such corruption and therefore fairer. And, as messages go, it has gone down well, at least with that large part of the electorate that supports PiS.
Thus, Poland’s Central Ant-Corruption Bureau (CBA) has detained six individuals, including a former deputy treasury minister in the previous PO led government, in connection with the privatisation in 2014 of the state-owned chemical company Ciech, a controlling stake in which was bought by a company controlled by the late billionaire Jan Kulczyk. The CBA’s Piotr Kaczorek told Polish Radio’s IAR agency that an investigation into suspected irregularities in the privatisation of Ciech included, amongst other possible offences, the alleged abuse of power for financial gain and substantial damage to Treasury interests. Prosecutors in Katowice are coordinating the investigation he said.
In addition to the former treasury minister, his former counsellor, a former treasury ministry director, another ministry official, and two experts from a company that evaluated Ciech prior to privatization have also been detained, according to Kaczorek. Deputy Justice Minister Michał Wójcik told public broadcaster Polish Radio 1 on Monday that these detentions demonstrated that “there were irregularities at the intersection of business and politics” when the previous government of Donald Tusk was in power in Poland.
Donald Tusk was not in power, however, in the 1990s when the concession for the A2 motorway was signed. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told public broadcaster TVP Info on Sunday that an investigation will look at why the toll of a section of the A2 motorway is “so high”. Following a price rise last month, the toll on a 150 km stretch of the motorway from Konin to Nowy Tomyśl is PLN 60 (EUR 14.30), or 0.40 PLN (EUR 0.10) per kilometre, making it “the most expensive motorway in Europe,” according to TVP Info. The investigation will seek to determine the circumstances in which the concession agreement for the construction and operation of the motorway was signed and the role of former government in the transaction, Ziobro said. The motorway section in question is operated by Autostrada Wielkopolska, a company controlled by the family of the late Jan Kulczyk.
Be that as it may, as Lord Acton’s epithet reminds us, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so it is important that corruption be rooted out and alleged corruption be properly investigated, if folk are to have faith in the system. And it goes without saying – or certainly should – that nobody is above the law, including ministers. This is doubly important in a country where the all-embracing corruption of communism is still too recent an experience and where the concepts of democratic accountability and the rule of law are no so deeply rooted that they cannot be uprooted.
The difficulty arises where the criminal law is used, or might appear to be used, to settle political scores. That is not the suggestion here and no doubt, as with Caesar’s wife, the minister of justice and the prosecution apparatus are above suspicion, and the investigations well-founded. But even Caesar’s wife might have wondered at her own future resolve were she to find herself minister of justice, chief prosecutor, and with an extensive influence over the appointment of judges and the functioning of the courts. The inherent dangers are clear, and these cases show how in the hands of those with less than super-human probity, those powers could be abused.