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Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Voice of the People – the rule of the unelected?

By: Dr Anton Olaj

On March 21st, 2023, Minister of Internal Affairs Mr. Boštjan Poklukar welcomed citizen Jaša Jenull as a representative of the “Voice of the People” initiative. After meeting, the Ministry of the Interior informed the public that “civil society and non-governmental organisations play an important role in Slovenian society”, and that “dialogue with non-governmental organisations and the systematic inclusion of civil society in decision-making processes are a /…/ commitment of this government”.

To make it easier to understand the content of this article, let me explain that the term “civil society” is synonymous with the term “non-governmental organisation”, so citing both in the Ministry’s press release is merely pleonasm. “The Voice of the People” is not a non-governmental organisation (NGO), but a civil initiative as part of civil society in which, according to data from their website, a total of 109 NGOs and informal civil initiatives participate.

According to the latest data from the Umbrella Network of Slovenian Non-Governmental Organisations, as many as 27,608 NGOs are registered in Slovenia. Participants in the Voice of the People initiative represent only 0.39% of all NGOs, but if we consider that among the listed 109 entities not all are NGOs, but also informal civil initiatives, this share is even smaller. This is important because we can ask whether and who the Voice of the People can represent. In the initiative, we find trade unions, a militant organisation, and other non-conservative associations, which makes it possible to conclude that it is primarily the left-wing organisations. However, Slovenia is a pluralistic society, so these 109 left-wing entities certainly cannot represent the balanced voice of all people, as they appear in political propaganda, and no one favoured them in this role either. In a democracy, the people are represented by elected MPs and not by persons who do not have this mandate. It is an obvious usurpation of popular representation defined in Article 82 of the Constitution, which states: “MPs are representatives of the entire people and are not bound by any instructions”.

From the Ministry of Health’s notice to the public, the statement about the systematic involvement of civil society in decision-making processes stands out problematically. The question arises, is there a legal basis for this?

The relationship between Ministries and civil society’s work is governed by the Act on Non-Governmental Organisations, which in its content does not define the role of informal initiatives, but only of formally established NGOs, which is not the case with “Voice of the People”. Article 23 of the same law stipulates, among other things, that the regional ministries, i.e., the Ministry of the Interior, “prepare and implement measures for the cooperation of the state with non-governmental organisations in the formulation of policies and regulations in their areas”. Ministries, as part of the executive authority, perform administrative tasks according to the State Administration Act. One of the most important is that they prepare proposals for laws, by-laws and other acts and other materials for the government and provide other professional assistance in policy making. In doing so, the same law enjoins them to be independent, politically neutral, impartial and that no unjustified benefits should be given to interest groups.

It is obvious that the decision of Minister Poklukar on the “systematic inclusion of civil society as interest groups in decision-making processes” of the administration has no legal basis.

Ministries, i.e., also the Ministry of Health, legally only prepare and implement “measures for the cooperation” of the state with non-governmental organisations in the formulation of policies and regulations in their fields, but they do not in any way enable the systematic involvement of civil society in decision-making processes, to prepare draft laws for the government, which e.g. actually happened with the draft law on RTV, which, according to the Prime Minister’s statement on March 26th, 2024, on RTV1, was prepared by a civil society, specifically an NGO, which presents itself to the public as the Legal Network for the protection of democracy. Or proposals for amendments to the law on health care and health insurance, the law on social security contributions and the law on emergency measures to ensure the stability of the health system with systemic and interventional measures to curb the privatisation of public health care, increase access to health care and abolish the supplementary health system, prepared by the Voice of the People initiative, as announced to the media on March 27th, 2023.

The freedom of speech of all these left-wing activists who interpret democracy in their own way is understandable, but the state administration must follow the law when preparing bills, which means that they must act independently, impartially, and not favour any interest group.

In all these cases, it concerns illegalities, which are sanctioned by the Constitution in Article 119 with the institute of accusation against the Prime Minister and Ministers. “The Prime Minister or Minister can be accused by the National Assembly before the Constitutional Court of violations of the Constitution and laws committed in the performance of their functions.”

It appears that the law on state administration is being seriously violated and thereby distorting the constitutionally prescribed democratic processes, which enables the “rule of the unelected”.

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