Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Opposition Agrees Đerek's Allegations are Reason Enough for Government to Fall

ZAGREB, 2 Feb 2022 - Parliamentary opposition parties on Wednesday mostly agreed with President Zoran Milanović's statement that if only half of what whistleblower Maja Đerek had said about the Državne Nekretnine state property management company was true, it was reason enough for the government to fall.

Social Democrat Ivana Posavec Krivec said there was no reason to doubt Đerek's statement and that Parliament should investigate further. 

Bridge's Marija Selak Raspudić said that the government should fall first and foremost because of its failure to rebuild Zagreb and the Banovina region after the earthquakes, and because of its incompetence and irresponsibility which put citizens in a highly unfavourable position.

Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc said that it was the government's duty to allow for Đerek's allegations to be investigated, rather than allow its minister to argue with the former Državne Nekretnine employee through the media. 

"We want to see if the allegations are true, and if they are, someone should take responsibility, and that for sure is Minister Mario Banožić at least," Benčić said, adding that there were many other reasons for the government to fall.

"To begin with, there is no post-earthquake reconstruction. Then there is the pandemic, in which we have become the worst in the world in terms of the number of deaths per million people. There are corruption scandals cropping up one after another. The only thing worse than economic inflation is inflation of their corruption scandals," Benčić said.

Vesna Vučemilović of the Croatian Sovereignists said, "what is worrying is the fact that not just state officials, but civil servants such as heads of directorates, also use state-owned apartments."

"Calling for the fall of the government is rhetoric appropriate to opposition politicians, but President Milanović is part of the government. His rhetoric is a bit strange and I would prefer him to pay more attention to demographics and other vital issues," Vučemilović added.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 28 January 2022

Opposition Says There Won't Be Reconstruction as Long as Horvat is Minister

ZAGREB, 28 Jan 2022 - Opposition parties said in parliament on Friday they were submitting a motion for the replacement of Construction Minister Darko Horvat over the slow pace of post-earthquake reconstruction of Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina County and insufficient absorption of funding from the EU Solidarity Fund.

GLAS party leader Anka Mrak Taritaš said all citizens were aware that Horvat could not do the job of reconstruction.

"PM Andrej Plenković will defend Horvat but deep down he, too, is aware that he cannot do this job. As long as Horvat is in this post, there will be no reconstruction," Mrak Taritaš, who launched the motion, said at a news conference attended by representatives of all parliamentary opposition parties.

55 signatures collected so far

"Two years have passed since the earthquake in Zagreb and one since the earthquake in Banija. Much has been said but little has been done," Mrak Taritaš said, noting that it was time for Horvat to go and that her motion was supported by 55 MPs.

Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Peđa Grbin said Horvat's incompetence was causing huge damage to the country.

"Tenders are not being conducted and again there are some firms that are being investigated by the European Prosecutor's Office over corruption scandals, as well as firms that will be given millions for reconstruction. This is a typical HDZ story and one must put an end to it," said Grbin, adding that once the deadline for the absorption of EU funds expired, Plenković's responsibility would be discussed as well.

Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc said that on 15 January the government triumphantly said that the first houses damaged in the earthquake in Krapina-Zagorje County would be demolished in the spring, exactly two years after the earthquake.

"If that is not reason enough for the main coordinator of the reconstruction process to step down, I don't know what is," she said, adding that the motion was not about muscle-flexing but about whether citizens would spend a third winter in containers and those in Sisak-Moslavina County a second. "Has the state really rebuilt fewer houses than one foundation, more specifically Solidarna," she said.

Bridge: PM assuming responsibility 

Ivana Posavec Krivec of the Social Democrats group said the issue of Horvat's replacement was a matter of Croatia's future.

"If PM Plenković is not willing to replace the weakest link in his government, he is assuming full responsibility, and all those who vote for his stay assume the responsibility of inactivity. The Opposition is calling on the PM to act sensibly, this is the last moment to replace this weakest link and set reconstruction in motion. The ball is in the PM's court," she said.

Marija Selak Raspudić of the Bridge party said that by defending Horvat, PM Plenković "believes he is demonstrating his power over the Opposition, because this power play, let's be honest, is the only thing he is interested in."

She added that Plenković was assuming responsibility and gambling with his post by defending Horvat.

Selak Raspudić also pointed to the drastic, 40% increase in domestic violence across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the figure was even worse for the earthquake-struck Sisak-Moslavina County, where people were forced to stay in small housing containers.

The motion for Horvat's replacement was also supported by Emil Daus of the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS), Katarina Peović of the Workers' Front, and independent MP Damir Bajs.

Bajs said that neither the government nor its coalition partners were satisfied with the pace of the reconstruction process.

"This is the first time a minister facing replacement enjoys only conditional support from the coalition partners and the HDZ itself. Let us do something and help people start living normally," said Bajs.

For more, check out our politics section.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Opposition Strongly Criticises Social Welfare Reform Bills

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - The parliamentary opposition on Thursday strongly criticized a reformed set of social welfare bills, saying that the opinions of professionals have not been taken into account, that the system is being unnecessarily centralized, and that there might be long-term negative consequences.

Despite some improvements, the reform is going in the wrong direction and might have far-reaching negative consequences, and it is also contrary to everything professionals have said, Davorko Vidović of the Social Democrats' parliamentary club said in a debate on seven social welfare reform bills.

Anka Mrak Taritaš of GLAS said the aim of the bills should be making life easier for beneficiaries but that these bills were about form, not content.

Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc said two World Bank loans were taken out since 2003 for decentralizing services and reforming the social welfare system and that tens of millions of euros were absorbed from the EU for the same purpose.

What have been the effects of that and why is the course being drastically changed, she asked.

The ruling majority commended the reform, saying that it will result in a more efficient and more transparent system in the service of its beneficiaries.

The centralization refers only to administrative and legal affairs, Nada Murganić of the HDZ said, adding that the reform is timely as it envisages raising almost all allowances.

The guaranteed minimum allowance and the disability allowance are being raised while means' tests and other tests for persons with disabilities are being rescinded, said her colleague Vesna Bedaković.

Presenting the bills, Social Welfare Minister Josip Aladrović said the goal was to enhance the system's organization and coordination, strengthen social welfare centers, increase the availability of services, standardize action, and increase allowances.

"This set of bills is just the first step in improving the system in the long term," he added.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Monday, 8 November 2021

Zagreb Opposition Strongly Against Plans To Cancel Stay-at-Home Parent Scheme

ZAGREB, 8 Nov, 2021 - Opposition parties in the Zagreb City Assembly - the HDZ, the HSLS, Bridge and the Homeland Movement - on Monday strongly opposed plans to abolish a grant scheme for stay-at-home parents as well as reduce grants for layettes for newborn babies.

HDZ deputy and HDZ Zagreb city branch leader Mislav Herman said on behalf of the HDZ/HSLS group that the announced drastic cut in grants for stay-at-home parents and the proposal to shorten the period during which they receive them was tantamount to their abolishment.

The City of Zagreb last Friday put to public consultation a decision abolishing grants for stay-at-home parents after their child reaches the age of seven, and the grant for those with younger children is reduced to HRK 1,000 per month, from 65% of the gross average pay in Zagreb.

Herman said "the abolishment of the grants was accompanied with a bizarre explanation that it was a huge cost."

"Does demography in the 21st century in Croatia and the whole of Western Europe have a price? We believe it does not, and that the benefit of this demographic measure was great," said Herman.

He added that the measure currently costs HRK 44 million a month, while city subsidies for kindergartens amount to HRK 45 million a month, which, he said, could result in the cost of kindergarten subsidies going up because of children who will return to pre-school institutions due to the cancellation of grants for stay-at-home parents.

Herman also believes that Deputy Mayor Danijela Dolenec's view that the grants had yielded insignificant results "is not competent as no concrete figures have been provided."

He claimed that the scheme had stopped negative demographic trends in the city, concluding that Mayor Tomislav Tomašević was guided by "ideological and not by financial interests."

Bridge: 2,700 Zagreb children left without kindergarten care in 2020 

Bridge deputy Lovro Marković said that the city had not made a thorough analysis of demographic and economic effects of the scheme, introduced by former mayor Milan Bandić, and that it did not know how its cancellation would affect the filling of kindergarten capacity in Zagreb, adding that in 2020, 2,700 children could not enroll in kindergartens.

"The scheme for stay-at-home parents covers more than 6,000 children, and according to current rules, coming from families with more than one child, those children will have advantage when enrolling," he said.

His Bridge party also strongly criticises the reduction of grants for layettes, stressing that that measure was a way for taxpayers to get back the money paid into the city budget in the form of local rates.

Peternel: Tomašević attacking foundations of Croatian society

Homeland Movement deputy Igor Peternel said the abolishment of the scheme was "outrageous", causing complete mistrust in state institutions.

"We consider this to be a worldview-motivated decision which symbolically strikes at the foundations of the Croatian society, namely at the family," said Peternel, condemning also the reduction of grants for layettes.

Last Friday, the city administration submitted for 30-day public consultation its proposal to abolish grants for stay-at-home parents, as well as reduce allowances for layettes for newborn babies.

A document has been released analysing the demographic and financial effects of the scheme, as well as its effects on the inclusion of women in the labour market and children in educational institutions.

"There will no longer be new applications for the scheme, only regulating the rights of existing beneficiaries, and the right to use the measure is reduced to seven years of age of the child," Deputy Mayor Dolenec said.

This means that the beneficiaries whose children have already reached the age of seven or more will no longer be eligible for the grant as of 30 April 2022, which creates a period in which they can adapt to the new circumstances, that is, they can look for a job and get a job while they are still using the grant.

The grant for beneficiaries who have children under the age of seven will be reduced to HRK 1,000 per month as of 1 May.

They can use the measure until their child reaches the age of seven, but they can also find a job immediately and they are also allowed to enroll their child in kindergarten in May, said Dolenec.

The analysis attached to the public debate shows that the City of Zagreb has spent HRK 1.8 billion on this scheme since 2016, and if applications had not been suspended in August, the monthly budget expense for that measure would be HRK 700 million.

"The amount is equivalent to the construction of 27 new kindergartens in Zagreb", said Dolenec, adding that the measure was unsustainable for the budget.

She underscored that the demographic effect of the measure was small, that is, dubious.

"For families with three and more children there is a small increase in the period when the measure was introduced, but the total number of live births has not risen," she pointed out.

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