Re-Listening to “the Tapes”
June 25, 2014 By Piotr Aleksandrowicz
Ten days after the “tapes scandal” broke out, it’s a good idea to take stock and try to see what really matters and what doesn’t. I believe only two issues are of any importance here and the rest is nothing but static.
First, there’s the autonomy of the central bank now that central bank governor Marek Belka seems to be involved in politics. The prime minister has said that Belka and Sienkiewicz “were not discussing any criminal deals, but action to be taken jointly by the central bank and the government” and that they had the best interests of the state in mind. Well, that’s a really sad joke, isn’t it? How else can you describe a discussion about ways to bypass treaties and the constitution? This “best-interests-of-the-state” attitude is costing us all dearly, harming our image abroad and causing economic losses here in Poland.
The second thing is the relationship between business and politicians. The names of three businessmen have come up in the recordings released so far. They are Zbigniew Jakubas, Jacek Krawiec and Jan Kulczyk. We do not know much about conversations Krawiec had with Minister Graś other than Krawiec assured the government spokesman that the Orlen oil corporation and the Internal Security Agency (ABW) were working very well together now. As for Kulczyk, the central auditing office (NIK) told him to take his “suppositions and subjective concerns” to the relevant institutions and we’ll probably soon find out what he was hoping to get from Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, the head of the auditing office. According to Newsweek Polska, Kulczyk may have met with politicians from the Civic Platform (PO), the prime minister included, a total of seven times, usually at the Amber Room restaurant. The Prime Minister's Office has said that the meetings “mainly concerned the situation in Ukraine.” The prime minister’s colleagues at the office are evidently also inclined to make jokes.
As for Zbigniew Jakubas, Belka said: “He seems used to thinking that when he’s dealing with a government official, he’s dealing with a twat and acts like he’s a tough guy.”
Sienkiewicz added: “Maybe he should be told that more can be stolen from him. Maybe he’ll understand.” But this case is more complicated than that. Jakubas lost a bidding procedure to mint groszy coins for the central bank and not even his friends in the press managed to help him change that. Now he’s in even deeper trouble, because it seems his companies might be involved in VAT fraud. But that doesn’t change the fact that, rather than a politician, Sienkiewicz sounded like a “godfather” trying to discipline a mobster.
The moral of the story is that Poland’s economic system gets politicians and businessmen trapped in contacts with each other through its huge government administration, bloated public finances, inefficient institutions and complicated laws. There’s no hope the situation will change unless the state is downsized to get rid of such ties between business and politics.