Walesa demands power to decree economic reform


WARSAW, Poland -- Polish President Lech Walesa demanded yesterday that Parliament give the government special powers for a year to issue economic decrees in order to speed up reforms.

"I see the need for urgent, effective action to speedily improve economic function," Mr. Walesa wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki.

He called on the prime minister to submit to Parliament without delay both the appropriate draft legislation and the constitutional amendment necessary to enact it. At the same time, he wrote to parliamentary speaker Mikolaj Kozakiewicz urging quick passage of such submissions.

Rule by decree is a highly sensitive issue in Poland, a reminder of the Communists' 40 years of unelected office. The first post-Communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, steadfastly rejected such suggestions as endangering Poland's fledgling democracy.

Presidential Secretary of State Slawomir Siwek told reporters that Mr. Bielecki was aware of Mr. Walesa's intention and "certainly agreed with it," as did, he said, some parliamentarians.

Nevertheless the president's move reinforced fears in some quarters of his "dictatorial" inclinations, especially as it followed his veto Monday of a draft electoral law.

So sorry is the state of the Polish economy, though, that even his most staunch opponents muted their criticism.

Pawel Bozyk, an economist reviled 15 years ago for telling the Communist rulers truths that they did not wish to know, described a gloomy scenario.

"The recession deepened by between 5 and 7 percent in the first four months of this year," he said. "There has been a 40 percent decrease in industrial production over 17 months, an 18 percent decrease in national income. Productivity has declined since last year from 30 to 10 percent. There is a $600 million trade deficit. Homebuilding is only what it was in the mid-'50s. Unemployment is running at nearly 1.5 million."

As if to emphasize its dire straits, Poland called yesterday for a further 10 percent reduction of its foreign debt, with the money saved going to environmental renewal.

As conditions worsen, a wave of strikes and protests against lowered living standards is disrupting life here. Rzeczpospolita, the government daily, yesterday listed eight major labor union protests throughout the country.

In Parliament, meanwhile, economic legislation vital to Poland's transition to a market economy languishes. About 20 government bills, including those on foreign investment, banking and taxation, await legislators' attention in the brief period before elections are due in the fall.

In theory, Parliament still has a 65 percent leftist majority, a legacy of the Communist years. In fact, both Communist bloc and minority Solidarity representation have split into many different factions. Mr. Walesa has accused the body as a whole of working too slowly but has not until now tried to circumvent it.

Significantly, Poland's top-selling daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, which usually opposes the president, refrained from editorial comment but merely printed generally favorable reaction in parliamentary circles.

"Just," opined Mr. Kozakiewicz, speaker of the Sejm, or lower house. "A good solution," said Working Solidarity's Ryszard Bugaj, head of the Sejm's Commission on Economic Policy. "Worthy of consideration," said Leslaw Lech, leader of the business-oriented Democratic Movement.

But Mr. Bozyk, a former Communist maverick, demurred. "Decrees should always be treated as anti-democratic," he said. "The economic situation might justify Walesa's move, but from the political point of view it is a step backward."

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