Both advocates and opponents of new water law invoke protection of water

Ljubljana – Advocates and opponents of the changes to the waters act, to be put to a referendum vote on Sunday, stressed the need to protect water as they faced off on public broadcaster TV Slovenija on Wednesday evening. However, the advocate said the new law will better protect water, whereas the opponents said it will endanger it.

While not taking part in the debate, Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Andrej Vizjak answered some questions at the start of the debate, reiterating his view that “the concern that the bill could in any way deteriorate the quality of water … has been fabricated by its opponents”.

He said the changes to the waters act will no longer allow construction of buildings for private use on coastal areas and river or lake banks.

It will however allow construction of buildings for public use, such as hotels, restaurants or shops if they do not deteriorate water quality and flood safety.

Vizjak admitted the public consultation period for the bill could have been longer.

However, the government proposed fast-tracking it through parliament to implement it as soon as possible so that the public service of water bodies maintenance could also be financed from the Water Fund, he explained.

A similar view was presented by the advocates of the bill – coalition MPs Andrej Černigoj (NSi), Bojan Podkrajšek (SDS) and Gregor Perič (SMC).

They maintained that compared to the existing legislation, construction would be limited, while water protection would be enhanced, including for drinking water.

They said every construction project would have to be decided on by experts at the Water Agency, a body within the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry.

Perič said that “compromise is urgent if there is to be development”, but we could also decide to have no more construction in these areas.

The advocates of the bill believe that while water is an important topic it has been politicised, and see the referendum as a vote for or against the government.

The opponents of the new legislation – 25 representatives of various organisations, parties, individuals and opposition MPs took part – believe the bill is harmful because it enabled construction on the coast and along rivers and lake banks, posing a threat to waters, including underwater and thus drinking water.

The opponents also claimed that if the bill was as good as claimed by the minister, experts would support it, while it was supported only by politicians.

Gaja Brecelj (Umanotera) said construction in water areas would undermine development of green tourism.

Živa Kavka Gobbo (Focus) stressed that a healthy environment is a public good, while a private hotel is intended for public use so there is fear it could charge access to water.

Uroš Macerl (Eko Krog) said that many safety measures had been promised indeed, but “those who have capital get the necessary permits”.

Representatives of the centre-left opposition Brane Golubović (LMŠ), Matej Tašner Vatovec (Left), Jernej Pavlič (SAB) and Neva Grašič (SD) said the bill was bad and should be rejected.

Several representatives of the organisations in the referendum campaign that are neither for nor against the bill also took part in the debate. They advise their members to vote according to their conscience.

Ex-MP Zvonko Lah (Green Academy of Slovenia) welcomed more funds for water bodies maintenance, while saying not enough had been done for drinking water in recent years. He said he would probably not go to the polls on Sunday.

Nejc Škof (Youth Greens of Slovenia), who will not go to the polls, said the bill should be further improved and sees the campaign as full of populism.

Nada Pavšer from the non-parliamentary Greens will vote against because she does not support more construction in coastal areas.

A total of 32 parties ranging from political parties, NGOs and individuals are taking part in the campaigning, which will end with election blackout on Saturday.

A three-day early voting is ending today. Voters are asked whether they support amendments to the waters act passed by the National Assembly on 30 March.

Under Slovenia’s referendum legislation, a bill is rejected if the majority of voters reject it and if this majority accounts for at least 20% of all eligible voters, which means around 340,000 must cast votes against the law.