Centre-left seeks referendum on demographic fund bill

Ljubljana – Four centre-left opposition parties propose the National Assembly call a consultative referendum on the government-sponsored bill on the National Demographic Fund, arguing its concept is flawed. If their proposal is not adopted, they will initiate a legislative referendum once the bill is passed.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), the Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) argue the fund will not shore up the public pension fund as is its stated purpose, but give the government centralised control over ownership and management of state assets worth EUR 8.6 billion.

The bill, under which the National Demographic Fund would emerge through a transformation from Slovenian Sovereign Holding to take over the management of almost all state equity assets, is being debated at second reading in parliament today.

The National Assembly needs to decide on the referendum initiative before passing the bill, which will protract the procedure for a month, or even longer if a simple majority is mustered to call a consultative referendum, Left leader Luka Mesec and SAB leader Alenka Bratušek told reporters.

Mesec said the parties opposed the bill because the government was crating the fund not to rescue pension financing but to “get unlimited power of staffing in state-owned companies, to be able to access the remaining segments of state assets and remove safeguards against privatisation”.

“We want a consultative referendum because the proposal has been subject to no serious public consultation,” said Mesec, with LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec adding that the goal of the referendum was “to ask people whether they agree with further looting”.

SD leader Tanja Fajon said issues such as pension security of future generations merited a referendum. She accused the government of being unfit to lead development dialogue and argued the opposition-sponsored proposal would secure extra funds for the pension fund and keep key assets state-owned.

“Fact is neither current nor future pensioners will benefit from the government demographic fund,” Bratušek said. The SAB is bothered as the proposal envisages the fund to finance other measures, not just pensions and that all state assets would be moved to the new fund in one go, thus allowing their privatisation in one go.

Under the government proposal, the National Demographic Fund would pay 40% of the dividends and 40% of the proceeds from privatisation to the pension system annually, while the rest would go for family and aged-care polices.

“About 8.6 billion in assets left after years of reckless privatisations will become the loot of every incumbent government. Everyone who has interest in the companies doing as well as possible, that is workers, public sector representatives and pensioners, will be excluded,” said Mesec.

In a press release earlier the parties said that “through the annulment of several laws, the bill is directly affecting the citizens’ rights in controlling and managing their own assets.”

As one example they noted that it would abolish the legislative basis under which insurance payers’ representatives can name half the supervisory board members of Modra Zavarovalnica, an insurer managing over EUR 1.3 billion in top-up pension insurance of pubic employees.

Mesec said Janez Janša, who is serving his third time as PM, “showed each time political power isn’t enough for him, rather he wants economic power and power over the media. He sold Mercator in exchange for influence of the newspaper Delo, he always puts his interest for power before the country’s development potential”.

He said the government-sponsored bill provided for the fund’s supervisory board to be appointed by the ruling majority with representatives of pensioners and youth acting “just as an accessory”. The fund would in turn have influence over staffing in majority state-owned companies.

Under a coalition-sponsored amendment endorsed on the committee, the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) would also be transferred to the new fund.

The result of a consultative referendum is not binding on the National Assembly, while a legislative referendum is.