Sunday, 26 October 2014

Watching one's tongue

If there is an area in which I could mend my ways, I would surely point at being less impulsive. I tend to quickly say or write some thoughts that come to my mind, without second thoughts. The outcomes of acting too spontaneously at times happened to be slightly embarrassing (I was too sincere and straightforward like an innocent child), but never offensive for anyone. Additionally and fortunately it has never occurred to me that I acted hastily in official situations, when weighing carefully one’s words is of paramount importance. But slip-ups with which a young corpo-rat can get away with, do not befit public officials. In Poland one such scandal follows another and the spate of such anything, but well-thought-out public statements is probably bound to never come to an end.

Last week agriculture minister, Mr Sawicki, during a press conference called farmers“suckers”. The government, to tackle the problem over-supply of domestic apples in the wake of ban on imports of Polish fruits to Russia, has put into operation an EU-co-funded apple buy-up scheme, paying growers PLN 0.27 per kilogram of apples (up to a certain quantity). Some growers instead of letting their apples being dumped, sold their fruits off for processing for less than half of the buy-up price… Their economic decisions (analysed up to that point only, since there might be other factors which have not been assessed in this short analysis) did not appear economically rational…

Not seldom does it happen that economic actors behave irrationally. Yesterday the price of one litre of 95 unleaded petrol at Orlen station in Piaseczno was PLN 4.95. At the same time, identical fuel at Orlen station in Konstancin Jeziorna was PLN 5.32. This means the same petrol was 7.5% more expensive on a station of the same distributor (for simplification I do not try to find out whether franchise could be in place) If you buy a full tank of petrol, i.e. 50 litres, you need to fork out PLN 18.50 more and even the cost of driving to Piaseczno and back to fill up a car, which is no more than PLN 8.50, leaves a tenner in your pocket. In simple words such price discrepancy is a simple rip-off. But because free market rules are in place, decision whether to fill up cars at Orlen station in Konstancin rests with drivers. Rational drivers would boycott the station, but yesterday (and on any other day_ the station in Konstancin was chock full of cars. In private, I deem the drivers who came there to buy fuel, suckers. If I were to explain to a wider audience (I do not consider this blog as a way of reaching wider audience) why the station has not gone bankrupt nor has had to decrease prices to stay competitive, as it should if the market was efficient, I would not dare to call those hapless drivers suckers. Mr Sawicki dared…

The next day former foreign minister and current speaker of parliament, Mr Sikorski, in a hurriedly given press interview, mentioned in 2008 Mr Putin in a conversation with Mr Tusk had put forward to divide up Ukraine between Russia and Poland. Several hours later he took back his words, citing lapse of memory as an excuse. Mr Sikorski’s misdemeanour is much serious than the blunder of Mr Sawicki. The latter only offended a group of his party’s potential voters, while the former (according to the version everyone officially sticks to) misrepresented the course of official meeting of prime ministers, compromised his own credibility and held himself up to ridicule. To boot, this clanger was dropped by a seasoned journalist who spent over a decade in the Anglo-Saxon world. I have never thought highly of Mr Sikorski, but the most recent confabulation puts him in even worse light…

Then things went as usual. Contrite Mr Sikorski staged a press conference and apologised, citing ample reasons for why he had made up a story of Putin’s proposal and had given a false testimony. Politicians from the opposition held out for dismissal of Mr Sikorski, politicians of the coalition, with the customary exception of deputy Kłopotek, in unison moderately defended him and tried to sweep the scandal under the carpet.

Poland has really peculiar standards in terms of dealing with reputational scandals. I do not posit one misstep should drag a person down for the rest of their career and do not view the other extreme as appropriate. Standards vary from country to country. In April 2014 South Korean prime minister resigned from his office after a ferry sunk near Korean shore. Five months earlier the Latvian prime minister also submitted a resignation after a roof collapse. I have to admit until today I do not construe motives for both personal moves. The reasoning implies a prime minister can be indirectly responsible for every tragedy in a country they run, regardless of total lack of their involvement in the disaster. This brings us towards a foregone concept of wina Tuska, which is ludicrously absurd. How can you hold a prime minister responsible for a disaster caused by a few construction workers failing to obey safety rules. If there is any explanation, I must be a matter of honour, a concept with which Polish politicians are totally unfamiliar with.

Whatever shameful deed they make, whatever subsequent scandal breaks out, for a few days they are under fire and then the dust falls and they carry on as if nothing has happened. Sometimes there are profound reasons to pretend everything is alright. Such was the case when members of Monetary Policy Council, offended by Mr Belka in wiretapped and then publicised conversation with minister Sienkiewicz, officially claimed nothing happened. Had they taken umbrage in public, they would have jeopardised the stability of the Polish currency, so the price of keeping up appearances was high enough.

I personally view a long-term track record and competencies as crucial in assessing one’s capacity to hold a specific office. For such reason I was not distasted by over-sincere “apologies” of Mrs Bienkowska “sorry, taki mamy klimat”. But if slip-ups tend to recur, it would be better to reconsider whether it would not benefit society if a person prone to get involved in repeatable embarrassing situations stepped down. Being unforgiving rarely pays off, but being too forgetting does not teach to think twice before going one step too far.

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