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Asset declarations. Can politicians be ordered to fill out declarations legibly?

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PiS MEP and former Prime Minister Beata Szydło is criticized online for submitting an illegible asset declaration. She is not the only one who approaches the statutory obligation in this way. What about the regulations?

Politicians have until April 30 to submit asset declarations as of December 31 of the previous year. A few weeks later they are made public and then they can be analyzed by citizens or the media. On this occasion, the issue of illegible or incomplete completion of declarations returns. For example, Róża Thun, an MEP from the Civic Platform, in two fields where the market value of the property should be entered, instead of the amount she wrote only: “market value”. “A little more and politicians will start typing ‘lorem ipsum’ in asset declarations and no one will notice” – he commented Radosław Karbowski, an Internet user analyzing MPs’ asset declarations on Twitter.

But the statement of the former prime minister, now MEP of Law and Justice, is particularly criticized Beata Szydło. The document shows that she has accumulated savings of over 30,000. PLN and over 98 thousand. euro. He owns a house worth $420,000. PLN and a farm valued at PLN 320,000. zloty. However, details about these objects, although given, are already difficult to read. It is almost completely illegible information about her real estate, income and valuables. Interestingly, in the previous two years, Beata Szydło’s statements looked different: the handwriting was neat and legible, almost all fields were filled in capital letters.

The problem with deciphering this year’s statement may also be in the case of a document filled out by PiS MP Łukasz Mejza – it is unclear in which companies he had shares and what income he had from it.

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Fragment of Łukasz Mejza’s asset declaration for 2022Sejm.gov.pl

“Let an ordinary man fill out a document in the Tax Office like this”

Criticism similar to that of Beata Szydło could be observed, for example, in 2019 after the publication of the statement of the MEP of Solidarna Polska (today Sovereign Poland) Patrick’s Day. Among other things, he sloppily filled out the column on his savings; especially the names of the companies whose securities he owned were illegible.

A year later, the asset declaration of the then Minister of Health, Łukasz Szumowski, was loud. Criticism was bound with his holding of shares and then their sale in two companies founded by his older brother – Marcin Szumowski. The minister was also criticized for illegible completion of the declaration. But then he submitted the document again. “My previous statement was supposedly illegible. I am dysgraphic. I generally scribble like a chicken claw and it always cost me lower grades at school” – explained to “Super Express”.

The latest statement by MEP Szydło, Internet users comment maliciously: “Very legible, it’s strange that she didn’t go to medicine”; “Such a document is a mockery. Let an ordinary person fill out a document in the Tax Office”; “Such a thing should not be accepted. She should write in capital letters”; “Where is the respect for voters?”; “Are you mocking us?”; “So that the Sovereign would not see how Beata Szydło’s fortune grew. (…) Cwana gapa” (original spelling of posts).

Some appealed to Szydło: “Insert a legible asset declaration”; “As a citizen, a Pole, a patriot, I am asking for a legible declaration of financial interests, preferably on a computer.”

Are politicians obliged to legibly complete asset declarations? Are they threatened with consequences for illegible filling? Can some institution order them to correct their scribbles – or is it all down to their goodwill? We explain.

Disclosure of assets – annual obligation

Polish parliamentarians and members of the European Parliament are obliged to submit asset declarations. The basis for the former is Art. 35 the act on the exercise of the mandate of deputy and senatorand for others the act on the remuneration of Members of the European Parliament elected in the Republic of Poland. Statement templates are appendices to the acts. In the boxes visible there, you need to enter, among others, information about your savings, shares and stocks; conducted business activity; income, valuable items (worth over PLN 10,000); taken credits and loans (above PLN 10,000).

Members of parliament submit a statement together with a copy of the tax return submitted to the tax office at the beginning of the term of office, then every year by April 30, and at the end of the term of office. The Central Anti-Corruption Bureau controls the reliability and veracity of statements.

Doodles without consequences

However, no regulations oblige parliamentarians to fill out asset declarations legibly (e.g. in a computer). They can do it – but they don’t have to. On the websites of the offices, you can only find recommendations for local government councillors, who are also required to complete declarations. Such recommendations include, for example: “The statement should be completed carefully, legibly, in all fields, in a way that leaves no doubts of interpretation”; The asset declaration must be completed legibly and carefully.

Consequences regarding asset declarations threaten only parliamentarians in the case of failure to submit them, providing untruth or hiding the truth.

– Polish parliamentarians fill out statements as they can. Or maybe… messy, illegible, incomplete. Unfortunately, the law allows it, explains lawyer Krzysztof Izdebski from the Batory Foundation in an interview with Konkret24. When asked whether, after sending an illegible statement, someone – for example an employee of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – can order its correction to a legible version, he answers: “no”. The controller of the declarations may at most ask the person concerned to clarify some issues.

– The legislator was apparently of the opinion that deputies should not be treated as children and did not include the obligation of legibility of statements in the regulations. However, it can be seen that at least some of the deputies are overwhelmed by the idea of ​​having their assets open to the public – adds Izdebski. According to him, it can be easily changed – which has been postulated by organizations and experts dealing with the openness of public life for years. – The solution to deputies’ scribbles, all ambiguities, errors, understatements is digitization. In most European countries, declarations are completed electronically. This is the case, for example, in Macedonia, Ukraine and Georgia, states Izdebski.

Attempts to decipher the MEP’s scribbles

To decipher what Beata Szydło entered in points “IX” and “X” of the statement – where income and movable property are entered – an analysis of previously submitted statements is needed. This is what Radosław Karbowski, an active Internet user, did. Digitizes publicly available data and presents it in a readable form available online. Recently, he is analyzing asset declarations. When he wrote on Twitterwhich is included in Szydło’s statement, commenting ironically: “Beata Szydło’s statement of assets translated into Polish” – surprised Internet users asked how he did it. “I helped myself with a statement for 2021. Back then, Mrs. Szydło wrote quite nicely” – he wrote back.

Comparing what the MEP entered in previous years and in what order, we can guess that the income from the performance of the mandate to the European Parliament was entered first. You can also see the expression “members’ allowances”. The amounts are clearer, although they leave doubts. In the previous asset declaration, Beata Szydło showed that she was the owner of a SsangYong Korando from 2011 worth PLN 25,000. PLN and two Audi cars – Q3 from 2019 worth PLN 130 thousand. PLN and A6 from 2012 (PLN 45 thousand). It seems that the situation in 2022 was identical. Although we can’t be 100% sure.

We tried to ask Beata Szydło if she would listen to the appeals of Internet users and fill out her financial declaration again – this time legibly – but she did not answer the phone from us. We have not received any responses to text messages or emails.

Main photo source: Piotr Polak/PAP

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