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villa plus. An insert to a project that was “going in the right direction”. How the controversial amendment was passed

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The express mode of work on the act, the disputed provision as an inclusion in the parliamentary commission and the disregard of the opposition’s votes – this is how PiS pushed the villa plus program. Everything is covered by the narrative that “the Ministry of Education supports educational investments”.

The Minister of Education and Science, Przemysław Czarnek, said on February 7 in the Sejm that the money under the villa plus program went to non-governmental organizations “which have been doing excellent educational work for years.” About the fact that nearly a quarter of the co-financed organizations do not have much experience, we wrote in Konkret24 February 9. Already in the spring of 2022, at the stage of work on the amendment to the Act on the Education System, which enabled the minister to award grants, the government argued that its purpose was to support investment in education.

Katarzyna Lubnauer, a member of the Civic Coalition, described how the controversial regulations were adopted on February 7 in “Rozmowa Piaseckiego” on TVN24. When asked if any of the deputies expected how they would be used, she replied: “Even we did not expect PiS to be so brazen.” And she continued: “We noticed this insertion, especially since it was an insertion made during the committee already for the project that we had received earlier and we saw that it was going in the right direction, because it was psychological and pedagogical help.” Lubnauer recalls that she expected Minister Czarnek “to travel with checks and, bypassing local governments, to build, for example, a gymnasium at school.”

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We followed the parliamentary work on the regulations that enabled Minister Czarnek to establish an investment program called “Development of the infrastructural potential of entities supporting the education system“. In short: these provisions were introduced suddenly, with an amendment during the debates of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Youth. During the subsequent debates, the opposition MPs protested, and the rulers responded enigmatically and briefly. The deputy chairman of the education committee, Zbigniew Dolata, was surprised how the opposition could oppose ” supporting educational investments.

Act on eighth-grader exams and matriculation exams. Suddenly a throw-in

You can find it on the website of the Sejm the course of parliamentary work on the government’s draft act amending the act on the education system and certain other acts. Parliamentary work on the amendment lasted from March 22 to May 13, 2022. On May 17, President Andrzej Duda signed the law.

The key assumption of the amendment prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science is to change the organization and method of conducting the eighth grade exam and the matura exam in the school years 2021/2022 – 2023/2024. In these years, students and graduates who carried out a large part of their education during the state of epidemic took and will take exams. Examinations are held on the basis of separate examination requirements and are narrower in relation to the requirements specified in the core curriculum. The act also made it possible to increase the number of pedagogues and psychologists employed in schools – which was important after a long period of remote work in schools.

At the stage of legislative work, before the act was submitted to the Sejm, the issue of investment programs of the Minister of Education was not raised – including at the stage of public consultations. This topic did not exist then. On March 22, the bill was submitted to the Sejm. On March 24, during the work of the Committee on Education, Science and Youth, an amendment to the act was proposed: provisions enabling the minister of education to establish investment programs.

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MP Skwarek proposes, the opposition protests, the chairman of the committee orders: “Okay, let’s go to the vote”

According to protocol During the session of the parliamentary education committee of January 24, the amendment was submitted by Sławomir Skwarek, a member of the Law and Justice party from Lublin. It assumed the addition of Article 90x to the Act, which states: “In order to implement the state’s educational policy, the minister responsible for education and upbringing may establish investment programmes.”

Excerpt from Article 90x introduced to the Education System Act by a parliamentary amendmentSejm.gov.pl

MP Skwarek justified the amendment in general terms. “The purpose of this amendment is the need to implement solutions regarding the improvement of implementation, organization, and verification of the manner of carrying out programs and undertakings established by the minister responsible for education and upbringing, including enabling the establishment and implementation of investment programs” – he said (according to the stenographic record). “We believe that this is a good amendment and is associated with a wide range of changes presented” – this is a short commentary by Marzena Machałek, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education and Science, who was present at the meeting.

When on February 8, 2023, Justyna Dobrosz-Oracz from “Gazeta Wyborczashe asked Mr Skwark, for what purpose he had submitted this amendment, he dismissed it without answering. On February 14, Konkret24 sent a similar question to MP Skwarek – but he has not replied to us yet.

“A cursory analysis of the presented amendments shows that there may be doubts as to whether they are related to the subject matter of the draft in progress,” said a representative of the Legislative Office of the Chancellery of the Sejm during the meeting.

The amendment was immediately protested by MPs from the Civic Coalition, Katarzyna Lubnauer and Krystyna Szumilas. “What does Minister Czarnek want to build?” Lubnauer asked. She assessed that submitting amendments that are not related to the matter of the act is unconstitutional. She also pointed out that the bill is a government project. “He was subjected to consultations just to make it known what was in it” – said Lubnauer. “It is really scandalous that in the face of such important regulations you are throwing more stuff into this project” – said Krystyna Szumilas.

“It’s over, right? Have you spoken? Okay, let’s move on to the vote on the amendment,” said the chairman of the committee, Mirosława Stachowiak-Różecka from PiS, looking around the room. The committee approved the amendment by a majority vote.

Express pace. “Cuckoo’s Egg” vs “you’re out of touch with reality”

On the same day, MP Sławomir Skwarek He introduced in the plenary hall of the Sejm, a report on the proceedings of the education committee. He spoke about “substantive, consistent work of the commission”. He emphasized that 35 members of the committee voted for the adoption of the entire bill with only one abstention.

During the discussion in the plenary hall as part of the second reading, MPs from the opposition several times emphasized their doubts about the amendment. Katarzyna Lubnauer talked about a “good project” into which a “cuckoo egg” was thrown. “Minister Czarnek has decided to become a great builder and will be able to carry out investments. These will not be government or local government investments, but Minister Czarnek’s investments,” said Lubnauer. Member of Parliament Katarzyna Kretkowska from the Left pointed to the short time to get acquainted with the draft. She, too, spoke of a “sudden amendment.” Dariusz Klimczak from the Polish Coalition also spoke about the amendment. “Evidently, the provision here is aimed at the minister creating powers that will allow him to distribute money in a discretionary way” – he said. The amendment was also criticized by Krystyna Szumilas and Krystyna Skowrońska from the Civic Coalition.

PiS MP Zbigniew Dolata, vice-chairman of the education committee, also spoke in the debate. He sharply criticized opposition deputies. He spoke of his surprise at the “allegations” that Minister Czarnek “would be able to support educational investments.” “You have detached yourself from reality. Find one local government official, one parent, one teacher who would not like the Ministry of Education to support educational investments. Really think about what you are saying” – said Dolata.

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At the end, Deputy Minister Marzena Machałek took the floor in the discussion. She talked for a long time about the essential matter of the act: exams and support for schools by specialists. She devoted only a moment to the controversy over the amendment. “I have to agree with this and I think that it may sound ironic to you – a great builder, but I will be happy if it turns out that thanks to the investment program, which is the idea of ​​the ministry’s management, Minister Czarnek, we will be able to significantly and more subsidize education and investments” – said Marzena Machałek.

The opposition tries to lose the amendment, loses the vote

After the second reading in the education committee, further work on the bill continued. While sittings On April 5, 2022, MPs from Koalicja Obywatelska i Lewica submitted a motion to reject the amendment on investment programs. The proposal did not receive a majority in the vote – eighteen deputies were in favor, also eighteen against. Minister Marzena Machałek, who was present at the meeting, stated that the regulations are modeled on already existing and proven solutions. “They will facilitate the activities of the minister responsible for education and upbringing in various situations and will lead to greater transparency of the funds spent” – said Machałek.

On April 7, the law was voted in the Sejm. Members no longer discussed the amendment. The entire bill passed with 437 votes in favour; one MP was against (Zbigniew Girzyński from the Polish Affairs circle), 18 MPs (from the Left and the Confederation) abstained. At the subsequent stages of legislative work, until the act is signed by the president, there are no traces of major polemics in the transcripts. The Senate wanted to remove the amendment, but the Sejm did not agree to this change.

Based on Article 90x, amendment by Minister Przemysław Czarnek on August 22, 2022 he informed on the establishment of the investment program “Development of the infrastructural potential of entities supporting the education and upbringing system”.

Announcement of the Minister of Education and Science on the establishment of an investment program, which turned out to be a villa plus gov.pl

Szumilas: “We thought then that the minister, together with PiS deputies, would travel around Poland and hand over checks for repairs”

– At the stage of work on the act that enabled the minister to introduce such funds, we were not informed about the villa plus program – says Konkret24 Krystyna Szumilas from KO, former minister of education. He reminds that during the work of the parliamentary committee, together with Katarzyna Lubnauer, they protested against these provisions. – We suspected that they would be used for propaganda purposes. But we couldn’t imagine that it would be such a shady program, the main goal of which would be to buy a villa for PLN 5 million – says Szumilas. And adds:

At that time, we thought that the minister, together with PiS deputies, would travel around Poland and hand over checks for renovations or purchase of equipment to organizations that run schools or organize activities for students, which are friends of PiS.

The MP points out that this example shows the way the ruling party works: important amendments are only added during the legislative process in the parliament. – They also want to talk about controversial regulations as briefly as possible, so that the truth does not reach the public opinion. This is a contradiction of parliamentarism – sums up Szumilas.

From the statements of opposition politicians, both during the Sejm sessions in the spring of 2022 and recent ones, a picture emerges of the chaos of work on the regulations that opened the way to the villa plus case.

Author:Krzysztof Jablonowski

Main photo source: Shutterstock/sejm.gov.pl

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