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Interview with Presidential Candidate Vesna Škare Ožbolt

vrijeme Četvrtak 24. Prosinac 2009.  izvor Izvor: Croatia Business Report  kategorija Kategorija: Intervjui  Bookmark and Share
Interview with Presidential Candidate Vesna Škare Ožbolt

“I am a fan of transparency - that is how to explain myself.”

Vesna Škare Ožbolt is a familiar face on the Croatian political scene. She was an adviser to President Franjo Tudjman for a number of years and handled the negotiations over the reintegration of Eastern Slavonia into Croatia, its having been occupied by Serb forces. She won a seat in the Sabor for the Democratic Centre and was Minister of Justice in Ivo Sanader’s cabinet. She is now running for President, in the elections due to be held on 27 December. In our interview, she tells us why she is running, her views on Prime Minister Kosor and the EU. Of particular importance to investors are her views on transparency and corruption in public life.

Why are you running?

Because I have been in politics for 20 years. I was an adviser to the first President [Tudjman] for ten years. I led the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia – and I succeeded. That was one of the very rare UN missions that succeeded in the world, that was my first big political result.

The first ten years, as adviser, deputy chief of staff and negotiator with rebel Serbs, I resolved foreign policy, interior policy and relations between Croats and Serbs - which is very important. I know how to run state policy.

After 2000 I was an MP and minister of justice, starting serious reforms. I put the land register on the Internet, so I did the computerisation of land registers. I started serious reforms – and I was replaced because of that, in 2006. I wanted serious reforms not cosmetic ones. But it was too dangerous for my colleagues in the government and so I was replaced.

Now I am a lawyer, with my own private practice. I feel I can do things in politics because of what I have achieved already and the results I had, compared with the other candidates who do not have such experience – practical experience, practical results.

If you won, how would you deal with corruption, what would you do?

I would continue with my reforms. I am a reformer. All my energy I want to put into reforms in Croatia. I don’t want to be just President for protocols. I really want serious reforms.

I have the possilbity to do that, some will say that is limited as the Presidency does not have the same authority as the first president [the first President then having more power]. According to our constitution the President still has power to push up reforms.

My duty will be to push up reform. My strength and power for that I will take from the directly elected position – the citizens directly elect the president. I know what to do, and how to do that.

Connected to that, my readers are business people, and their main concern is not so much corruption but bureaucracy.

It s not enough to open court cases to discover corruption, but how to prevent it. It is even easier to discover corruption than to create a system where corruption cannot exist anymore.

I was pushing very much for a transparency law in this country. Unfortunately I did not succeed in that in the time when I was a minister and an MP because there was no political will to pass in parliament a transparency law.

What does such a transparency law mean? That is an obligation for all institutions - from the top to the local ones - living on a budget, to make public their finances. It is important for people to know how much some contracts cost, the procedure etc. It is should be public, on the Internet - visible to every citizen. It was too strong for the mentality of some politicians here - but I will continue with, and not stop, until we get a transparency law.

I think it is very important for public tenders, its very important for investors- not only for foreign investors but also domestic ones also who want to participate on some public tenders. It is now not possible because everything is under the carpet. Nothing is visible. Nothing is transparent enough.

I am a fan of transparency - that is how to explain myself. I passed through a difficult time due to my efforts to create transparency everywhere. But I can’t give up on that.

How will you attract investment to the country?

With transparency. First, we must resolve the problem of reforms. We must finish justice reforms. Administrative reforms – where investors do not wait a year for licences but get them immediately - and court procedures should be shorter. We must give guarantees to investors that their money will be protected here.

I learnt that from my time at the ministry. I know how important that is for foreign investors. They should be assured that their money will not be lost in bureaucracy, corruption or in stupid things that happen here every day.

If you do win, how will you work with the government, with [Prime Minister] Kosor?

Good – I think she took a pretty hot potato form the former Prime Minster and she did that well. She calmed down the frustrations in the nation, but she must now show leadership. She must shown energy and strong will for reforms – without compromise. Now everything is very calm, but people are not satisfied with such a big crisis here in Croatia.

Other countries are leaving the crisis, but in this country we are not., we are deeper in crisis than a few months ago. Every day 500 people are losing their job. So it is a very dramatic situation. She must show leadership. And she must show reforms and an even stronger fight against corruption. She must show to develop the economy, how to open new jobs. That is now her second role.

Two women in power would create good synergy. Croatia is a very conservative country. Before people would say ‘no way’ to a woman in the top position. Now it is a completely different. When I started in politics, I was the only woman advisor to the late President. Sometimes he was in shock from me, because I told him what I thought. I stayed ten years. He was a very conservative man – and he survived with my advice. Now the situation has changed, and Croats are more and more aware that a woman can lead the country.

What are your thoughts on the EU, in particular all the recent problems?

I have a little bit of a different view from my colleagues in politics, the other presidential candidates. I think we have lost a lot of time. We did not finish our reforms. When I was a minister in 2003 we started reforms. It is 2009 and we still have not finished them. I don’t want to be pushed or rushed into the European Union, because without reforms I don’t know what we are going to do in the EU.

My theory is that we should enter the EU when we are ready – we are still not ready. I am very honest. I want substance, not only form. Everybody will say to you, yes, we want the EU. But what is the substance of that? We have not reformed agriculture, we heave not resolved the problems of shipyards. We heave not touched the reform of state administration. Of course we have not finished justice reforms. That is the crucial thing for me.

Aren’t there countries already in the EU that are in a worse sate than Croatia?

Yes, but what is there substance now? There is no substance. I want to really create a good life here in Croatia. I want EU standards but not because of EU, but for Croatia. I am very much oriented on the EU, but I want substance here first.

I am not an Euro-sceptic, but I insist on substance. If we are only one star in EU, without reforms, than what is the benefit of that?

But when you say ‘reforms’ here, everybody runs away.

How are people on the streets responding to your message?

Good, very good. My campaign is orientated on direct contact with the people.


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