PiS is preparing a ‘mace for the opposition’. The Act on the verification commission has been voted through
Despite losing the vote in the Sejm committee, PiS is pushing for the appointment of a verification commission regarding Russian influence. According to the opposition, this is an attempt to set up a kangaroo court before the elections.
by Paweł Wroński
The article was originally published in Polish at Gazeta Wyborcza on the 14th of December 2022.
PiS voted through a bill on Wednesday evening with the help of the Polskie Sprawy [English: Polish Affairs] circle and independent MPs, to appoint a verification commission to investigate Russian influence. 232 MPs voted in favour of the Act (or more precisely: against its rejection recommended by the internal affairs and administration committee), 217 voted against the Act (in favour of its rejection) and two abstained.
While presenting the position of the interior affairs and administration committee at the session of the Sejm, Left-party MP Jan Szopinski described the verification commission as a ‘mace for the opposition’. He reiterated that, instead of a verification commission, opposition politicians had proposed an investigative commission, which would have parities of the parliamentary groups. The verification commission could be entirely dependent on the parliamentary majority. Additionally, officials of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery who cooperate with it would have the right to review its documents.
The draft for such a commission, which would be based at the prime minister’s chancellery, was submitted by PiS. It would consist of nine members appointed and dismissed by the Sejm. The commission would include people from outside parliament. It is intended that the commission would investigate and describe Russian influence both on the activities of public officials, as well as senior executives of state-owned companies and others. The commission will also have the right to overturn administrative decisions made to the detriment of Poland’s interests as a result of Russian influence, as well as to apply sanctions to people who, in the commission’s opinion, made those decisions (among other things, the commission would be able to deprive them of the right to hold public office for ten years).
Importantly, the commission would be entitled to gain access to the materials of the State services, which, as the opposition MPs suggest, opens up opportunities for benefitting from wiretaps and so-called small crown witnesses.
Verification commission like a court
According to legal opinions presented at the meeting of the interior affairs and administration committee, the bill breaches the constitution and the legal order of the Republic of Poland – among other things because the commission will perform the function of a court. According to opposition MPs, this is a tool for PiS to eliminate political opponents.
Surprisingly, during the committee meeting, the opposition won the vote by 20 votes to 17. However, PiS will manage to push through its idea at the same session of the Sejm.
MP Piotr Kaleta (PiS), who had previously claimed that the appointment of the committee was an absolute necessity because it was an opportunity to purge the country of ‘weed agents and various types of creature’, accused opposition MPs in the Sejm of having trouble with logical thinking. Because if they accuse PiS of favouring Russia, they should be interested in the establishment of such a commission.
Commission yes, but on different terms
MP Szopinski assessed that, in the opinion of the interior affairs committee, the establishment of a commission on PiS’s terms is another element of the witch-hunt organised by that party. According to Szopinski, first, it was the LGBT community, then teachers, doctors and then in vitro children. ‘Now everyone except Nowogrodzka will be an agent,’ he stated.
He reiterated that the authors of the law which was supposed to investigate Russian influence in the Polish energy sector forgot to include the term ‘energy sector’.
PSL MP Dariusz Klimczak pointed out that the commission is supposed to be an element of PiS’s election campaign, while PO MP Marcin Kierwiński announced that such a commission would be established. ‘However, it will be a commission holding an inquiry to clarify PiS’s role,’ he said.
He recalled that, even during the war in Ukraine, PiS’s representatives met with right-wing parties who are Putin’s representatives in Europe, while Lotos was sold to companies collaborating with Russia.
Even before the vote, some opposition MPs suggested that it would be very difficult for the prime minister to discuss the opposition’s support for a compromise with Brussels (and this is necessary because of Solidarna Polska’s opposition) and simultaneously push through an Act giving the ruling party a tool for attacking the opposition.