Speaker Marek Kuchciński makes a public statement on allegations that he undertook inappropriate travel with his family at the state’s expense.
Following media reports of how Marek Kuchciński, Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, took his family on board for flights back to his constituency, the Speaker has paid 15,000 PLN to the Church “Caritas” charity.
On Monday the Speaker countered his critics arguing that he has been very active abroad and in Poland, away from the site of the Parliament in Warsaw. He argued that he has the right to use HEAD flights (flights of top state officials -Ed.) in accordance with existing regulations which are set by the security services and not by the Speaker himself. He also argued that the list of passengers is at the discretion of the organizers of the flight.
During the whole term of office as Speaker, there were 23 flights in which the Speaker’s family participated. It is to compensate for those flights that the Speaker has paid in the PLN 15,000 (EUR 3,478) to Caritas. However, he also admitted that in one instance his wife was on board a military plane from Rzeszów, south-east Poland, to Warsaw on her own, as he had been dropped off at another destination.
He said he understood public consternation at any suggestions of abuse and this is why, despite the fact that the flight on which his wife was on board, was one that would have had to take place anyway, as the plane had to fly back to Warsaw from Rzeszów, he was going to pay PLN 28,000 (EUR 6,490) to an army fund to cover the costs of that flight.
There has been media speculation in advance of the Speaker’s statement that he might be persuaded to resign in order to spare his party, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), having to go through an uncomfortable defence of him in a Parliamentary vote of no confidence. But this statement is unlikely to end the controversy, as the allegations against Speaker Kuchciński concerned not only family flights, but also the fact that he so frequently visited his constituency using official travel.
The opposition has put down a vote of no confidence in the Speaker which is to be debated on Tuesday. In Poland, the Speaker of Parliament usually comes from the ruling party and is not considered to be an impartial figure, like the British Speaker. In the event of the death or incapacitation of the elected President, the Speaker is next in line to serve as Head of State until elections for President are held.
The ruling party is having an uncomfortable time over the Speaker’ travels. Clearly, on the back foot, it has decided to tough it out. Obviously, the view that for the Speaker to resign would be an admission of guilt prevailed. An admission that could not do the ruling party much good.
The Speaker’s defence that he has not broken any laws, is not being contested. What is being questioned, is whether he should have been going backwards and forwards to his constituency using HEAD flights, rather than free tickets available to him on scheduled domestic flights.
It is true that other state dignitaries in the past have also had their families on board HEAD flights. But this too was criticised by the media, though no one resigned over it nor paid money to charity to placate public opinion. But the ruling party had, when in opposition, always argued that state officials should be beyond reproach.
It is also the case that President Andrzej Duda recently paid out of his own pocket for his daughter to join him during his state visit to the USA. She went on a scheduled flight with accommodation paid for by her parents. So when some of the media pounced to question the costs of her trip to the USA, he was able to counter them without having to placate public opinion with payments to charities.