A Politician’s Income on Public Display

13 11 2007

Photo: Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (left) and Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer at a press conference on October 31, 2007.

On Nov. 10, the debate seemed over. As indicated in my recent blog entry ‘Cash Off as Usual‘, I reported on the unwillingness of either of the large parties, SPÖ or ÖVP to change procedures for a glimpse of transparency, rejecting calls of Austrian MPs to declare their additional sources of income (Nebeneinkünfte) and other political and economic affiliations in the internet. However, in a dramatic U-turn, the Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (Socialdemocrats) declared in a public appeal on Nov. 12 that Socialdemocratic MPs have nothing to hide and would be required to publish their additional sources of income. This is, of course, a voluntary nevertheless welcoming step by Austria’s largest party in a growing polarized public debate.

The announcement comes only hours after the daily Österreich began publishing their own findings in a highly controversial populist campaign and putting individual MPs across the political spectrum on public display with estimates of additional earnings. Wolfgang Fellner, Editor-in-Chief, declared in his commentary, published in free abridged print version of the paper on Nov. 12 (p. 7): “That additional earnings of politicians are public(ly accessible, sic) is already common in all respectable democracies. Every voter has a right to know where his representative cashes in ‘alongside.'”

While the debate is a valuable one, at the same time putting politicians on the spot by name might enhance the pace of the otherwise lame political debate, it nevertheless undermines the belief in a democratic system by portraying politicians as just being in for the money. The media should have a reputation, in my opinion, to lead an unsparing, nevertheless, responsible and fair debate. Not just to maximize its sales by sensationalism.

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