Government re-opens expropriation

Construction minister proposes new law on expropriating land.

The construction Ministry has put forward an act that could make it easier for the government to expropriate land it deems necessary for public projects.

The proposed Act on Preparing Strategic Construction follows on the heels of the Transport Ministry's Act on Accelerating the Construction of Motorways. It revives issues about land expropriation and construction that did not go through the public comment process at the Transport Ministry.

Construction Minister Marián Janušek of the Slovak National Party (SNS) wants to push through rules that would let the government decide which projects could be deemed strategic construction projects, and thus require expropriation, without having to prove a public interest in Construction Bureau proceedings.

"This is such a complicated issue that we have to do something about it," Janušek said. "We think that what we are doing is right."

He said a citizen's right to protection would not be affected by the law.

"As soon as the matter is decided upon, a citizen can appeal it to a court," Janušek added.

But the courts would not have the power to overturn a decision in favour of expropriation with a "preliminary ruling".

According to Richard D r u t a r o v s k ý from the For a Just Expropriation NGO, this abolishes an effective tool for protecting the rights of the expropriated land owners against the decisions of the Construction Bureau.

Under the bill, "strategic construction" could be defined as any project that the government finds crucial to serve public needs. So the government might have the power to decide on the expropriation of anyone's property based on the considerations of cabinet members, and without any clear criteria, D r u t a r o v s k ý said.

The law would also introduce a mass expropriation action. With one decision, several strategic lots could be expropriated at one time.

Public not consulted on bill

The public did not have the opportunity to discuss and comment on the bill. It was passed through discussions in the ministerial group.

"As all the relevant institutions took part in preparing the bill, in compliance with the existing legislation, a discussion between ministries is not necessary," Construction Ministry spokesman Miroslav Bátovský said.

Lawyer Tomáš Kamenec thinks the bill is missing the option for revising the government's decision.

"Even though the legitimacy of the government cannot be contested completely, the decision should be subject to a court's control and court's oversight," Kamenec said.

According to Ernest Valko, a lawyer and former judge of the Constitutional Court, the bill creates two categories of citizens - one of which will be expropriated under the proposed law.

"This begs the question of whether this inequality is constitutionally permissible," he said.

Another controversial part of the bill involves the way of informing citizens about plans to build strategic constructions on their properties.

Citizens' participation in the zoning proceedings is very important, because if they do not announce their objections during these proceedings, the Construction Bureau will not recognise them during the expropriation, under the proposed law.

According to Kamenec, this is a common requirement in Slovak law. Therefore, there needs to be an effective way of informing land owners. Notifying them via a notice board at the municipal office, as outlined in the law, is currently not sufficient, he said.

The bill does not require investors to provide a list of the lots they intend to use in zoning proceedings. They do not have to present a list of their owners, either.

"This is not a very fortunate step," Kamenec said.

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