Tusk Vows Family Spending, Graft Fight in New Start for Poland

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pledged to channel money to families and weed out corruption within his ruling party in a bid for a third term in 2015.

Poland has the chance to make “a great leap” thanks to 107 billion euros ($144 billion) it is to receive from the European Union budget in 2014-2020, Tusk said today in a speech to Civic Platform’s party congress in Warsaw. The funds will go above all to ordinary Poles and small businesses, creating new jobs and boosting wages in a country where unemployment stands at 13 percent, he said.

Tusk, who in 2007 became the first Polish premier to win re-election since the fall of communism, is seeking to bolster his party’s standing as it has fallen behind the opposition in the opinion polls. After announcing the replacement of seven ministers on Nov. 20, he pledged the government will make “a fresh start” as the economy emerges from its deepest slowdown in more than a decade.

“The bottom line to our new opening is how money’s supposed to work for the family,” Tusk told party delegates. “As we end a period of gigantic reconstruction projects, investing in infrastructure such as highway and roads, we want the billions that went into building those foundations to start working for Poles.”

Most Competitive

The goal is to turn Poland into Europe’s most competitive economy with the next six to seven years by redirecting money to startup businesses that create jobs, Tusk said.

“We’re going to take careful, thought-out steps to make sure we’re not destroying jobs while providing secure wages,” the prime minister said.

Research and development funds will be channeled through companies rather than research institutions to make sure they bring commercial benefits, Regional Affairs Minister Elzbieta Bienkowska, whom Tusk nominated to become deputy prime minister and add transport and infrastructure to her responsibilities, told the delegates. She and the other new ministers will be sworn in on Nov. 27.

Economic growth may pick up next year to 3 percent, matching yesterday’s forecast by incoming Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek, Tusk said. The 2014 budget assumes the expansion will accelerate to 2.5 percent from an estimated 1.5 percent this year.

Szczurek, a 38-year-old ING Groep NV economist, said the country needs a new tax code to “make life less onerous for taxpayers.” The rewritten code may take more than two years to prepare and will require support from lawmakers and President Bronislaw Komorowski, Szczurek said.

Power Abuse

Tusk opened his speech by warning that Civic Platform won’t stay in power unless its leaders show “integrity.”

Abuses of power won’t be overlooked and corruption will be rooted out with special emphasis on those in the party who may think they have “special privileges,” the prime minister said.

Civic Platform has been beset by allegations of vote-buying at a regional convention last month and a probe of alleged bribe-taking in procurement contracts valued at more than $484 million, according to estimates by Warsaw prosecutors.

Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak resigned this month after prosecutors opened an investigation into whether he failed to disclose an expensive watch in a mandatory property declaration for senior officials.

Poll Drop

The scandal erupted as Civic Platform continued to founder in the polls. Support for Law & Justice rose to 31 percent from 30 percent last month, while the ruling party’s backing fell to 22 percent from 25 percent, the PAP news service reported, citing a Nov. 8-15 survey of 965 Poles by the polling company TNS Polska. No margin of error was given.

“What we have in Poland could be called a state of poverty, and its founding father is Donald Tusk,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, party leader of Law & Justice, said in a speech before Tusk spoke today.

Even the best-intended programs can be squandered by “fixes, corruption and the old-boy network,” Kaczynski said, while about a million Poles work for 5 zloty ($1.62) an hour.

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