Government’s Excavator in Your Backyard

It is good that the debate on the expropriation with concerns about a possible reduction in the protection of property has been revived once again. The same scenario took place a few years ago when the first Robert Fico’s administration tried to speed up the construction of highways. The highway construction was made more important than the protection of private property, while any criticism of this concept was rejected as irrelevant.

As a result, a complaint was filed to the Constitutional Court, which concluded that certain provisions in the law on special measures for the preparation of the construction of buildings, highways and roads are in conflict with the constitution. Furthermore, another consequence of the decision to speed up the process of construction of highways was that 1,380 owners suffered. To put it as simply as possible, one day the government installed its excavators on the owners’ private land properties against their will. There are many factors that make investment projects, whether public or private, really difficult. One of the factors is the fragmentation of land ownership in our country, which is the result of a previous historical development. Another factor that might complicate investment projects is speculative buying of land and subsequent price extortion of the investor. Nothing, however, entitles the state to lower the overall level of protection of private property due to these complications.

There are many good reasons to protect private property. The most essential one is that private property is crucial to the economic prosperity. Moreover, the protection of property rights is one of the most important principles that are respected by successful countries. On the contrary, disrespecting and disregarding this principle will surely lead a country to destruction. This scenario could have been seen in our country during the1948-1989 period. In addition, the expropriation is accompanied by such terms as “public interest” or “significant investment”, which do not have a clear meaning. The government has power over parliament, therefore, it can change these terms in any way it wants. As we have experienced many times, these terms really are changed. We live in a country where the government changes the law as often as one changes shoes.

Therefore, a discussion on the expropriation and the protection of private property should be held permanently, and should involve as many people as possible, because this is not only an academic issue. For instance, imagine the government’s excavator in your backyard. It is especially important to remember that with each reduction in the protection of private property rights, the likelihood that one day the government will appear with an excavator in your backyard increases.

Translation: Martina Misutova

Jan Oravec