Political Memory Loss

Opinion | Vienna Review | June 2012

Corruption is an illness whose symptoms are severe. Most notably, it seems, dramatic memory loss. Why else would the witnesses at the parliamentary enquiry to be completely unable to recall their actions? This seem endemic when it involves money.

Now, it seems, the words "I cannot remember", may finally have consequences: the loss of driver’s licences. At least, if Social Democratic MP Ruth Becher has her way.

But where did this all begin?

In Austria, a parliamentary enquiry is not legally a court case. After all, MPs do the questioning – not judges or lawyers – and the outcome is not a legal sanction but a report on political responsibility. Hence, those who are called to testify are informants, not witnesses. Nevertheless, their response should be truthful.

If the questions relate to a pending court case, however, the person can refuse to answer. So, how do we judge the response "I cannot remember" – like former Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, the lobbyists Peter Hochegger or Walter Meischberger – to in-depth questions about a legal transaction worth millions of euros?

Concerned for their mental health, Becker addressed the Minister of Transport, Doris Bures, with a set of queries: If such luminaries have no recollections of such expensive legal transactions, they surely also pose a security hazard on the highway as "one cannot rule out, that they suddenly forget traffic regulations."

The individuals should be given a special medical examination, she suggested, to confirm their ability to drive, or else lose their licences.

Comic as this is, Becher has raised a serious point, though with inadequate political tools. Unfortunately irony and embarassment seem to be only ones an Austrian MP has at her disposal. Her only consolation is that Grasser, Hochegger and Meischbeerger may indeed lose their licences. Not necessarily what we might hope for, though, from a parliamentary enquiry.

- MW

Other articles from this issue