The long arm of the law has finally swept up Polish government and party officials who have been leading the good life and pocketing all sorts of illegal privileges.
Corruption within Polish officialdom and abuse of power are sensitive issues in a country where workers are asked to make increasing sacrifices because of a troubled economy.
In a construction scandal uncovered after the fall of the Gierek regime last fall, government and Communist Party officials by the hundreds have been ordered to pay up for their luxury villas and summer dachas. Scores of them face criminal prosecution, it was disclosed here Feb. 11.
Among more than 1,000 cases investigated by the Supreme Chamber of Control, the parliamentary watchdog body vested with authority to monitor public affairs and finances for corruption and abuse of office, 450 offenders have been fined and ordered to pay the full costs for unauthorized construction -- and heavy taxes.
Another 200 officials have been subjected to disciplinary action, including sacking, and 63 cases have been handed over to the courts.
The authorized private construction -- and the former regime's tolerance of it -- caused deep treatment. It was one of the sources of the public discontent that erupted into the open once the industrial unrest had started last summer.
For years it had been public knowledge that officials were using their positions to secure both land and building materials illegally and, contrary to building regulations, to provide themselves with homes of a style obviously beyond even their higher incomes. Many were ostentatious and extravagant.
Some officials were able to "fiddle" housing materials in chronic short supply at cut rates -- even half price. In many instances, they totally disregarded environmental and other planning regulations to build their villas and summer houses in choice rural (and remote) spots set aside for public recreation. Yet no official action was taken.
And year after year the government admitted a chronic shortfall in housing and home-building plans. The waiting time for a young couple to obtain the most modest home of their own was often eight years and could be even longer. Older folks waited just as long to move out of badly run down housing that was put up in an emergency building program in the early years after World War II.
Through the last decade, the housing shortfall is estimated at more than 1 million units. Only 60.7 percent of last year's building plan was achieved.
Andrzej Zabinski, a Politburo member newly appointed party leader for the Silesian mining capital of Katowice, said the City's building program was 200, 000 units behind schedule at the end of last year.
Few things have caused more public outrage than the preferences some officials could command. These included permit priorities for a car and getting ahead on the waiting list for housing -- often using hard currency -- building themselves homes largely at public expense and on a scale the ordinary citizen dared not even dream of.
One of the first commitments undertaken by the new leadership that took over in September was to clean up a scandal that it realized had done more than anything else to anger the public and destroy the Communist Party's credibility and its pblic image.
The Supreme Chamber of Control is headed by Mieczyslaw Moczar, a veteran Polish Communist leader who suffered political eclipse at the start of the 1970s (under the Gierek regime) but was reelected to the Politburo last fall as one of the closest aides of the new first secretary, Stanislaw Kania. Mr. Moczar said at the time there were many in the Communist Party who had "no moral right" to take part in the effort to "renew" it.
Since then more than 2,000 members of the apparatus have purged, either for moral impropriety or because they were adherents of the Gierek regime opposed to recent developments, particularly the new independent unions.
One of the first to be removed was the chairman of the government's radio and television committee, Maciej Szczepanski, whose dismissal released a spectacular story of alleged misuse of public funds and office to create a life style like something out of the Arabian Nights. Criminal proceedings against him are still pending.
There have been numerous disclosures of officials having "fixed" preferential treatment for themselves in bank loans, tax avoidance, or arrangements with state construction companies for materials and work.
In three months, Mr. Moczar's office received no fewer than 2,400 formal complaints. By Jan. 20, the newspaper Zolnierz Wolnosci said, irregularities were established in some 600 to 700 cases. They included not only the improper acquisition of land and materials, but also speculative dealing in dwellings fraudulently obtained through state agencies, often through middlemen filling their own pockets in the process. In some localities, it was said, 30 to 50 percent of new housing did not comply with the bylaws.
In addition to the crackdown on racketeering, strict controls are being imposed on all construction enterprises. They are now forbidden to undertake any private contracts without full legal authorization.