TOMÁŠ Malatinský has been forced to start his ministerial career with a confession. The economy minister, handpicked by the ruling Smer party as a non-partisan nominee, has admitted that he has been renting a house in Záhorská Bystrica, an up-market suburb of Bratislava, to Jaroslav Haščák, a co-owner of the Penta financial group, for several years. The minister said he does not intend to terminate the lease, which brings him a monthly rental payment of €4,000, claiming that Penta will not influence him.

“I do not intend to annul that contract because I think that it is advantageous for me and I do not think that I would sell, let’s say, Bratislava Castle to Mr Haščák because he has a contract with me,” Malatinský said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, on April 10.

Malatinský said he had telephoned Haščák, whose name features heavily in the so-called Gorilla file, an unverified intelligence file purporting to describe high-level political corruption in 2005-6 which has caused political turmoil since the end of last year, to ask him for permission to talk about the lease after journalists started inquiring about it, SITA wrote.

Haščák did not object since the rental deal has been valid for seven years, according to SITA.

Malatinský, who previously served as chairman of the Federation of Employers’ Associations (AZZZ) made the statement only after the Sme daily reported on April 7 that he knows Haščák personally and owns an unfinished house in a luxury residential complex in Bratislava where a number of Penta employees also live.

Prime Minister Robert Fico told Sme.tv, the daily’s online broadcast arm, that when searching for a minister Smer wanted to find a person who represented employers and that “Mr Malatinský, who is a businessman, has his business activities”. Fico also said that when Malatinský led the AZZZ the media did not raise any objections. Fico said that unless Malatinský has been doing something unethical and illegal, it is natural that he has been engaged in business. Fico, according to Sme, does not intend to seek an explanation from his minister about what contacts he has with Penta.

Malatinský told the press that he is not in regular contact with Haščák or other Penta representatives.

“I have been connected to Penta via our common activities in Elektrovod, which I co-owned for two years while Penta was among its shareholders,” he explained, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that their business cooperation ended in 2003.

Whois Malatinský?

Malatinský, 51, who holds a degree in cartography and geodesy, previously served as chairman of the board of directors of Elektrovod Holding Bratislava from 2000, and in the same year was elected vice president of the board of the Association of Energy Sector Employers and a year later became president. He served as president of the AZZZ from 2008.

Representatives of other business lobby groups supported Malatinský’s appointment to the post of economy minister and said they expected him to contribute to the improvement of the business environment, something they want the government to include in its programme, SITA reported.

“The business environment over the past six years has, for different reasons, gradually declined and continues to decline, so the key task is to stop this decline,” said AZZZ vice president Rastislav Machunka.

While the government of Robert Fico plans to change the Labour Code, which was revised by the government of Iveta Radičová only last year in the face of strong criticism from trade unions, Malatinský will probably not seek to reverse the 2011 changes. He admitted that if the code is reopened he will instead represent the interests of employers.

“I come from an environment which is not political and in the debate over the Labour Code I will defend more or less the opinions of employers,” Malatinský said, as quoted by SITA.

Malatinský said that among his priorities is the adoption of the third energy package, which Slovakia needs to pass in order to avoid penalties from the EU. He added that he plans to focus on Slovakia’s energy policies and a re-evaluation of price regulation.