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It takes a villageEDITORIAL
7 Oct 2013 Beata Balogová Opinion
STATE jobs for friends and family is one of the eternal maladies of Slovakia’s political scene. Whenever governments change, a reshuffling wave crashes through most state institutions, washing out the previous management and putting new or new-again people onto the taxpayer funded payroll. Post-election reshuffles can affect employees at all levels with many left posing questions like: Why does the political orientation of the chauffeur matter?
Agriculture Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek asked a different question when the Sme daily broke a story about his hiring six people for high-level Agriculture Ministry positions, all of whom are either relatives of his, or current or former inhabitants of his native village Komjatice: “When the natives are smart, why should they be disqualified?”
What follows is one of the oldest stories in Slovakia’s state administration. There were purportedly competitions announcing these jobs, but alas just a single competitor turned up for the competition, which itself was announced exclusively through the internal information system of the ministry, inaccessible to the wider public.
A revision to the law on civil service passed by Jahnátek’s own Smer party back in 2009 which allows some administrative hires to be made internally makes this procedure technically legal. But legalities aside, even common sense dictates that publishing tender calls and job announcements in places not accessible to the public is certainly not among the best practices in state administration. The incident recalls the notorious notice board tender, one of Slovakia’s nepotism classics, when a ministry managed by Smer’s then ruling coalition partner the Slovak National Party (SNS), posted the call for a lavish tender by tacking a piece of paper to a bulletin board in a hallway which was not accessible to the public.
Jahnátek fails to understand that even if the entire population of Komjatice is uniquely comprised of highly skilled civil servants, it does not make the way they were hired to work for the ministry ethical. Unless they were picked from a pool of at least three or four other skilled candidates, how would he know they are actually the best?
The agriculture minister also argued in an interview with Sme that “nobody is building a management without having people there whom the manager can trust. I guarantee you that this is exactly why these people are at my ministry, because I am 100 percent sure that they are impossible to bribe. I simply have 100 percent trust.”
If Jahnátek happened to run a private farm where he invested his own money, and if he picked the wrong people, it would not cost the taxpayers a single dime. In this case who he hires really would be his own business. If he wanted to put his mother-in-law or his wife’s second cousin in charge of the coffers, fine. The press certainly wouldn’t be sniffing around if the person who is milking a cow was not picked via a village-wide tender. But Jahnátek runs a nation-wide ministry where, for example, the person who handles European Union funding comes from Komjatice and was the only candidate for the job.
Jahnátek is following the natural instinct of the powerful in Slovakia when caught in the midst of some questionable act, by suggesting that a grand conspiracy is behind the series of critical stories. He alleged that Sme had knowingly participated in “a discrediting campaign” orchestrated by retail chains angered by his ministry’s policies.
Let’s humour Jahnátek for a moment and imagine that the retail chains made an immense effort to track down his buddies at the ministry and then alert the media. It still does not alter the merits of the case: that he hired several high-level managers at the ministry without even acknowledging the rules of fair and transparent conduct.
But the minister keeps serving his arguments about Komjatice being a nest of successful people, while insisting there is nothing wrong with hiring them without a proper competition. “Rectors of universities, deans of schools, nuclear energy experts and excellent physicians, artists and acknowledged sportspeople are coming from Komjatice,” Jahnátek told Sme. On second thought, perhaps Jahnátek could have relocated the entire ministry to Komjatice and the state could save some money on rent.
Even as the story is a deep well of inspiration for cartoons and jokes, the reality remains sad. Jahnátek’s ministry is only one of the many, which, because of toothless legislation, can boldly avoid announcing proper public competitions for state jobs. When it comes to getting high-level government jobs it is still better to be someone’s cousin than the best expert in the field.
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