THE MINISTRY of Defense continues to pay private companies millions of crowns a year to maintain production facilities to serve the country in times of crisis.
According to the aktualne.sk news server, arms firms ZVS Dubnica (Sk30.6 million annually) and ZTS Špeciál (Sk5 million) take the lion's share of the money, while clothing firm Makyta gets Sk3 million a year, and other companies a total of Sk6 million. Together, over Sk50 million a year is spent on this purpose, although if the firms proved incapable of making weapons, ammunition or clothes in a crisis, they could only be fined Sk1 million, according to the Act on Economic Mobilization.
The principal questions to be asked here are whether the machines on these production lines are still functional (the arms firms in question are the remnants of former communist military factories), and whether they could still produce weapons or ammunition that could be used by the modern Slovak army.
Asked for answers on these and other questions, Defense Ministry spokesman Vladimír Gemela initially said that "all questions regarding economic mobilization fall under the jurisdiction of the Act on Classified Information, which is why it is not possible to answer them."
In fact, only the national crisis plan is classified, not how the ministry uses public money in peacetime.
The economic mobilization system has been used by every government since 1989 to keep the country in a state of vigilant readiness, and possibly also to reward friends and followers in the private sector. Defense Minister František Kašický has made a strong start to cleaning up the corrupt mss left principally by former Minister Juraj Liška (SDKÚ), and there is no reason to suspect he will not put his house in order here as well.
And yet it was with unease that we noticed Prime Minister Robert Fico on October 18 promising to support Slovakia's weapons industry. "The whole world deals in weapons, so I don't see any reason why Slovakia shouldn't try to return to the market," he said.
The reason this statement is disquieting is that the arms lobby already has strong representation in state bodies under this government. Former arms trader Ľubomír G. is the new head of counter-intelligence at the secret service. Arms industry player František Blanárik is head of the National Security Bureau (NBÚ). His new deputy at the NBÚ is Jozef Mesároš, who until October was the managing director of the Bepro arms firm. Mesároš' place in Bepro was taken by Vojtech Lampert, head of the Defense Industry Association and, until 2004, a member of the boards of the same ZTS and ZVS firms enjoying the largesse of the economic mobilization program. According to the Sme daily, Mesároš is Lampert's brother-in-law.
It would be impertinent to suggest that this arms-friendly government wouldn't have stopped the economic mobilization program if it had not been embarrassed by a news report. But we feel obliged to point out that the Defense Ministry, specifically the Investments and Acquisitions Bureau (ÚIA), remains a cesspool of graft. Whether the Fico government cleans up the arms trade at the same time as boosting it, or whether the old guard is merely booted out to make way for the new, will say much about this cabinet's sincerity in fighting corruption.
By Tom Nicholson