Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico gave the country's tabloids some serious competition when he showed journalists a private video featuring an executive of the Association of Pension Administration Companies dressed in women's clothes and singing an old Czech pop song.
The song was "Sweet Temptation," still popular in Slovakia, but it included the modified phrase, "Sweet temptation of higher pensions." Fico, with much pathos, promptly interpreted the video shot at a private company event: the guy in the women's clothes, Jozef Paška, is in fact making fun of the clients of the companies, he said.
The video undoubtedly shows the attitude of these funds towards their clients who opted for saving their old-age pension through private funds, Fico added for anyone who still doubted that the video revealed information of strategic importance.
In fact, this was the prime minister's way of dealing with the suspicions around his labour minister, Viera Tomanová, whose ministry approved a grant to a non-governmental centre where Tomanová worked before becoming a minister. Moreover, the private social services centre, Privilégium, owes several million crowns in payroll taxes.
Fico said the private pension administration companies corrupted journalists by treating them to a ski trip in the Alps, and now in return the media is attacking the labour minister, who is pushing for legislation inconvenient for the pension companies.
In a world where ministers of leftist parties are as pure as lilies of the valley and journalists are crooks serving the greedy capitalists, Fico's political thriller would impress.
Some wondered how Fico obtained the video from the private business function for Allianz - Slovenská Dôchodková Správcovská Spoločnosť, which is certainly not an official company gimmick freely available on their website. The question is also whether Fico had a legitimate reason to reveal the video, which probably proves only one thing: someone likes to entertain his employees in a rather annoying way.
Slovakia has a well-established tradition of its prime ministers releasing mysteriously-obtained documents that reveal the hostile intentions of the ruling party's opponents.
"I just found it on my table," was a running joke about former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, who regularly came up with recordings and documents of dubious origin. Journalists suspected that the former prime minister used the country's intelligence service to obtain the material for his crucial revelations.
Three days after Fico revealed the video, the state-run TASR news agency supplied media with another "amusement" in the form of an official release from the prime minister's office. The statement appeared on the TASR paid service on August 8.
"The prime minister considers it to be absolutely annoying the way some media try to gain information about him at any price," reads the official statement. "It is annoying and disgusting if journalists are sneaking in the wet grass like slimy snakes, as repeatedly happened today in the early hours, while trying to take a picture of the prime minister skating in public while hiding from no one, but they (journalists) behave as though they are taking a picture of someone who has been committing a serious crime during the night."
It really seems that the prime minister is losing his grip with the media. However, one might wonder why Fico reached for methods that tabloids use when defending his labour minister.
Fico, in fact, also revealed data about the salaries of executives of private pension fund management companies, while warning that these companies produced losses and that their clients might see their money gone if they do not quit the private pension saving system.
The way Fico handled the "revelation" press conference had other notable moments, too.
"Do you know that the losses (of private pension administration companies) that you just presented here on the board do not have anything to do with the money that people deposit to these funds?" a business reporter from the Sme daily asked the prime minister at an August 7 press conference.
"Pension administration companies are in a Sk2 billion loss, that is the answer to your question," Fico responded.
"It is a wrong answer, Mr. Prime Minister, because if you had read the law, you would know that the economic performance of pension administration companies is very strictly separated from the mutual funds, which is the pension funds," the journalist replied.
"Pension administration companies are in a Sk2 billion loss. That is the answer," Fico repeated.
"Can I draw the conclusion that you do not have the knowledge, that you do not have the basic knowledge of the law?" the journalist asked.
"I respond once again - the loss is Sk2 billion. And please, if you could, restrain from lecturing me about the law that was a subject of a regular analysis by the Slovak Cabinet," Fico concluded.
Bad luck for the prime minister - the National Bank of Slovakia promptly confirmed that the journalist was right and that the pension administration companies are safe because their losses do not endanger their clients' savings.
Unfortunately, most of the prime minister's sympathizers who consider Fico the country's most trustworthy politician will watch the video and read Fico's statements about the "slimy snakes sneaking in the wet grass" rather than hearing the professional debate or the lack of it.
By Beata Balogová
13. Aug 2007 at 0:00