Fico's crusade on investors

OCTOBER was a good month for Prime Minister Robert Fico. Now he is definitely closer to his vision for a more socially-just state.
The fall has brought Fico two laws that he badly desired to make sure that foreign investors do not get a bigger bite of public funds than he thinks they deserve.

OCTOBER was a good month for Prime Minister Robert Fico. Now he is definitely closer to his vision for a more socially-just state.

The fall has brought Fico two laws that he badly desired to make sure that foreign investors do not get a bigger bite of public funds than he thinks they deserve.

He already has the law that bans health insurers from making a profit and he is close to wrapping up a law that will halt the transformation of hospitals into joint-stock companies.

And even with a narrow margin, his ruling coalition soldiers managed to open up the pension system's so-called second pillar, which allows people to save money for their retirement with private pension fund management companies.

Though the reforms initiated by the Mikuláš Dzurinda government have been popular with international organisations, foreign investors and the business community, Fico has made no secret of the fact that he views most of them as the road to profit for a small group of businesses - mostly those where the strings are pulled by foreign hands, of course.

"What is happening now clearly reveals what the health care reform organised by Mr. (Rudolf) Zajac, Mr. Dzurinda and Mr. (Ivan) Mikloš was all about," Fico told Slovak Radio's Saturday Dialogues political talk show shortly after his pet health legislation was dragged through the parliament. "The point was to allow someone, mainly foreign firms, to access public resources and gradually cut off huge profits from these resources."

This explanation is certainly irresistible for Robert Fico's core voter group, and he knows it.

But such statements will definitely not give investors confidence in the business environment, where the rules change in line with the moods of the voters and the colour of the political outfits that state officials wear.

Recent statistics on the investments rushing into Slovakia, published by the Slovak Investment Develop-ment Agency, leave no doubt that investors still find Slovakia attractive. But it would be naive to think that businesses will only view Fico's words slagging the investors as a self-entertaining, theoretical discussion.

And not only foreign investors are taking notice. Slovak businesses have also been less optimistic about the country's economic prospects. Last month, the confidence of businesses and consumers in Slovakia's economy reached its lowest level since the last parliamentary elections in June 2006. Obviously, there are many factors in play and Fico's words aren't the only things dampening the businesses' enthusiasm, but they definitely are not helping to make the business sector more confident.

Fico has said he is not worried about the trials and lawsuits that might rain on Slovakia after health insurers are banned from making a profit. He also claims all he is doing is protecting public resources and funds.

Fico has made these statements with the confidence of a crusader fighting for justice. But if Slovakia loses any of those potential trials, it would not be Fico who pays the bill.

His words would ring more true if hurried up and explained to the public, for example, how he paid for a Sk2.5-million apartment that he bought for his mother from one of the sponsors of his Smer party.

"Though PM Fico has made a couple million Slovak crowns over the 15 years he has been in politics, he has not yet explained how he shared the purchase of the apartment in Bratislava's Ružinov, which belongs to his mother Emília," the Sme daily wrote on October 31.

According to Sme, the 80-square-metre apartment was bought by Fico's mother back in 2004 from Ikores. The firm's owner gave Fico's Smer party Sk200,000 and since Smer took power, it has been given several interesting contracts.

Zuzana Wienk of the political ethics watchdog Fair Play Alliance told the same daily that if a prime minister refuses to answer legitimate questions about an issue this sensitive, it evokes justified doubts.

What Fico has been saying, however, is that publishing the information is part of a massive media campaign against him, trying to discourage his crusade against all who might try to sponge off the most vulnerable groups of society. If Fico finds the media reports ridiculous and part of ill-willed campaigns, there should be nothing easier than taking the wind out of the campaigners' sails by explaining how he paid for the apartments.

But providing this kind of information has not really been a popular political habit in Slovakia. And apart from being ruling coalition colleagues, this is another thing that Fico and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia head Vladimír Mečiar - notorious for refusing to tell how he financed his Elektra luxury villa - have in common.

By Beata Balogová

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