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EDITORIAL

Time to say goodbye, Mr. Transparency

Slovakia's self-styled "Mr. Transparency," Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák, has a special talent; every business affair he is involved in, no matter how clear and above-board it seems at the outset, soon turns into a hopeless muddle. It's a curious skill, this anti-Midas touch, and one the government could well do without.
Last week was another muddy day at the well for Slovak citizens trying to figure out what the Economy Minister was up to.
A contract to mediate the settlement of the Russian debt to Slovakia was awarded by state energy utility Slovenské Elektrárne to Devín Banka, even though some government ministers had serious doubts about the fairness of the tender.


Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák is a tough man to pin down, forcing colleagues and minions to carry the can for his mistakes.
illustration: Ján Svrček

Slovakia's self-styled "Mr. Transparency," Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák, has a special talent; every business affair he is involved in, no matter how clear and above-board it seems at the outset, soon turns into a hopeless muddle. It's a curious skill, this anti-Midas touch, and one the government could well do without.

Last week was another muddy day at the well for Slovak citizens trying to figure out what the Economy Minister was up to.

A contract to mediate the settlement of the Russian debt to Slovakia was awarded by state energy utility Slovenské Elektrárne to Devín Banka, even though some government ministers had serious doubts about the fairness of the tender.

Slovenské Elektrárne falls under the jurisdiction of the Economy Ministry, but Černák told the public after Devín Banka signed the debt contract on September 8 that he had not been responsible for the whole deal. So who was? Certainly not Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš, who learned of Devín Banka's victory through the media.

What is strange about the whole case is that Devín Banka still owes the Finance Ministry about 10 billion Slovak crowns ($250 million) that it omitted to pay on its last debt settlement contract in 1998. The outstanding debt apparently did not render Devín Banka ineligible to receive a fresh hand-out from the government.

This fiasco - a scandal in the works if ever there was one - may not be entirely Černák's fault. Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová is a member of the former communist SDĽ party, which has close ties to Devín Banka. According to Igor Cibula, the former chief of the counterintelligence section of the Slovak secret service, Devín Banka was directly involved in selecting the current leadership of the SDĽ, a party which Cibula says currently functions as an avenue for Russian interests to influence Slovak politics.

But here was Černák's explanation of why Devín banka was chosen. "Few things in life are black and white," he said on TV Markíza's Na Telo programme on September 12. "I never said this tender was transparent... I chose the best solution." When questioned more closely by reporters as to the Devín Banka selection, Černák replied "that's so typical of our Slovak nature, to worry about what is going to happen."

Typical or not, Slovak voters are right to worry about what is becoming of their country under Černák's ministry. If the Economy Minister is unable to organise a transparent tender, or unable to give a convincing explanation of what he is up to, then he has to go.

The lighter side of politics

There is a new political ploy in town - the hunger strike. Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar announced on September 14 that if he is forced to talk about the Michal Kováč Jr. kidnapping, he will begin a fast in protest.

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and secret service boss Vladimír Mitro are expected next week to decide whether to remove Mečiar's obligation of silence on the kidnapping case. As a former high-ranking state official, Mečiar came into posession of classified informatin he is not allowed to divulge - unless ordered to do to by the aforementioned duo.

Other members of Mečiar's HZDS party are considering joining their leader on his hunger strike, although HZDS deputy Augustín Marián Húska, 70, has soberly observed that "there is no sense in a mass self-execution."

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