illustration: Ján Svrček
It seems that this old tradition has been resurrected by the Dzurinda government in the furore over the apparent sale of gas storage firm Nafta Gbely to the American energy giant Cinergy. Dzurinda and his cohorts have seized the first likely-looking goat - FNM privatisation agency president Ľudovít Kaník - and saddled him with the blame for the government's handling of the Nafta fiasco. Kaník has been offered the choice of resigning - and wandering off into the desert - or undergoing an investigation.
And if that goat won't do as bidden, another has been readied - Trnava businessman Vladimír Poór, who sold his stake in Nafta to Cinergy, and who was jailed briefly on June 28 for defrauding the FNM of over three billion crowns in his original 1996 purchase of a 45% stake in Nafta. The government seems to be avoiding the question of why a private entrepreneur should be jailed for buying a state company at a cheap price.
Neither Kaník nor Poór are at fault in the Nafta scandal, and scapegoating them will not restore investor confidence in the government. For that, Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák will have to be fired.
Černák has to go because his good name has been corroded by rumours of corruption over the past six months. While he has done nothing demonstrably wrong in the Nafta case - as he did no apparent wrong in the selection of the advisory consortium for the sale of Slovak Telecom, or in the reappointment of Devín Banka to handle the deblocation of the Russian debt - economic analysts and their foreign investor clients say they are increasingly sure that Černák's Economy Ministry is being run by lobby groups.
It is a loathsome thing to peddle rumours, or even to reprint their content in a newspaper without being able to verify the truth of matters. But in this case, perception is everything - if investors smell even a whiff of corruption from the Dzurinda cabinet, the long-awaited FDI inflow will never materialise and the government will probably not last its full four-year term.
Given the importance of appearances, then, Černák has to step down. This government has made a PR nightmare of almost every public tender process it has overseen, and required over eight months to solve (bungle) the Nafta question. The problem all along, say analysts, has not been the flagrant kind of corruption practiced by the former Mečiar government, but the creeping kind - the state monopoly which hands out lucrative contracts without public tenders to advertising firms, brokerage companies and law agencies close to the government, rather than the former minister who loots a privatised company and buys Spanish villas on the proceeds.
After eight months of own goals, this cabinet faces a catastrophe if it is not able to quell rumours of corruption and build a solid reputation for transparency in privatisation. Černák may be a terrific fund raiser for his governing SDK party, but as a minister he is an enormous liability.
19. Jul 1999 at 0:00