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EDITORIAL

Telecom Minister Palacka sets an unwelcome precedent

While Telecom Minister Gabriel Palacka did not deserve the fatuous media charges of bribery laid against him in connection with the GSM 1800 mobile phone tender, his handling of the issue did raise several rather large and disturbing questions which remain unanswered.
The first question is why he decided to abolish the tender commission on June 7 and decide the issue himself. The commission, which was composed of telecom experts and was responsible for deciding which firm should be given a license for operating a third mobile phone frequency in Slovakia, gave the tender process at least the appearance of objectivity.

While Telecom Minister Gabriel Palacka did not deserve the fatuous media charges of bribery laid against him in connection with the GSM 1800 mobile phone tender, his handling of the issue did raise several rather large and disturbing questions which remain unanswered.

The first question is why he decided to abolish the tender commission on June 7 and decide the issue himself. The commission, which was composed of telecom experts and was responsible for deciding which firm should be given a license for operating a third mobile phone frequency in Slovakia, gave the tender process at least the appearance of objectivity. In cancelling the commission and then splitting the GSM 1800 license between existing mobile operators Globtel and EuroTel (in each of which the state has a significant stake), Palacka robbed the tender process of transparency and left himself open to charges of bias. Couldn't the commission have made the same decision, sparing the ministry and Palacka himself a week of hysterical insinuations?

Secondly, why did two minor government officials hold talks with interested parties in the GSM 1800 tender before Palacka decided to abolish the commission? Branislav Orava, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's advisor for internal security, and Roman Filistein, director of the European Affairs section, said they had met with representatives of companies like the Norwegian Telenor to discuss 'technical matters' such as whether Telenor was capable of operating the license. What do these two know about 'technical matters' related to the GSM 1800 frequency in particular or telecom in general? Surely these matters would be better left to the expert committee which was formed in January to consider them? Why were they snooping around the tender process at all?

Minister Palacka did not take money from either Globtel or EuroTel to make sure no third operator was allowed on the Slovak market, as was alleged by Markíza TV on June 10. But he did settle the tender in an authoritarian manner that left his other government colleagues looking a little grim around the lips. After all, cloak-and-dagger tenders were supposed to be a thing of the past.

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