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Ministry 'Black Books' pillory former government

As the government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda neared its 100th day in power, cabinet ministers began to issue summary reports on how their ministries had been run under the former government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
Called 'Black Books,' these reports accused the former cabinet of mismanaging its resources and abusing its powers. Originally proposed by cabinet as a means of informing the public of the state of affairs under the Mečiar regime, the Black Books have been attacked by former coalition politicians for indiscriminately blackening the reputations of ministers in the Mečiar government.

As the government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda neared its 100th day in power, cabinet ministers began to issue summary reports on how their ministries had been run under the former government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

Called 'Black Books,' these reports accused the former cabinet of mismanaging its resources and abusing its powers. Originally proposed by cabinet as a means of informing the public of the state of affairs under the Mečiar regime, the Black Books have been attacked by former coalition politicians for indiscriminately blackening the reputations of ministers in the Mečiar government.

Political analysts have also viewed the reports askance, and have argued the move may prove dangerous for the cabinet. Luboš Kubín, a political scientist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said that "the real motive of the Black Books is more political than economic. The new government is trying to show the state of society inherited from the Mečiar cabinet, but once they show all these negatives, it might deter foreign investors."

Kubin also said the reports showed the political immaturity of the new government. "The Black Books also show that Slovakia has not yet matured enough to be a part of the EU or NATO," he said. "We are still an exotic country in the central European region."

The following are some of the most important reports.

Finance Ministry

The financial legacy of the previous government was summed up in a Black Book presented by the Finance Ministry on February 1. Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová said that the expansive fiscal policy of the Mečiar caused the budget deficit (including interest and principal payments on state loans) to rise from 25.9 billion Sk in 1996 to 65.2 billion Sk last year.

Schmögnerová blamed budgetary problems in 1998 on several factors: the transfer of a part of 1997 expenditures to the 1998 budget; the overestimation of tax revenues; and a wasteful territorial reorganisation of state administration bodies.

The minister also said that the 1997 implementation of the controversial revitalization law, which allowed the debts of major companies to be forgiven, had slackened financial (chiefly payment) discipline at Slovak corporates, most evident in the growing tax and insurance payments arrears. At the moment, total tax arrears account for almost 40 billion Sk.

Rising state debt was also pinned on the Mečiar cabinet. In the middle of 1998, state debt totaled 164.2 billion Sk. Schmögnerová said the state had spent 46 billion Sk in 1998 on principal payments on government debt, a figure which would rise to 64 billion Sk in 1999.

Slovakia's foreign debt, she said, totals about $12.2 billion, which constitutes 60% of GDP. Schmögnerová said a safe level was 40% of GDP. Furthermore, 42% of the total debt is short term credit, which makes Slovakia's indebtedness even more serious and risky.

Other major problems blamed on the former Finance Ministry included an expansive fiscal policy which drained the financial sources available for businesses, as well as state guarantees for the loans of state companies, which rose to 109.24 billion Sk in 1998.

Economy Ministry

Only six state companies under the wing of the Economy Ministry will be able to pay installments on their state-guaranteed loans in 1999, ministry officials said on February 2. Seven other companies, which must repay 6.87 billion Sk this year, will have to be bailed out from the public purse.

This information was part of the ministry's Black Book, which focused principally on the 109.2 billion Sk in state-guaranteed loans to corporations that had accumulated between 1990 and the end of the Mečiar era in 1998.

Foreign Ministry

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on February 1 that his predecessors had wasted a historic chance for membership in the European Union, NATO and the OECD during their 1994-1998 tenure.

However, Kukan stressed that the hands of the ministry had been bound by the authoritarian influence of Mečiar and the political elite of the governing Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

Diplomats were frequently replaced by politicians, he said, while cabinet ministers on state visits often ignored their duty to submit a report on their activities while abroad. Former Deputy Prime Minister Katarína Tothová, Kukan said, had paid six foreign visits but had never submitted a report to the ministry.

Kukan stressed that one of the ministry's greatest failures had been in leaving ambassadorial posts empty. Slovakia had no ambassador in key EU countries, he said, among them Germany, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Kukan also accused the former government of filling the ministry with poorly-trained personnel at the expense of proven officers. From 1994-1998, he said, 225 ministry employees with good professional records had been fired, and had been replaced by 365 people, many of whom had poor qualifications.

Kukan also criticised the hasty reshuffle of 28 ambassadors carried out by Mečiar when the term in office of President Kováč ended in March 1998 and presidential powers devolved to the prime Minister.

Kukan also cited economic mismanagement at the ministry, saying that the ambassador's residence in Ottawa had been expanded at a time when Slovakia had no money to finish its Brussels mission.

Justice Ministry

Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský told the public on January 29 that under the previous government, the ministry had knowingly prepared legal drafts that were later ruled anti-constitutional by the Constitutional Court.

Among his predecessors' biggest legal blunders Čarnogurský cited the infamous "Protection of the Republic" amandment from March 1996, which made it a crime to "subvert the republic or harm state interests" by "disseminating false information" - a clear violation of the freedom of expressin, the minister said.

In 1997, he continued, the ministry had prepared an amendment that gave investigators and prosecutors, rather than the courts, the right to impose obligatory custody on suspected offenders.

Čarnogurský was also critical of the court administration, in which independent judicial bodies had only an advisory rather than a decision-making authority. But the most serious violation committed by the former ministry, he said, occured when cabinet refused to submit to parliament the nominations of 13 judges who had ended their 4-year probation terms, as required by law. Due to international protests, the terms of 11 judges were eventually prolonged.

Culture Ministry

Culture Minister Milan Knažko told a press conference on January 29 that his ministry's black book was incomplete, since cases of serious mismanagement at the ministry during the Mečiar years were still being found daily.

Among the most disturbing faults that Knažko found were a series of highly disadvantageous contracts that the Culture Ministry had concluded with private companies, contracts that effectively channelled public funds into select private hands. The minister said that complaints had already been filed with the general prosecutor's office.

Some of the disadvantageous contracts that harmed the state, he said, concern the Pro Slovakia Cultural Fund, the Center of Folk Arts, the new Slovak National Theater building and the University Library.

Knažko also criticised his predecessors for financing select media that were loyal to the HZDS ruling party. In 1998 alone, he said, the ministry had handed out 7.75 million Sk to the pro-Mečiar daily paper Slovenská Republika, while the Rolnícke Noviny daily had received 562,500 Sk.

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