CLEAN UP at the economy department continues as the new minister lets the proverbial axe fall. This time, the head of the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency, Roman Kuruc, is on the chopping block. Kuruc joins a list of key managers asked to step down after the ignoble departure of their former boss, ex-Economy Minister Pavol Rusko.
Rusko's successor and onetime party ally, Jirko Malchárek, has already fired Stanislav Vinc, the project manager of the KIA investment for "bad management" of the venture. Another top manager, Ľudovít Balco, was sacked from his directorial post at the National Agency for the Development of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises just a few days after Rusko.
Analysts assume that other administrative executives will have to say goodbye to their positions as the Economy Ministry undergoes regime change.
The economy minister has the authority to appoint and remove some of the key players at a variety of economic state departments, including the Slovak Trade Inspection Agency and any of the energy and gas utility companies.
Malchárek said Kuruc, in charge of the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO), had to leave due to his failure to proceed in line with government directives concerning an investment project involving Swiss-based company Sky Media.
According to the minister, Kuruc's conduct led to financial losses worth dozens of millions of crowns.
Kuruc denies causing any damage to the state.
Apparently, the costs of building a road to Sky Media's factory should have been included in a contract appendix. However, the appendix did not contain these conditions. Consequently, the investor was awarded the amount twice.
Sky Media met its obligation of developing a CD and DVD player manufacturing plant, investing more than Sk4 billion (€100 million)and creating 900 jobs. The state approved stimuli for the company worth Sk819 million (€21.1 million). The added burden of financing the road to Sky Media's factory unexpectedly increased the state's stimulus package.
SARIO has suffered setbacks since its establishment in 2000 and has seen six directors.
Based on the latest reports, the founder and long-time head of Czechinvest, which is SARIO's counterpart in the Czech Republic, Jan Amos Havelka, might replace Kuruc.
The director of the SARIO division of direct foreign investments, Mária Mikušová, is currently charged with the temporary management of the agency.
Malchárek said that SARIO is in urgent need of restructuring and it needs to cooperate with even more regions in Slovakia.
According to Malchárek, the agency has focused far too exclusively on foreign investors. Its priority should be on any investor, foreign or local, who is willing to invest in Slovakia.
Maroš Havran, Pavol Rusko's spokesperson, criticized the new economy minister's method of doing things. He told The Slovak Spectator, "Malchárek has been using artificial arguments, trying to hide his inability to attract investors to Slovakia and is instead installing his own people in all of the important posts."
Rusko himself was unhappy with SARIO's performance and recently made changes to its management.
"I think [SARIO] has widened its capacities considerably. Today it manages several big projects like the KIA investment, Ford, Johnson Controls and Sky Media. It has improved. Today SARIO handles roughly 40 to 50 projects that are in their final stages, representing Sk60 billion (€1.6 billion) in investments," Rusko told The Slovak Spectator in July.
SARIO was launched in 2000 as a one-stop shop for investors, bringing together the resources of six ministries and the privatization agency National Property Fund (FNM).
SARIO was in the spotlight in November 2003 when, one month after Rusko appointed his man Ján Bajánek to the top post of the agency, an investigator charged him with fraud.
The daily SME reported that while serving as head of the board of trustees of the non-profit fund Dialog from 1999 to 2000, Bajánek fraudulently transferred Sk580,000 (€14,000) to the account of his own firm, Business Communication Bratislava.
Bajánek denied the charges and said that they were only part of a media war that SME was waging to ravage his credit and harm Rusko, who trusted Bajánek's managerial qualities.
Rusko sacked Bajánek's predecessor, Ladislav Balko, on October 16, 2003, for what he called "the deficient operation" of SARIO.
Rusko said that the manager's failure to efficiently communicate with automotive producer Hyundai over its planned investment project in Central Europe was the last straw that led him to dismiss Balko.
31. Oct 2005 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová