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ANALYSTS CRITICISE FICO'S 'DOUBLE STANDARDS'

The implications of the Izák case

ROBERT Fico’s fourth cabinet minister may be on his way out, but it’s having little effect on the stability of the coalition, or on the popularity of the ruling parties. However, political analysts say that such failures by cabinet members are not part of a normal political environment, and that the Prime Minister has not reacted with equal strictness towards each such failure.

ROBERT Fico’s fourth cabinet minister may be on his way out, but it’s having little effect on the stability of the coalition, or on the popularity of the ruling parties. However, political analysts say that such failures by cabinet members are not part of a normal political environment, and that the Prime Minister has not reacted with equal strictness towards each such failure.

On July 22, Prime Minister Robert Fico himself said that the reason Environment Minister Jaroslav Izák was being sacked was that he had allocated public money, from the Environmental Fund, to private individuals. Fico said that this did not break the law, but contravened ethical rules.

Izák is a member of the Slovak National Party (SNS). It accepted his sacking without demurral.

p>The head of the SNS parliamentary caucus, Rafael Rafaj, told the private TV channel Markíza that the SNS accepted the minister’s replacement.

The opposition, political analysts and observers have warned that Fico is using double standards when it comes to failures and mistakes by government members. Pavol Frešo, an MP for the opposition Social Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), said that in the cases of other ministers, for instance Labour, Social Affairs and Family Minister Viera Tomanová or Finance Minister Ján Počiatek, there were equally grave reasons for their dismissal.

During Tomanová’s term, the Labour Ministry was found to have allotted a subsidy of Sk2 million to a company, Privilégium, for which the minister had earlier worked. Počiatek recently faced allegations in the media that he had revealed confidential information about the Slovak crown-euro exchange rate to a financial group, J&T, on whose yacht he had been entertained, thanks to which the group netted a large profit. Both ministers were nominated for their posts by Smer.

“If such a criterion had also been applied to Minister Tomanová or Minister Počiatek, they would no longer be ministers”, Frešo told news TV channel TA3 on July 22.

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý also pointed to the case of Justice Minister Štefan Harabin, who was nominated to his post by a junior coalition party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The Sme daily recently published a transcript of a telephone conversation which suggested that Harabin, who at the time of the recording was serving as a justice of the Supreme Court, had close contacts with a drug-trafficking suspect.

“Harabin’s case is striking, as he is a justice minister, who must take particular care to make sure his hands are clean“, Kusý told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Grigorij Mesežnikov, President of the non-governmental think tank the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Izák’s firing encompasses several factors. In the fist place, he said, Izák did not master environmental issues from a professional point of view. In addition, there were evident signs of cronyism in his ministry, according to Mesežnikov. “This could have had a negative impact on the perception and acceptance of the whole government”, Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

As Fico knew that SNS representatives would not protest, he chose to dismiss Izák. He therefore created space to show that he intended to act in the way he had promised before the general elections, in contrast to other recent cases where the opposite had been the case. “So, basically, this principled stance has been caused by the pressure of forced circumstances“, Mesežnikov added.

He said that it shows that when recalling ministers, Fico has a double standard. He did not dismiss Počiatek because he is a member of Smer, Mesežnikov said.

In connection with minister Harabin, Mesežnikov stressed that Fico was simply aware that the HZDS would not have agreed to Harabin’s recall. “Fico simply assesses the situation in a realistic manner”, Mesežnikov concluded.

According to Mesežnikov, the case of Harabin is defaming the justice ministry, but also the whole government. “But in that case, he [Fico] does not dare to act so roughly.”

Zuzana Wienk, head of the watchdog Fair Play Alliance, told The Slovak Spectator that the prime minister should act equally, and in a principled way, in all cases in which political ethics are violated. Only then, she added, can it be said that he is concerned about the culture of politics.

But she said that this is not the case. Wienk also mentioned the case of Harabin, in which Fico has not acted. She also recalled the Tomanová case.

“It is these cases that cast doubt on the systematic approach of the prime minister and any interest in improving the political culture“, Wienk told The Slovak Spectator.
“It rather resembles a situation in which, after several cases and scandals, and media pressure on the government, then at last responsibility must be drawn for at least one of these cases“, she added.

Izák will be replaced by another SNS nominee.

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