MINISTER of Construction and Regional Development Marián Janušek, a nominee of the Slovak National Party (SNS), survived a no-confidence vote against him held in parliament on December 9.
The opposition sought the vote after media reported that the Construction Ministry had signed a contract worth Sk3.6 billion (€119.5 million) with a four-member consortium that includes two firms with links to SNS chairman Ján Slota.
The consortium was awarded the contract after submitting an unopposed tender to provide services during a European Union-funded campaign about EU funds.
Janušek and the SNS defended the procurement by pointing out that the announcement of the tender had been published on a notice board inside the ministry.
Before the vote Prime Minister Robert Fico repeated that he will dismiss Janušek if inspections by the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) and the Office for Public Procurement (ÚVO) find the ministry erred.
He added he would also wait to see if the European Commission requests an investigation into the tender.
“The minister will have either a happy or unhappy Christmas,” Fico told journalists.
But, he then said to them, “after the way you have lobbed accusations, we will ask you to apologise if they aren’t proven.”
Speaking in his defence at the parliamentary session, Janušek denied that the method used by his ministry to advertise the tender - by posting it on a notice board on the second floor for six days including a weekend - was a mistake.
“The ministry’s board is publicly accessible,” he said. “We usually publish information for the public there.”
He maintained that everything about the tender had been fair and transparent.
“The consortium supplies good services,” he said. “Not a single crown has left – or will leave – the ministry under my leadership for bad quality services.”
Vladimír Mečiar, chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), recently told the Sme daily that he considered the tender to be evidence of “cronyism as big as Brno”, and later replaced Brno with an even bigger city, London. But he did not take part in the no-confidence vote.
Fico did not participate either, even though the prime minister usually does so when a no-confidence motion is considered.
Ján Kovarčík (HZDS) admitted that this vote was not decided on coalition MPs’ understanding of the facts.
“We do not talk about whether [Janušek] persuaded us,” he told the Sme daily. “We are a coalition partner that sticks to the agreement.”
All of Janušek’s vocal supporters came from within the SNS.
“Someone dares to talk about what was on a notice board?” Slota said in parliament.
“Come on! Even if (the announcement of the tender) was in an exercise book, so what, if the law permits it?”
He then barked, "Anyone here who thinks that sitting on your butt pushing buttons (to vote) is work is insufferably arrogant”, and marched out of the room.
During the session Július Brocka, an MP with the Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH), ridiculed Janušek’s defence about posting the tender on the notice board, saying his own son has a similar board in his room.
“You did a perfect job of stealing and being a parasite on the state,” Brocka remarked.
Ivan Mikloš, a former finance minister and MP with the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), sarcastically agreed that the process for announcing the tender and awarding the contract was transparent, calling it a “transparent theft”.
Lucia Žitňanská, an MP with the SDKÚ, told journalists that shady tenders, corruption and cronyism in public procurement can only be stopped by clear rules and complete transparency. So she filed another amendment to the Act on Public Procurement that proposes an obligatory electronic auction for purchasing goods and services.
According to the SITA newswire, Žitňanská said that the state procured Sk127 billion (€4.22 billion) worth of goods and services in 2007, yet the number of publicly-announced tenders decreased 13 percent.
Zuzana Wienk of the non-governmental Fair Play Alliance said that such cases prove that a tremendous amount of corruption takes place when EU funds are concerned.
“I believe that from a period of sophisticated corruption and cronyism we have moved into a very primitive and open form,” Wienk told The Slovak Spectator.
She blasted Slovak politicians as having little sense of responsibility toward the public, and warned that the steep increase in corruption and cronyism has started to threaten the country’s development.
“It will take longer for democracy to really take root,” she said.
Wienk’s suspicions were recently confirmed in an annual report by the Slovak Information Service (SIS), the country’s intelligence agency, which was read at a closed-door session of parliament on December 9.
According to the Sme daily, SIS director Jozef Magala told MPs that the agency has uncovered evidence of corruption and cronyism concerning the division of EU funds in 2007, but did not provide specific examples.
Since the Fico government came to power in June 2006 the opposition has held one failed no-confidence vote each on Economy Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek, Labour Minister Viera Tomanová, Justice Minister Štefan Harabin, and two failed votes on Finance Minister Ján Počiatek and Prime Minister Fico.