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Minister stays in post

MARIÁN Janušek, Slovakia’s minister for construction and regional development, is still in his job despite more information emerging about a controversial tender, worth €119.5 million (Sk3.6 billion), which was awarded on his watch. Prime Minister Robert Fico has repeated that he will wait for the publication of two official investigations before pronouncing on Janušek’s fate.

MARIÁN Janušek, Slovakia’s minister for construction and regional development, is still in his job despite more information emerging about a controversial tender, worth €119.5 million (Sk3.6 billion), which was awarded on his watch. Prime Minister Robert Fico has repeated that he will wait for the publication of two official investigations before pronouncing on Janušek’s fate.

Janušek was nominated as minister by the Slovak National Party (SNS), a junior member of the governing coalition. Doubts about the tender emerged after Janušek’s ministry awarded it to a consortium of companies including Avocat and Zamedia, two firms close to SNS leader Ján Slota.

The contract was awarded to the consortium after the original tender announcement was posted solely on an internal ministry bulletin board, in an area not normally accessible to the public.

Two parallel investigations have been conducted by the Supreme Audit Office and the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO). Neither office has so far published its report.

However, Zuzana Wienk of the Fair Play Alliance, a non-governmental anti-corruption watchdog, said that she had seen what looked like a copy of the ÚVO report.

She said the report finds that the consortium was awarded the contract even though Avocat, one its members, did not fulfil the tender conditions.

Information allegedly from the not-yet-released report was published in the Plus Jeden Deň daily in early February. The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of the report.

“During an inspection of the controversial bulletin board tender, the construction ministry lacked the bank statement of Avocat, which was one of the preconditions for participation,” Plus Jeden Deň wrote.

Moreover, during the investigation, the ministry failed to provide Avocat’s obligatory insurance contract. Janušek gave this document and the bank statement to the inspectors only two months later, according to Wienk.

At a press conference called by Janušek on February 7, the minister did not respond to the information published by Plus Jeden Deň from the alleged report.

“We do not have the report at our disposal so we cannot comment on it as a public body,” Janušek explained. “However, I also ask how someone illegally obtained the unsigned report and published information from it.”

The ministry has not even been told the date that the report will be discussed between the ministry and ÚVO, Janušek told journalists. Janušek did not allow reporters to ask any questions and left the briefing after reading his statement.

Helena Fialová, spokesperson for the ÚVO, told The Slovak Spectator that Plus Jeden Deň had not published an actual transcript of the inspection report. It just wrote that it had the report.
“We do not know whether this is true, and what part of the protocol it could have had,” Fialová said.

Fialová added that ÚVO inspectors are still working on the report, so the Plus Jeden Deň daily could not possibly have had the final version of the report which will first be handed over to the Construction and Regional Development Ministry.

Plus Jeden Deň reporters gave their copy of the report to Wienk. According to her, it implies that documents for the tender could have been falsified because the ministry handed over several documents to the inspectors almost two months after the inspection started and those documents had not been mentioned in the original tender documentation at all.

“This makes a strong impression that the ministry, de facto, falsified the documents by handing over something that it did not have in 2007 when it evaluated the public tender,” Wienk told The Slovak Spectator.

Wienk told that minister should answer questions about whether and why it gave some documents to ÚVO only about two months after the inspection had begun.

“How is it possible that there is no mention and no evidence of the documents in the tender documentation from 2007,” Wienk emphasized. “Why is there no mention in the original documentation that the applicants had provided such documents?”

Wienk explained that the document she received was written on official ÚVO letterhead paper and had the title ‘Report on the Results of an Investigation of Public Procurement’.

“Both the contents and its format make an authentic and trustworthy impression,” Wienk said.
Wienk also mentioned that the former head of the Inspection Department of the ÚVO, who recently left the office, explained her resignation by saying that she had not agreed with the investigation’s results and had refused to sign the audit report.

“It can be deduced from this that such a document existed,” Wienk said.

Emília Beblavá, president of Transparency International Slovakia (TIS), another anti-corruption watchdog, added that regardless of these controversial documents, the Act on Public Procurement had been violated in her opinion.

“I cannot imagine that the bulletin board at the ministry is accessible to everyone in this country,” Beblavá told The Slovak Spectator. “The principle of transparency was not fulfilled here.”
Moreover, it has not so far been proven, according to Beblavá, that the announcement was actually placed on the bulletin board.

“It is a merely one statement versus another statement. The claim by the minister and ministry clerks that it had been there is simply not proof or evidence.”

Beblavá noted that even if the announcement had been placed there, the law was still violated because the announcement was not available for 24 hours due to the ministry building being locked in the evening.

“However, the principal thing here is not whether it was lawful or not," Beblavá stressed, “it constitutes a matter of unethical behaviour.”

She added that citizens also consider Janušek’s behaviour unethical and that is why Prime Minister Fico should have taken political responsibility for his conduct.

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