THE EX-MINISTERIAL club of the Robert Fico government has a new member: Marian Janušek, whose entry ticket was a scandalous tender, carrying a €120-million price tag. Janušek, a nominee of junior coalition party the Slovak National Party (SNS), effectively filed his application to join the club of failed ministers the moment he tried to defend the indefensible: the so-called bulletin-board tender. But it took the country’s ruling politicians several months to endorse his membership.
His ministry awarded the lavish contract after the original tender notice was posted solely on the ministry’s internal bulletin board, to which members of the public do not normally have access. Unsurprisingly, only one bid was received. Even less surprisingly, it came from a consortium of companies which are said to have close links to SNS party leader Ján Slota. And it won.
Janušek joins the club for no less scandalous reasons than his fellow SNS buddy Jaroslav Izák, who was asked to leave the Environment Ministry over allegations of cronyism. Former health minister Ivan Valentovič, former defence minister František Kašický and sacked ex-agriculture minister Miroslav Jureňa are all members of the club along with another former agriculture minister, Zdenka Kramplová, who qualified in record time after only eight months in the job.
While Ján Kubiš recently quit the top job at the Foreign Affairs Ministry to become the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), most of the ex-ministerial club members, five in total, would (one hopes) have trouble qualifying for an international job since their departures were the result of incompetence or worse.
The government’s official spokesperson, Branislav Ondruš, told the Sme daily that the current government’s tally of seven ex-ministers implies that “Fico is a strict prime minister” who does not care about the individuals but rather about the “content and principle of politics” and has no problem changing personnel whenever he finds that the “content” is not being fulfilled. Sadly, there are still a lot of people in Slovakia who will firmly believe this version of events and trust in Fico’s strictness and his drive to protect the “content of politics” even if they might have difficulty defining exactly what this “content” actually consists of.
If nothing else, then Fico’s failure to refuse to nominate Igor Štefanov to the post from which he had asked Janušek to leave should ring alarm bells. Štefanov was Janušek’s right-hand man and he played a significant role in the preparation of the dodgy tender. Where was the prime minister’s proclaimed strictness and his passion for the “content of politics” in this endorsement?
It is notable that it took the prime minister almost three months to exercise his strictness and punish the minister who deviated from what he calls the “content of politics” – even though he had heard many calls to remove Janušek from his post. Obviously, Fico’s strictness does not apply to each minister equally. Labour Minister Viera Tomanová has never been found to be at odds with Fico’s “content and principle of politics” though her ministry approved Sk2 million (€66,390) in subsidies to a social services centre called Privilégium, where Tomanová worked before taking public office. The organisation owed the state nearly Sk2.8 million (€93,000) in back taxes, which it concealed in its application.
The number of ex-ministerial club members could have easily climbed to nine if, along with Tomanová, Finance Minister Ján Počiatek had also been required to take responsibility for his yachting intermezzo. Počiatek was seen on board the yacht of Ivan Jakabovič, a partner in a major financial group, in Monte Carlo a few days before the European Central Bank re-set the Slovak crown’s central parity to the euro last May. The same financial group made a tidy profit trading in Slovak crowns as the parity was re-set.
Yet, Zuzana Wienk of political ethics watchdog Fair Play Alliance said she cannot detect the fight against cronyism and corruption as being among the priorities of the current government.
“On the contrary, we have a feeling that the situation has been worsening,” Wienk told The Slovak Spectator. “There is more open and flagrant violation of laws than there was in the past.”
There is, however, some strikingly similar rhetoric involved whenever the ruling coalition parties comment on the failures of their nominees: they are, we are told by sombre-faced party leaders, leaving in order to ease the trauma that the media has imposed on the society by reporting these cases.
Ján Slota said that the procurement and audit authorities did not detect any serious violation of the law only “certain shortcomings” in the selection. All Janušek wanted, in Slota’s words, was to “free this traumatised society from the trauma that the media itself first created.”
It is hard to believe that the appointment of Štefanov has the potential to ease any societal trauma, other than that of the SNS. Certainly, society might be less traumatised if bulletin-board tenders and state orders slipping into the pockets of those close to the ruling parties happened under a carefully painted veneer of the state pursuing stronger social policies. But one day the cover would eventually get torn - and what the public would then find beneath the veneer would be more dangerous than mere trauma.
20. Apr 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová