A yarn without a happy ending

A HAPPY ending is in the final pages of a work of fiction where, after much struggle and turbulence, everything leads to a positive outcome for the heroes and their companions and everyone gets rewarded, except for the bad guys.

A HAPPY ending is in the final pages of a work of fiction where, after much struggle and turbulence, everything leads to a positive outcome for the heroes and their companions and everyone gets rewarded, except for the bad guys.

Sacking Ján Chrbet, a nominee of the Slovak National Party (SNS), from his post as environment minister is neither a happy ending nor a final scene in the unravelling yarn of the emissions quotas sale that has been puzzling the Slovak public for weeks now.

Prime Minister Robert Fico sacked Chrbet after he had failed to observe an ultimatum to disclose details of the controversial contract to sell Slovakia’s excess quotas. The contract allowed a newly-formed company to buy Slovakia’s available CO2 quotas at only two-thirds of the price at which Slovakia’s neighbours Ukraine and the Czech Republic sold theirs .

Chrbet was sacked only a couple of weeks after his SNS-sidekick Marian Janušek was pushed by Fico to resign from his post as minister of construction over the controversial bulletin-board tender. Janušek’s ministry awarded a lucrative contract to a consortium of firms, two of which are reported to have close links to SNS chairman Ján Slota, after the original tender was advertised solely on an internal bulletin board at the ministry in an area not normally accessible to the public.

So why don’t these firings of the SNS nominees constitute a happy ending? The contracts are nixed and the government keeps assuring the public that no public funds will be lost, so what’s the big deal? It is probably the deviousness that the junior coalition member, the SNS, has demonstrated over the past three years.

If Slota and his right-hand men handled these contracts and tenders, which they must have known would be subjected to public scrutiny, in this way, how might they have dealt with the smaller ones that are not as likely to emerge into the light of public opinion? How many other tenders and deals executed in similar, curious ways are lurking behind the seal of the ruling coalition? Let’s not forget that Chrbet’s predecessor, Jaroslav Izák, was sacked after approving payment of subsidies to political contacts and supporters from ministry funds.

Three SNS-nominees have now been sacked upon suspicions of cronyism and unethical conduct. Either the criteria that the SNS applies when picking its ministers should be scrutinised or the party’s overall reason for entering the ruling coalition deserves some serious re-examination. One also wonders: how many ministers can a prime minister sack during an election term without having his own image tarnished even while projecting the persona of a tough fighter against corruption?

Already six ministers have been forced to drop out from Fico’s ruling ride: Janušek, Izák and Chrbet wearing the colours of SNS and Miroslav Jureňa and his party buddy Zdenka Kramplová, both serving at the country’s agriculture ministry as nominees of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Kramplová’s dismissal was pursued by HZDS boss Vladimír Mečiar over tender discrepancies while Jureňa was sacked after a scandal involving the transfer of valuable plots of land. And Smer itself lost František Kašický, who resigned after his defence ministry violated procurement laws by announcing an inflated tender for cleaning services.

What happens then when sacking a minister becomes such a routine task that the gravity of the political act can no longer be felt? When the impression is that it is just far too easy for the ruling coalition parties because whenever someone gets caught in a murky deal, the person gets kicked out of the government but the same party can easily install a new person, essentially anyone they please, to the ministerial post.

Just for illustration it works like this: the SNS proposed Igor Štefanov as Janušek’s replacement despite Štefanov’s close involvement in the flawed tender as a key lieutenant to the former minister and the fact that Education Minister Ján Mikolaj will now temporarily manage the environment ministry can only evoke a sly smile since his sole qualification is his party affiliation.

Undoubtedly, it is positive that Fico took action against the SNS ministers who were found crossing the line of political decency. Yet, questions remain about how prompt his action was and how this will affect Fico’s confidence in his ruling coalition partners. After all, it was Fico who brought the SNS and HZDS back into power and not even euphoria over the sackings can overshadow the fact that he bears co-responsibility for setting political standards. He cannot now distance himself from Ján Slota and his sidekicks: it is this government which has given them free reign to graze on the endless public grass.

So definitely, sacking Chrbet is not the happy ending one hopes for because the bad guys haven’t yet been sent off to political oblivion.

Besides that, the full bill that Slovakia might have to pay has yet to be tabulated.

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