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Another candidate for the dodgy contracts hall of fame

IT MIGHT make a good shaggy dog story if it wasn’t actually so serious: the junior ruling coalition member, the Slovak National Party (SNS), now has its third minister under the media spotlight over yet another questionable contract.

IT MIGHT make a good shaggy dog story if it wasn’t actually so serious: the junior ruling coalition member, the Slovak National Party (SNS), now has its third minister under the media spotlight over yet another questionable contract.

It is just the latest in a depressing and increasingly frequent series of candidates for inclusion in the dodgy contracts hall of fame under the government of Prime Minister Robert Fico.

The Academia Istropolitana and the State Institute of Professional Education, which are both funded by the Education Ministry, have awarded hefty contracts to a former classmate of Education Minister Ján Mikolaj.

What gives the story, broken by the Pravda daily, such an ironic spin is that the businessman involved, Marián Kováčik, reportedly bragged about having it all “… arranged with Ján. We will make sure that he is happy and that he supports us and then we will settle the rest,” Kováčik allegedly said to a clerk at the academy, according to an official record dated October 2007 obtained by the daily.

The minister’s response wasn’t any less ironic: he said there are about 200,000 people named Ján in Slovakia.

Just like another Ján from the SNS – Ján Chrbet, sacked over his reluctance to disclose details of the controversial sale of Slovakia’s excess CO2 emissions quotas – or another SNS nominee – former construction minister Marian Janušek, pushed by Fico to resign over the infamous bulletin-board tender, which has since been ruled illegal – Mikolaj claims that everything that happened was in line with the law.

Even if this were true, Slovakia would have a problem. It would mean that the country has been producing laws and rules that are so ambiguous and so cut full of holes that fairness and justice have escaped.

A large part of the populace is actually growing quite weary of the variations of the same excuse used by all these people – Chrbet, Mikolaj, Janušek and even their boss Ján Slota – that they are just poor victims of a ferocious media campaign led by those who do not wish well for this government.

And Fico?

His newly acquired image as crusader against any form of cronyism and corruption doesn’t seem very authentic to many people.

Besides, it’s just not good enough to sack a minister, summon a press conference and tell the journalists, whom the PM anyway regards as a bunch of ill-willed opponents, that he will no longer tolerate any such conduct – and then, for example, allow his coalition partner to nominate as the new construction minister someone who was just as responsible for the controversial tender as the man who was sacked.

And it is obviously not good enough to sack the environment minister, but then do nothing to fix the damage that his dodgy deal has caused, or dare to admit that something went very wrong in the ministry and that Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas were sold for a price well below what some neighbouring countries got.

Even after the Sme daily published information that the Czech Republic sold its quotas for almost €10 per tonne and that Hungary got almost €13 per tonne, as opposed to the €5 per tonne that Slovakia apparently wheedled from its buyer, Fico continues defending the deal.

The prime minister said in late May that no one has provided him with clear evidence that anyone else sold their quotas at a more advantageous price.

But according to Sme, the actions of this SNS-managed ministry have lost the taxpayer something like €120 million, a sum which would be a nice bonus in the good times, not to mention during the current period of economic crisis.

Perhaps through its conduct, even if it still makes it into parliament at the next elections, the SNS has disqualified itself from being considered as a future ruling coalition partner.

It certainly would have done so if Slovakia enjoyed a decent political environment.

But of course in a decent political environment, a party like the SNS would never have made it into a ruling coalition in the first place.

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