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EDITORIAL

Smooth sailing to the top job

“THE IDEAL candidate will have integrity and a watertight record of being a defender of human rights,” an imaginary job advert for the post of justice minister would probably start. “Any suspicion of having friendly ties with the underworld will fall far from the ideal candidate, who would never be found making statements which in any way insulted people’s faith, nationality, race or culture. Also the ideal candidate would restrain from taking advantage of any loopholes in legislation and would serve as a guarantor of keeping the judiciary free of any political pressures.”

“THE IDEAL candidate will have integrity and a watertight record of being a defender of human rights,” an imaginary job advert for the post of justice minister would probably start. “Any suspicion of having friendly ties with the underworld will fall far from the ideal candidate, who would never be found making statements which in any way insulted people’s faith, nationality, race or culture. Also the ideal candidate would restrain from taking advantage of any loopholes in legislation and would serve as a guarantor of keeping the judiciary free of any political pressures.”

In the world of political nominees it is perhaps unrealistic to seek “ideal candidates” but there are at least certain expectations one might reasonably expect to fulfil, even if job adverts are not normally published for ministerial posts in order to attract the best of the best.

What are these minimum expectations? One, for example, might be that the agriculture minister has more experience in the sector than just watering the indoor plants at his office; or that someone hoping to become finance minister might have done more budgeting than planning for a family holiday to Croatia. For a justice minister the requirements listed in the imaginary job advert above are in fact an ‘ethical minimum’ and anyone falling short should be disqualified.

It is now up to the informed reader to decide whether Slovakia’s justice minister, Štefan Harabin, would get the job if the criteria listed in the imaginary job advert were to be strictly applied. It’s a question worth posing since Harabin now has a different ambition: to resume the top post at the country’s Supreme Court. With the election to this position scheduled for June 22, there are not many people standing in his way: the only other contender is a Supreme Court judge, Eva Babiaková.

But there are many more people who are less than delighted at the prospect of seeing Harabin lead the Supreme Court.

“We are concerned that someone who cooperated with a representative of organised crime wants to become the president of the Supreme Court,” said the chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union opposition party, Mikuláš Dzurinda.

Harabin must have pretty fond memories of his previous stint in the job. As Supreme Court president in 2001 and 2002, he granted himself the highest special bonuses in the court’s history.

This information was revealed by the Slovak Governance Institute (SGI). The Justice Ministry described their action as being part of a media campaign. On top of his annual salary of around Sk400,000, Harabin received self-awarded special bonuses of Sk420,000 in 2001 and Sk685,000 in 2002, according to the SGI, which added that the bonuses exceeded by ten times the limit that parliament had approved for the Supreme Court president at that time.

The SGI told the SITA newswire that Harabin took advantage of a temporary loophole after a change in legislation when the power to determine bonuses was being transferred from parliament to the Judicial Council, which oversees the operation of judges. Harabin obstructed the operation of the council by blocking the election of its chairman and, as a result, was able to approve his own bonuses, according to the SGI. Harabin argues that everything he did was in line with the law.

Yet Harabin has strongly criticised the salaries of the judges of the Special Court, the establishment of which was recently ruled to be at odds with the constitution, because they were higher than the pay of regular judges.

Some other highlights from Harabin’s career include comments directed at his predecessor as justice minister, Daniel Lipšic: “You will go to jail, you bastard!” When confronted by Lipšic, Harabin denied having said any such thing. Lipšic was one of the initiators of a failed no-confidence motion in Harabin, based on what he called Harabin’s friendly ties with Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug-smuggling gang.

During a parliamentary debate, Harabin’s party leader, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) chairman Vladimír Mečiar, defended him by asking Lipšic whether one of his ancestors had the surname Lipstein, and then referred to what he claimed were Lipšic’s Jewish origins. Mečiar said his friend and HZDS figure, Augustín Marián Húska, claimed that when he worked in the Jáchymov uranium mines as a prisoner of the communist regime, he was interrogated and tortured by “a certain Mr. Lipstein”, whom Húska believed was related to Lipšic.

Harabin then asked Lipšic whether he was ashamed of his ‘ancestry’ and told him that he reminded him of some Nazis who had Jewish ancestry and yet were able to kill innocent children, women and old people in concentration camps, just to prove their loyalty to fascism.

The informed reader might conclude that Harabin’s record does not exactly instil confidence, let alone meet any of the criteria set out above. Yet his way to the presidency of this country’s Supreme Court is expected to be pretty smooth.

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