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COALITION GOT CLOSE TO A CRISIS

PM Fico locks out SNS from Environment Ministry

THE SCANDALOUS sale of Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas, accompanied by several other smaller, questionable deals that recently appeared in Slovak media, has led Prime Minister Robert Fico to take an unprecedented step – he has decided to ignore the agreement between the ruling coalition parties on ministry appointments. Fico will dismiss the sitting minister and he will not accept any further nominees put forth by the Slovak National Party (SNS) for the post in the Environment Ministry.

THE SCANDALOUS sale of Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas, accompanied by several other smaller, questionable deals that recently appeared in Slovak media, has led Prime Minister Robert Fico to take an unprecedented step – he has decided to ignore the agreement between the ruling coalition parties on ministry appointments. Fico will dismiss the sitting minister and he will not accept any further nominees put forth by the Slovak National Party (SNS) for the post in the Environment Ministry.

The Prime Minister announced to a briefing on the evening of August 19 that he will propose the recall of Viliam Turský, who has been the third environment minister nominated by SNS over only the past 13 months. Ján Slota’s SNS party has had control over the Environment Ministry according to the coalition agreement signed in 2006.

“The reason is the repeated proven inability to handle the decision-making processes within his ministry,” Fico said, adding that he is making this decision being aware of all the risks that it brings, including the potential departure of SNS from the ruling coalition. But Fico added that he does not want SNS to leave the government.

“I’m convinced that this decision is to the advantage of the whole ruling coalition as well as to the individual political parties in it,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “If we hadn’t taken this serious personal and political decision today, the probability of any future cooperation with the SNS, including cooperation in the next election term, would come close to zero.”

According to Fico, the decision was made after a meeting between the leadership of both the Prime Minister’s Smer party and SNS.

Turský said he will not comment on his dismissal. Education Minister Ján Mikolaj, also a nominee of SNS, said he did not know whether he would resign from his post in response to Fico’s decision.

“I have to put it together in my head because any rash reactions are not good; this is going to be serious,” SITA quoted him as saying.

On August 20 SNS boss Ján Slota announced after a meeting with his party leadership that SNS will not leave the ruling coalition but he added that he wants to speak with Prime Minister Fico about some possible compensation for the party’s loss of the ministry, SITA reported. Slota also said he believes the coalition will remain together until the national elections in 2010 and that his friendship with Fico will continue.

According to SITA, Slota also said that if it was only up to him the party would leave the coalition because he considers Fico’s decision to deprive the SNS of the Environment Ministry to be a serious and purposeful violation of the coalition agreement but that SNS will stay in government to maintain the stability of the state.

Political analysts had not expected that Turský’s dismissal would cause the current government to fall.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, the director of the Institute for Public Affairs, a non-governmental think tank, said that he believed that SNS would remain in the coalition.

“By leaving the government they would lose even those benefits they are enjoying in the other two ministries [education and construction],” he told the Sme daily.

Laszlo Öllős from the Forum Institute said that in the past SNS always took care to remain in the government after previous scandals but that this step should allow Prime Minister Fico to have more control over the SNS-nominated ministers.

Viliam Turský’s ministerial career will close because of a questionable €85 million tender for removal of fly ash and slag at state-run power plants that occurred under his watch. Three companies submitted tender bids but two were rejected for dubious reasons. The ministry chose a firm apparently linked to the SNS even though the offer by one of the other companies was priced €27 million better. Peter Nemčok, the director of Slovakia’s Water Management Company, which had actually published the tender, said the winner was chosen based on instructions from a high official from the Environment Ministry and a friend of Slota, Sme wrote.

Turský’s two predecessors were forced to leave their ministerial posts for similar reasons. Last summer, Ján Chrbet replaced Jaroslav Izák who resigned as Environment Minister on August 18, 2008 after media reported that subsidies were granted from Slovakia’s Environmental Fund to relatives of ministry officials. After media began reporting about Slovakia’s low-priced sale of excess emissions quotas to a new, unknown American firm earlier this year, Prime Minister Fico dismissed Chrbet on May 5 for failing to observe the PM’s ultimatum to disclose details of the sales contract.

Wide-spread reports about what the media have called ‘fairy-tale’ reporting of personal assets by SNS boss Ján Slota were ongoing during the controversies at the Environment Ministry. And on August 20, a day after Turský’s dismissal, the Pravda daily reported that Slota had failed to declare that since 2008 he has owned a luxurious yacht, Princezná, worth about €285,000, in his assets’ declaration submitted to parliament. It is expected that the responsible parliamentary committee will examine this possible legal violation in forthcoming weeks.

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