Who is the real enemy?

IF THERE was no other political party in Slovakia, the Slovak National Party (SNS) would still have the potential to keep the country’s investigative reporters busy digging through the heap of dubious deals that Ján Slota’s protégés have piled up over the past three years or so.

IF THERE was no other political party in Slovakia, the Slovak National Party (SNS) would still have the potential to keep the country’s investigative reporters busy digging through the heap of dubious deals that Ján Slota’s protégés have piled up over the past three years or so.

Prime Minister Robert Fico’s junior coalition member will now be forever remembered for mega-scandals such as the sale of the country’s excess emission quotas to the eerily-named garage-firm Interblue Group at a price well below that at which Slovakia’s neighbours had sold theirs.

The SNS has also swelled Slovakia’s chronicles of political shadiness with grand entries such as the ‘fly ash tender’, a fishy contract with the Esco company for the removal and disposal of fly ash from state-run heating plants in Martin, Zvolen and Žilina. No matter that the contract was signed with the company with the highest bid. The next entry surely should be the contract of a lifetime signed by Xiland company for renting 300 hectares of land along the Danube River in the area of the Gabčíkovo hydropower project for 99 years at €0.016 per square metre per year.

Fico has now ended the reigns at the Environment Ministry of the SNS nominees who engineered all these deals. Yet it is only one of the three ministries that Slota got as his dowry when marrying into the ruling coalition.

Now Fico’s man, Deputy Prime Minister Dušan Čaplovič, is digging through the dirty heap at the Environment Ministry, checking about 21 public procurement deals from 2009. The Sme daily recently reported that there are some more dubious deals hiding under the rug, specifically referring to an educational project called Envirojar 2009, for which the ministry skipped a regular tender and addressed bidders directly for offers. Missing stamps, non-existent signatures and incomplete documentation are just some of what Čaplovič’s forensic diggers have found.

A distant observer might believe there would be very little fertile soil for cronyism in the hydrometeorology business, but once the SNS is involved then it is not far-fetched at all. Čaplovič recently sacked an SNS nominee from the top post at the Hydrometeorology Institute, Ján Kucharčík. It seems the former military pilot brought along other former soldiers and pilots and installed them in high-level positions despite their professional qualities being questionable from the very beginning, Sme wrote.

But none of these peccadilloes comes close to approaching the level of European fame garnered by the SNS’s bulletin-board tender, which sent a lavish €120-million contract to a consortium that included the Avocat and Zamedia firms, both of which are reported to have close links to Slota. But that’s not all: the original tender notice appeared nowhere else but on an internal bulletin board at the SNS-controlled ministry in an area not normally accessible to the public.

Though the SNS’ ‘replacement minister’ Igor Štefanov seemed confident that he had a rationalisation to quench the curiosity of the European Commission about how a tender notice posted solely on a internal bulletin board could be considered publicly accessible, the explanation just didn’t work. Brussels said it would not send a single euro to Slovakia for any of the funds spent in the subsequently cancelled tender.

If the Slovak political environment worked in a normal way, Mr. Štefanov would never have got the chance to explain anything in Brussels for a very simple reason: he would never have been appointed at all. But Fico did accept Slota’s replacement nominee after sacking the previous one; despite Štefanov’s close involvement in the flawed tender while serving as a key lieutenant to the former minister.

Will Fico sack Štefanov now after all the softening talk about how the tender wasn’t really as flawed as the critics said it was has been debunked? It actually doesn’t matter anymore. Štefanov’s recall could hardly make Fico’s coalition ride with the SNS look nicer or more palatable to anyone who wishes to retain some faith in the belief that politicians are here to work for the benefit of citizens and society. The heart of the SNS beats for whose benefit? It’s not too hard to figure. The SNS has already said that it will not comment on the cleaning process at the Environment Ministry and Slota himself has not really said anything convincing about the bulletin-board tender either. Well, why should he?

Besides, he has been busy submitting a proposal to the Prosecutor’s Office seeking to ban the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) for what he calls attacks on the sovereignty of Slovakia. It’s interesting how Slota always looks to find an enemy of the nation when his own business comes under the magnifying glass. Perhaps people who feel that the SNS and its leader are an assault on their sense of integrity and faith in public service should turn to the prosecutor as well.

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