State seeks 'green' quotas bonus

THERE is still no end in sight to the saga of Slovakia’s controversial deal with the company Interblue Group to sell the country’s excess carbon dioxide emissions quotas. On the contrary, new complications and plots are emerging almost by the week.

THERE is still no end in sight to the saga of Slovakia’s controversial deal with the company Interblue Group to sell the country’s excess carbon dioxide emissions quotas. On the contrary, new complications and plots are emerging almost by the week.

Criticism of the Environment Ministry’s deal, under which quotas to emit 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were sold to Interblue at a price of €5.05 per tonne, has yet to subside.

Nonetheless, it has now become clear that the ministry, under new minister Jozef Medveď, is pressing ahead with an attempt to obtain a bonus payment of €15 million from the US-based firm for a so-called green project.

Reportedly, the contract with Interblue states that if Slovakia spends the money that it originally received for the emissions quotas on projects categorised as falling within the ‘Green Investment Scheme’ (GIS), the country would be eligible for an additional €1 per tonne, or €15 million.

So the government is now trying to get a nationwide thermal insulation programme classified as a programme under GIS, a scheme supporting the use of funds gained from the sale of excess emissions quotas for projects benefiting the environment.

“In line with the specified requirements of the given scheme, the Ministry of Construction and Regional Development submitted on November 24 to the Environment Ministry a request to have the government’s thermal insulation programme included in the Green Investment Scheme,” Jana Kaplanová of the Environment Ministry said.

The national insulation programme, which was part of the government’s anti-crisis measures, started earlier this year; nearly 15,000 homes have since been insulated. The Construction Ministry has dubbed the programme a success, but the State Housing Development Fund (ŠFRB), which administers applications, has stopped accepting new ones since the fund has already been used up, the Sme daily reported.

The request to have the programme included under the GIS scheme therefore comes as a retroactive move which observers suggest might create problems.

The ministry argues that the goal of the insulation programme is to save energy and improve the heating of housing, which is fully in accordance with the activities supported by the GIS.

However, the Ministries of Environment and Construction have at the same time become involved in a spat over who caused the delays in having the insulation programme qualified as a green project.

According to Sme, Environment Ministry State Secretary Miloslav Šebek said that Construction Minister Igor Štefanov’s department had hesitated to send the application. However, the Construction Ministry said that the “information on approving a GIS scheme and the form on which to apply was given to the Construction Ministry [only] on the afternoon of November 16, 2009,” the ministry’s Linda Vaškovičová said, as quoted by Sme. “The Construction Department has not been invited to the approval of the proposal and no one from the Environment Ministry had negotiated with us about this problem,” she added.

Vaškovičová also said that the GIS conditions were set in a way that the Construction Ministry could not fully accept.

Interblue still under spotlight, deal still unresolved

Meanwhile the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) called for a MPs’ audit of Slovakia's intelligence service, the SIS. The party wants to learn whether the SIS had any information about what it called the ‘scandalous’ sale of Slovakia's emissions quotas last November, according to the SITA newswire.

SDKÚ deputy chairman Ivan Mikloš has said several times that Slovakia has lost billions of crowns on the sale of the country’s allowances to Interblue.

Mikloš in late November restated that Slovakia sold its quotas in November 2008 to an unknown company for €5.05 per tonne while Spain wanted to purchase them for €10 per tonne.

Slovak financial daily Hospodárske Noviny reported on November 24 that the Spanish Environment Ministry has confirmed that it offered to buy Slovakia’s emissions allowances for a much higher price. The ministry said that Slovakia never responded to its offer.

Almost nothing is publicly known about Interblue Group. Its owners and beneficiaries are anonymous. Its website has recently disappeared. Even the company’s place of registration is unclear. However, the government has brushed off media enquiries about its partner in the multi-million-euro deal, insisting that it either does not know the details or that they are confidential.

Slovakia may have lost as much as €66 million on the sale to Interblue Group, according to opposition parties.

Slovakia’s sale of its emissions quotas has led to the sacking of two SNS-nominated environment ministers, Viliam Turský and his predecessor, Ján Chrbet.

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