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Coalition still filling state posts

THE NEW ruling coalition is still fully engaged in one of the most complicated political tasks after a parliamentary election: the distribution of power and influence in state institutions and state-owned companies. There is a long list of government institutions and companies in Slovakia where top heads are likely to roll after a change in government and these positions have influence in almost every sphere of society.

THE NEW ruling coalition is still fully engaged in one of the most complicated political tasks after a parliamentary election: the distribution of power and influence in state institutions and state-owned companies. There is a long list of government institutions and companies in Slovakia where top heads are likely to roll after a change in government and these positions have influence in almost every sphere of society.

The ruling political parties can place nominees in the National Security Office (NBÚ), in charge of issuing security clearances among other powers, the Statistics Office, the National Cadastre Office, the State Material Reserves, the Industrial Property Office that regulates intellection property, trademarks and patents, and the Antitrust Office. The Office for Regulation of Network Industries, the Office of Standards, Metrology and Testing and the Nuclear Supervision Office are all open to political appointments as well. The Tax Directorate of the Slovak Republic, the National Property Fund and the National Labour Inspectorate are also very likely to be filled by party nominees.

The reshuffling will not happen overnight and will not affect every single bureaucrat put in place by the previous government of Robert Fico. To remove some office heads, the government of Iveta Radičová will need to amend legislation. The head of the NBÚ, František Blanárik, was appointed to his office for seven years and can stay until 2013. The top official in the Antitrust Office has a term elapsing in 2011 while the director of the Statistics Office is scheduled to stay until 2012.

The state-controlled social insurer, Sociálna Poisťovňa, for example, has one of those high-profile offices for politicians to fill.

The ruling coalition would certainly like to do so if Dušan Muňko, the current head of the insurer, who was also elected as an MP for Fico's Smer party in June, resigns.

Prime Minister Radičová has already suggested that it might take several months until such a change could happen. The new Labour Minister, Jozef Mihál, a nominee of Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), is unhappy with the economic performance of the social insurer and is insisting that Muňko should depart.

Meanwhile, SaS has announced that its nominees will fill posts in Sociálna Poisťovňa and the Central Office for Labour, Social Affairs and Family since control over these state institutions is necessary for carrying out some of the reforms planned by the party at the ministries it controls.

The parties of the ruling coalition have been conflicted over the best way to distribute influence over strategic state-run companies and state-controlled institutions.

The Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) preferred what is called cross-control in these companies and institutions, meaning that the right to nominate people to their top bodies would not be assigned exclusively to the party that controls the ministry under which the company or institution operates. SaS, however, insisted that this right should belong entirely to the party which controls the associated ministry.

On July 21 the four coalition parties agreed that the right to nominate the directors of companies and top officials of institutions will belong to the party which controls the ministry, but that other parties will nominate members of the supervisory boards of the state-owned companies.

The National Property Fund (FNM) owns a 34-percent stake in electricity utility Slovenské Elektrárne and the Economy Ministry, controlled by SaS, serves as executor of these shareholder rights. This ministry, managed by SaS nominee Juraj Miškov, also has a 51-percent stake in the major gas utility Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) as well as in electricity distributors in western, central and eastern Slovakia, the TASR newswire reported.

SaS nominees will be able to sit on the management boards of state-owned heating plants in Bratislava, Trnava, Žilina, Zvolen, Martin and Košice, in the Transpetrol oil pipeline company, and in the Slovak Electricity Transmission System.

Slovakia’s three railway companies – the cargo transporter Cargo Slovakia, the passenger transporter ZSSK and the network operator ŹSR – as well as the Post Office, the National Highway Company and Bratislava Airport can all expect a nominee coming from the KDH since these companies fall under the Ministry of Transport controlled by KDH, TASR wrote.

The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) is likely to fill the top posts at Slovakia’s Tax Directorate as well as at the Tipos betting company.

Through the Ministry of Agriculture the Most-Híd party will appoint directors of the Slovak Water Utility and Lesy SR, the state-owned forestry company.

Should nominees be experts or party loyalists?

Pavel Nechala, a lawyer with the political ethics watchdog Transparency International said the important issue is whether the parties nominate experts to these positions or make nominations strictly on a partisan, political basis.

“Experts who are able to carry out some changes should be making it to these posts because all these institutions are in need of change,” Nechala told The Slovak Spectator.

As to whether cross-control by political parties at state institutions and companies functions well, Nechala says that it always depends on the specific people. He said that Slovakia does not have particularly good experience with either of the two models, meaning the models of cross-control or exclusive control with the chief persons being nominated by a single political party.

Nechala said he prefers open competition as opposed to political nominations but he added that “certainly political nomination does not exclude the possibility that an expert would take up a job since a political party can announce an internal competition”.

It will be possible to further evaluate the situation in a couple of weeks when the names of the nominees appear, as Nechala said then it can be seen whether people have been appointed who have experience of dealing with particular issues for some time.

“Most of these institutions have a huge number of employees and manage a large amount of public funds,” Nechala told The Slovak Spectator. “If only party functionaries make it there, their lack of expertise might have an impact on the functioning of these institutions.”

Nechala explained that nominations in other countries are made in ways similar to the method used in Slovakia. However, he added that in most countries it is a matter of political culture and politicians do not dare nominate unqualified persons to important posts. Nechala said that if appointments to large government institutions or state enterprises in western Europe or the USA are examined, it is clear that the state wants to have the best managers in place.

“The state is in a way a shareholder and as such it does not want to deal with everyday commercial activities; this is why it picks a good manager to make the company prosper,” Nechala said.

“Unfortunately, the [Slovak] state hasn’t been behaving as a good shareholder interested in having the company prosper in the best way.”

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