THE HEADS of directors rolling, as well as those of high-level bureaucrats of various political stripes, is not a surprising occurrence anywhere across the world when there is a power change in government. There are, of course, differences in the number of people sacked and the professional quality of those who come to replace them, but at the end of the day those who come to power in an election or those who succeed in staying in their cushy seats for another term always are surrounded by people with the same political blood type.
Anyone who has been unaware of the huge number of state institutions, state-owned companies, and all kinds of government proxies that the Slovak taxpayers have been responsible for feeding should now sit up and take the time to learn about the alphabet-soup of state-controlled organisations that influence nearly every sphere of society.
Most people know that Slovakia has had a government proxy for the Roma community, a post which, for the first time since its creation, was filled by a non-Roma in July. However, only very few might have known that Slovakia had a proxy to prepare for the informal meeting of NATO defence ministers held in Slovakia in mid October 2009 – a post which was eliminated only at a cabinet meeting in July 2010.
Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, referring to information from her new defence minister, said that the proxy continued on the ministry’s payroll long after the conference ended. Former defence minister Jaroslav Baška of Smer said that the proxy wasn’t paid a single euro for doing the job. Whether that is true or not, obviously no one really cared if a governmental position persisted without any strong justification for its further existence. And it does, of course, speak volumes about the weight of such posts.
Now, Slovakia’s proxy for highways and its proxy for youth and sports will be scratched from the catalogue of government positions since the Radičová government decided that it could manage quite well without them. But the state will still keep its proxy for an information society.
If the government of Iveta Radičová and her Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš expect to meet the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund to trim the country’s public finance deficit by 2.5 percent of GDP by the end of 2011, then this government will have to scrap much more than just a couple of proxy posts.
The proxy jobs, though quite illustrative, are really marginal when it comes to the real distribution of power, money and influence. The state-run companies and state institutions are the main course on the table and all the ruling coalition parties are trying to take as big a bite as possible. The state-controlled social insurer, Sociálna Poisťovňa, the National Security Office (NBÚ), in charge of issuing security clearances among other powers, the National Property Fund, state institutions to collect taxes, generate statistical data, assess customs and regulate network industries: these are where the real action is. Then there are the state-run companies such as the three railway companies, the postal service, Bratislava Airport or a multiplicity of energy companies where the state holds a significant stake.
While political parties pick people for these kinds of posts in western European countries and the United States, Pavel Nechala of Transparency International points out that a significant difference is that in those countries the state functions as a good shareholder by insisting on having the best managers run the companies and ensure their success. Unfortunately, he says, the Slovak state hasn’t always behaved as a good shareholder interested in having state-run companies prosper.
Loyalty to a party, friendly relations or family ties to political leaders, or seeing eye-to-eye on political philosophy has never turned anyone into a good manager, especially if an appointee’s professional expertise, if any, does not match the responsibilities that she or he will carry.
Then, here in Slovakia, there are political nominees who simply do not want to depart, not even if their tenure displays no signs of success or effective management. Dušan Muňko, for example, made it to the top post at Sociálna Poisťovňa with the help of Smer in 2008, shifting over from the Environment Ministry where he served as state secretary. Muňko, who has faced questions about alleged illegal breeding of an endangered parrot species, entered parliament on the Smer ballot in June, but now appears reluctant to vacate his seat at Sociálna Poisťovňa.
In a couple of months or so, the public should be able to see clearly who the ruling parties have picked to head state institutions and manage state-owned companies. It will then be obvious what carried greater weight in their appointment to a state post: expertise, professional background and a strong CV – or only a heart beating for the right party.
26. Jul 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová