LUCRATIVE deals involving 20-year-old Soviet-made helicopters and expensive Zodiac FC 470 inflatable boats of no apparent use to the army were among the legacies that Defence Minister Ľubomír Galko says he inherited from his predecessor at the Ministry of Defence.
Galko, who has come under intense media scrutiny since his appointment, has already filed at least one criminal complaint over what he calls suspicious deals. He vowed that more criminal motions will follow.
Galko’s critics, including his predecessor Jaroslav Baška, claim that Galko lacks experience and say the doubts he has cast over contracts and deals signed by the previous administration have merely been an attempt to disguise his incompetence. Galko’s opponents also claim that he seriously erred in late June when he appointed Milan Hudec to head the Military Intelligence Service (VSS), only to suspend him shortly afterwards over questions concerning Hudec's clearance certificate.
Galko on August 18 announced that the VSS post had been filled on August 13 with his appointment of Roman Mikulec. The new VSS director is an apolitical expert who has been active in military intelligence for years, Galko said, as reported by the TASR newswire.
Meanwhile, Galko accused the former management of the ministry of signing contracts shortly before the June parliamentary elections which he claims are highly disadvantageous to the state. The minister has already filed a criminal complaint over the issue.
In one such case, the ministry ordered new equipment to be installed in some 20-year-old Soviet-made helicopters at a cost of €57 million. However, the service life of the helicopters will soon expire and can be extended only by Russian firms. The Slovak Air Force has 14 Mi-17 helicopters in total, according to TASR.
The service life of the nine Mi-17s that are to be modernised under the equipment contract will end between 2011 and 2014. Talks on prolonging their operational lives were due to be held with manufacturers at the end of July and the beginning of August, two months after the modernisation contract was signed, TASR wrote.
Baška, Galko’s predecessor, argued that it is normal to first modernise helicopters and then to request the manufacturer to extend their service life.
Ministry of Defence spokesman Richard Šumeghy told The Slovak Spectator that Galko has never questioned the need to modernise the helicopters, but rather the timing and methods used to conclude the modernisation contracts.
“If ex-minister Baška says that the process of preparing for the modernisation of the helicopters lasts two years, then there was no reason to sign the contracts a couple of days before the elections,” Šumeghy said. “It is, after all, logical that modernisation steps are taken after one is assured that the extension of service life is realistic so that there would not be a waste of public funds. Accepting the obligation to modernise without making sure [of this] is risking public funds.”
Referring to a separate deal, Galko stated that the procurement of Zodiac FC 470 inflatable boats for the armed forces was at odds with the law as well. He said the boats, purchased in 2008, are unsuitable for military use and were sold to Slovakia at almost twice their market price.
The army paid around €154,000 for the boats after approaching only one supplier, Aeroprograss, which charged around €25,705 for each of them, although it was possible to buy the same type of vessel for €13,034, Galko said.
He also suggested that he would like to see former prime minister Robert Fico, former interior minister Robert Kaliňák and Baška travel to flood-hit areas and explain to people there why the military cannot properly use the boats, which the ministry purchased in 2008.
The ministry has also started checking contracts concluded in the final weeks before the parliamentary elections, and in the days shortly after the national vote, regardless of the volume of funds involved, Šumeghy confirmed to the The Slovak Spectator.
In fact, a cabinet resolution from August 11, 2010, charges members of the cabinet and chairs of central state administration bodies to check contracts concluded during the period between May 1 and July 8, 2010, which have a price tag exceeding €500,000, said Šumeghy.
According to Šumeghy, the most frequent findings are violations of budgetary discipline, ineffective use of public funds in the form of overpriced orders and the use of exemptions from public procurement legislation as well as non-transparent procurement.
In order to secure more transparent procurement, Šumeghy said that unless the procurement is not classified as “procurement of military material” it will be published.
As to the steps that Minister Galko considers a priority for the next few months, Šumeghy said that the department would be open up to a wider dialogue with representatives of the expert community as well as the public in order to reach a societal consensus over issues of security policy and state defence.
Smer officials, according to the SITA newswire, have repeatedly claimed that Galko has only been seeking to divert attention from what they have dubbed a ‘security scandal’, an apparent reference to the Hudec appointment.
After the parliamentary elections, the nomination of Galko, previously a retail chain manager, to head the Defence Ministry was approved by the new government subject to the proviso that he submits an English language proficiency certificate to the prime minister by mid October.
Opposition criticism intensified after Galko temporarily appointed Hudec to the VSS post and then quickly recalled him. Galko said that the recall happened because of information passed to him by military defence intelligence, another branch of the ministry’s intelligence service. Allegedly, a document which is needed well before a clearance certificate is issued had been added to Hudec’s file only after he had received the clearance certificate, the Sme daily wrote.
Galko has said that there is an intelligence campaign being conducted against him at the Defence Ministry.
“Someone here is very nervous,” Galko told Sme, adding that perhaps some people linked to the previous administration fear that they will lose their lucrative businesses.
Deputy speaker of parliament and former prime minister Robert Fico lashed out at Galko for what he called endangering Slovakia’s credibility as a NATO-member state by appointing Hudec to the top military spy post. Fico, according to internet news portal Aktualne.sk, produced a copy of Hudec’s certificate, which he had no official way of obtaining.
On August 6, Galko voiced the suspicion that somebody had “misused” the Military Intelligence Service.
23. Aug 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová