State secretary Švejna steps down; Chren remains in his post

IVAN Švejna, nominated by Most-Híd as state secretary for the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications, has stepped down from his post over what he called an immense media pressure. Švejna said on October 8 that he made his own choice to resign, in order to protect the Hayek Foundation that he co-owned in the past and his own party Most-Híd.

IVAN Švejna, nominated by Most-Híd as state secretary for the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications, has stepped down from his post over what he called an immense media pressure. Švejna said on October 8 that he made his own choice to resign, in order to protect the Hayek Foundation that he co-owned in the past and his own party Most-Híd.

“I have long pondered this decision,” Švejna has said. “I am leaving at my own request.”

Martin Chren, nominated by the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) as state secretary at the Ministry of Economy remains in his post however. The Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) is looking into deals that have been making print press headlines over the past month and have heated up the situation in Slovakia’s ruling coalition.

The NKÚ’s scrutiny is the solution that Prime Minister Iveta Radičová offered on September 24 to ease some of the mounting tension within the ruling coalition. If the audit authority discovers that any of the deals made by Hayek Consulting display irregularities or are found to be in violation of the procurement rules, then Chren will have to go as well, according to the prime minister. Deals were made by Hayek Consulting, the company which the two co-owned, with the current government as well as its predecessor.

Hayek Consulting, when it was apparently still co-owned by Chren and Švejna, signed a €8,100 contract with the National Agency for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, part of the Ministry of Economy, just a few days after both individuals were appointed to their government positions in July. In mid August, local media reported that Chren and Švejna had terminated the state contract on behalf of the consulting firm.

Švejna said on October 8 that the foundation is close to his heart and that he intends to protect his former colleagues.

“The foundation has done a lot of work around reforms,” Švejna has said. “I am sorry that the foundation is a hostage of certain forces in these cases.”

Chairman of Most-Híd, Béla Bugár has said that the step taken by Švejna was decent and responsible and should serve as an example.

“I believe that his decision will contribute to calming the situation,” Bugár has said as quoted by SITA newswire. “I am glad that we have in the party such a responsible politician and he deserves great thanks for that.”

Švejna did stress that his resignation has not been in any way connected to his performance at the ministry.

Prime Minister Radičová has said she will support the proposal of Minister of Transport Ján Figeľ to recall Švejna.

Most-Híd has not yet decided on a candidate for the replacement of Švejna.

Meanwhile, the SaS has said that it is still unaware of any reasons why Chren ought to step down. Tatiana Tóthová, an assistant to SaS leader and Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík, said that Chren has provided a thorough explanation of the issue. The principle that political liability should be ascribed on the basis of a review to be made by the supreme audit authority continues to apply, therefore, TASR newswire reported.

Under the previous government, the Hayek Consulting company had competed for several Finance Ministry contracts along with firms that the Sme daily reported were on friendly terms with Hayek Consulting.

The Hayek Foundation, with which Hayek Consulting was affiliated, has claimed that it has become the target of a deliberate political campaign and that this has damaged its reputation. The board of the foundation said that it would take legal steps due to what it called purposeful editing of information and unwillingness on the part of the media to present objective information, Sme reported.

On September 24, Radičová said in an official release that, based on legal analysis, the Economy Ministry deal signed in July of this year did not break any laws. She said in relation to state secretary Martin Chren however, “one seriously has to talk about a conflict of interest”.

“Martin Chren himself claims that the company withdrew from the deal immediately after he became aware that such a conflict of interest could have emerged,” the release reads. “He proved this by reference to a letter dated August 16, 2010, in which the firm withdrew from the deal.”

But according to the release, several other deals signed by state institutions with Hayek Consulting under the previous government have evoked suspicion as well.

“So that such doubts do not emerge, my government has passed several measures, which are intended to increase transparency of public procurement and the use of public funds,” the statement reads.

“I reiterate that it was this government which published the deals and made public control possible.”

According to Radičová, if the NKÚ does not declare the unambiguous transparency and effectiveness of these contracts, then she will make a decision on whether both state secretaries will have to step down.

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