'Hayek' state secretary quits

IVAN Švejna, one of two deputy ministers named in media stories about state contracts given to a firm of which both were directors, has stepped down. Nominated by Most-Híd as state secretary at the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications following the June general election, Švejna left his post over what he called the immense media pressure. He has since returned to parliament to resume his job as an MP and take a seat on the parliamentary finance committee.

IVAN Švejna, one of two deputy ministers named in media stories about state contracts given to a firm of which both were directors, has stepped down. Nominated by Most-Híd as state secretary at the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications following the June general election, Švejna left his post over what he called the immense media pressure. He has since returned to parliament to resume his job as an MP and take a seat on the parliamentary finance committee.

Švejna resigned before the state audit authority had reported on deals made between Hayek Consulting, the company he co-owned before entering politics, and the state.

Švejna said on October 8 that he had taken his own decision to resign in order to protect the Hayek Foundation, under whose auspices Hayek Consulting operated, and Most-Híd.

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

Martin Chren, the Economy Ministry state secretary who was the other co-owner of Hayek Consulting with Švejna, remains in his post. He was nominated for the position by the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party.

In a move endorsed by parliament on October 13, the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) is now looking into the Hayek Consulting deals that have made headlines for the past month and have created considerable friction within Slovakia’s three-month-old 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. If the audit authority discovers that any of the deals made by Hayek Consulting display irregularities, or finds that they were in violation of the procurement rules, then Chren will have to go as well, according to the prime minister.

As for Švejna’s decision to leave, Radičová said that “it was the personal decision of the state secretary”, adding that she respects and understands it. Radičová also said that she regards the move as being part of the process of setting new ethical rules by the new government.

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 (NADSME), 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.

Political scientist and president of the independent Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator he believes that if the NKÚ finds any irregularities, Radičová will insist that responsibility is taken [by Chren] in the same way as Švejna.

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 said. “I am sorry that the foundation is a hostage to certain forces in these cases.”

The chairman of Most-Híd, Béla Bugár, 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 said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “I am glad that we have in the party such a responsible politician and he deserves great thanks for that.”

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

Meanwhile, SaS said that it is still unaware of any reason why Chren ought to step down. Tatiana Tóthová, an assistant to SaS leader and Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík, said that Chren had 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 Office therefore continues to apply, the TASR newswire reported.

On October 13, Sulík commented on Švejna’s return to parliament: “What has happened? He has the same income. It is just that he gets a €6,000 severance payment and will have fewer responsibilities,” the Sme daily reported.

Mesežnikov said that pressure is increasing on SaS, since the case is a joint one: both state secretaries were involved in Hayek Consulting, so their motives cannot be separated, he noted.

“But obviously behind the decision of Švejna there are reasons of a personal character,” said Mesežnikov. “The way he reasoned it is quite understandable and the party has identified with that.”

As far as Chren is concerned, there the party is not reconciled to his eventual departure, said Mesežnikov. However, he added, this case is not linked directly to the execution of power, and this is what SaS has been stressing: that there have not been failures as a consequence of the activities of the current government or people in the current executive.

“This is an issue that can be discussed,” said Mesežnikov. “This is what we pointed out, that when people are called to [take positions of] responsibility their background should be checked as well. Because even the problematic tender in which Hayek Consulting participated was organised by someone. Thus the responsibility is not with those who applied and won, but those who organised it and then approved it. And this aspect has completely escaped attention.”

Under the previous government, the Hayek Consulting company 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 since 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 to address what it called deliberate editing of information and unwillingness on the part of the media to present objective information, Sme reported.


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