CONSPIRACY is the word that two of Slovakia’s former prime ministers, Vladimír Mečiar and Robert Fico, were inclined to use whenever their governments were showered with international criticism. They always had a whole legion of ‘enemies’ to whom they could point when they needed to put a different spin on the country’s weak international rankings.
Biased think tanks, slimy journalists and unscrupulous political opponents have now conspired to throw mud at his government: so says Robert Fico and his lackeys.
When the World Economic Forum (WEF) gave Slovakia the worst ranking that it ever received on the 139-country competitiveness chart, Fico’s economy minister Ľubomír Jahnátek readily had an explanation at hand: it was political antipathy from the Slovak Business Alliance, the local partner of WEF.
In fact, cronyism was listed as Slovakia’s largest competitive disadvantage in the World Economic Forum’s analysis and its report placed Slovakia in 127th position in that category.
Now, after Transparency International released its report on perceptions of public sector corruption and Slovakia dropped five places in the global ranking and received the worst score among the Visegrad Group of central European countries, Fico’s response was quite predictable. He accused the Slovak branch of Transparency International of bias and political chicanery.
Yes, Gabriel Šípoš from Transparency International Slovensko (TIS) was quite specific when he said that the increased perception of government corruption in Slovakia was attributed to poor and non-transparent public procurement, reluctance to mend legal loopholes that foster corruption, as well as a poorly functioning judicial system under Fico’s government.
In a public response blind to the well-documented and glaring cases of cronyism and corrupt procurement, Fico brushed aside the substance of the report and said he is drafting a letter to TI's Berlin headquarters to open its eyes to what he calls the nefarious work of an “interesting twosome”, referring to Emília Sičáková-Beblavá, who led the Slovak branch of TI between 1998 and 2009, and her husband Miroslav Beblavý, who was elected this year as an MP for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Fico does not seem to understand that it was not Sičáková-Beblavá or Beblavý who were compiling the data and developing the rankings and perhaps he assumes that international organisations like the World Economic Forum or the Economist Intelligence Unit use methods similar to those applied under his government: certain people in the state can simply and easily turn the wheels of anything that moves. It is unlikely that the response from TI headquarters, which compiles the report from eight surveys conducted by six international organisations, will convince Fico that it was not his political adversaries pulling strings.
In fact, Fico should first of all “thank” his own party loyalists and his coalition partners for achieving this dubious ranking. Nothing more is really needed as there are so many fishy parcels in the past government's baggage. Certainly, we can first count Slovakia’s sale of its emissions quotas at a bargain-basement price, a farcical two-year affair that grew into an international tragicomedy complete with various iterations on the name Interblue Group – a case that will long fascinate anyone studying classic forms of state corruption and/or state stupidity. Then there is the bulletin-board tender ‘masterminded’ by his buddies in the Slovak National Party which resulted in contracts using EU money being awarded to firms allegedly close to party boss Ján Slota – the EU auditors were not impressed. Finally, should we not note the murky transfers of valuable land in the High Tatras to a company thought to be close to HZDS boss Vladimír Mečiar?
It was also under Fico’s government that the current Supreme Court president – someone who still carries the suspicion of abusing the court’s disciplinary procedures to target certain judges – ascended to his perch despite massive protests by political ethics watchdogs.
And it was actually Fico himself who, early in his premiership, made a most memorable statement, one that still prompts shudders among transparency advocates: “We will not consider it unacceptable if, in the case of two equal projects of the same quality and the same final effect, a minister gives preference to a [village or town] mayor who supports the ruling coalition.”
All in all, any chart based on analysis of the perception or presence of corruption which ignored what happened under the government of Robert Fico in terms of cronyism or corruption would have had absolutely no credibility.
Its only value would have been to spare the world the fatuous letter which Fico is now threatening to send to Berlin.
1. Nov 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová