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Deputy minister steps down unexpectedly

IN A SURPRISE move, Martin Chren, the state secretary – i.e. deputy minister – at Slovakia’s Ministry of Economy, announced on February 17 that he would quit his post and take up a seat in parliament.

IN A SURPRISE move, Martin Chren, the state secretary – i.e. deputy minister – at Slovakia’s Ministry of Economy, announced on February 17 that he would quit his post and take up a seat in parliament.

Chren, a nominee of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party who last year faced intense media pressure over government deals made by Hayek Consulting, a company that he formerly co-owned, said that his decision to leave was entirely his own and that he had neither been pushed nor forced out by anyone else.

“My decision has not been caused by any pseudo-case or case,” Chren said at a press conference on February 17. “I want to prove that I am not glued to any chair.”

Chren, who will be recalled officially in early March, said he would continue serving as an advisor to Economy Minister Juraj Miškov and would receive no remuneration for his services. Chren also said that over the past seven months as state secretary he had not made any decision that could have benefitted him personally.

In the light of recent criticism of golden parachutes paid to top managers at state-run enterprises, Chren was at pains to point out that the ministry was obliged by law to pay him a severance payment of around €3,600. He pledged to give the money to charity.

Earlier on February 17, Igor Matovič of the Ordinary People faction of SaS was quick to dismiss speculation that Chren’s departure was in any way linked to an agreement that his faction had struck with SaS, insisting that no such demand was put on the table.

Chren too dismissed the speculation by saying that “no agreement with any political party or politician” is behind his departure from the post.

Yet Chren did leave some room for speculation by offering no answer to a question about whether health issues lay behind his decision. He merely said he would not respond because it was a sensitive issue, the SITA newswire reported.

Another onetime co-owner of Hayek Consulting, Ivan Švejna, a Most-Híd party nominee, stepped down last year as state secretary at the Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications after what he called immense media pressure. Švejna said he resigned in order to protect the Hayek Foundation, a think tank from which Hayek Consulting emerged, and his own party Most-Híd.

Hayek Consulting, when it was apparently still co-owned by Chren and Švejna, signed a €8,100 contract with the National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises, 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. Also, under the previous government, Hayek Consulting had competed for several Finance Ministry contracts along with other bidders that the Sme daily reported were on friendly terms with the firm.

The Hayek Foundation, with which Hayek Consulting was still affiliated, claimed that it had become the target of a deliberate political campaign that had damaged its reputation.

Prime Minister Iveta Radičová on September 24, 2010, said that if a Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) enquiry found that any of the deals made by Hayek Consulting displayed irregularities or were found to be in violation of procurement rules, Chren would have to go.

The NKÚ audit report later stated that resources from the budgets of the Finance Ministry and the National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises (NADSME) were not used economically. However, the NKÚ also said that the funds Hayek Consulting received were used in line with the agreements concluded and that the firm carried out the tasks that had been expected of it. In fact the ministry was blamed for erroneously assigning the tasks, SITA reported.

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