“IT HAS to be a vratka. It makes no other sense,” said opposition leader Robert Fico about the recent property-leasing scandal of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), turning an expert term previously used by accountants, auditors, and businessmen into Slovakia’s word of the week.
Until now, “vratka” described a VAT refund. Thanks to Fico, it has become a synonym for money that political parties siphon from public funds. Of course the manner in which the Smer leader used it indicates that it is not new to his vocabulary. But the previous coalition’s misdeeds are no excuse for the seven sins of the current one:
1. Conflict of interest. Not only was the public not notified in advance that an official appointed by the SDKÚ was signing a deal with a member of the same party, but tax office boss Miroslav Mikulčík claimed that he himself did not know about the ties. Given that Mikulčík is close friends with Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš, who is close to SDKÚ boss Mikuláš Dzurinda, who is close to the lucky entrepreneur, Ondrej Ščurka, this does not seem very convincing.
2. No tendering. A proper tender could have eased doubts about the conflict of interest. The fact that the deal was agreed directly with Ščurka would make the transaction suspicious, even if it was not an SDKÚ regional boss who was on the receiving end of the deal.
3. The use of off-shore companies. The company whose building the tax office is moving into is co-owned by a firm registered in Cyprus. Now, it is hard to argue with Prime Minister Radičová when she says that that country is “a regular member of the EU”. Still, Cyprus is not known for its transparency.
4. The breach of election promises. The use of off-shores is particularly amusing given the fact that in their election manifesto the SDKÚ promised to “guarantee that companies whose owners are not identifiable will not be able to sign agreements with the state”. Well, here you go.
5. Lies. Mikulčík has presented several versions of how his office found the company and signed the contract. Obviously, they cannot all be true.
6. No sanctions. No one is going to pay for any of the problems. The tax office director and the finance minister are keeping their jobs, the company is keeping its contract.
7. A crazy quasi-solution. Radičová says that if anyone has a better offer than the one introduced by her party colleague, they will terminate the agreement. What sort of an entrepreneur would want to make a fool of the tax office boss? And is this how the government plans to function – handing out contracts to cronies in the hope no one will find out, and only if someone does, letting others compete?
If this is the way the SDKÚ and Radičová plan to operate, they will soon find that political fate can be very vratká (uncertain) and voters may well show them the vrátka (little door).
18. Apr 2011 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff