PRIME Minister Iveta Radičová and Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš clashed head-to-head over the fate of the director general of Slovakia’s Tax Directorate, Miroslav Mikulčík, who nodded earlier this year to a five-year, €6.6 million lease of an office building with a firm co-owned by a regional official of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Radičová called on Mikulčík to step down on April 15, only two days after she commented following a meeting with the tax boss that further discussion of the questionable lease was definitely closed for her. The prime minister said later that she had previously defended Mikulčík’s actions based on false information that Mikulčík gave her. But then Mikloš directly countermanded the prime minister by telling the media on April 18 that Mikulčík should remain in his job.
SDKÚ’s party leadership met on April 19 to seek a solution to the tense situation, which according to observers could have rocked the ruling coalition. Later in the day, Radičová, Mikloš and SDKÚ chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda withdrew to privately discuss the matter further.
After an hour-and-a-half talk they agreed that the prime minister could maintain her position that the head of the Tax Directorate should resign but that she would also respect the authority vested in the finance minister. The culminating compromise was that Radičová and Mikloš both agreed to respect the results of an audit of the case that will be conducted by Slovakia’s Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ).
According to a SDKÚ news release published by the Sme daily, Radičová will closely monitor the NKÚ audit and will then jointly evaluate the results with Mikloš.
Dzurinda told the media he does not think that Mikulčík remaining in his post would weaken the prime minister in her position.
“The SDKÚ backed the prime minister and we fully respect all her statements,” Dzurinda said, as quoted by Sme.
Earlier on April 19, Mikloš had said that he is aware of his responsibility in dealing with the building lease but added that as the responsible minister he alone would handle his responsibilities and would not yield to media pressure. Mikloš admitted that one of the possible options was that the prime minister would propose his recall. He also noted that he had an agreement with Radičová that until April 18 neither of them would release additional statements about the case.
According to Mikloš, Radičová reasoned the change in her position about Mikulčík staying by saying that “those pressures increased”. But Mikloš said he did not agree to bending to such pressures.
“We should not be solving such issues based on pressures because it is the beginning of the end,” Mikloš stated, as quoted by SITA newswire.
Responding to various speculations on the eventual outcome of the crisis, Mikloš said that he is not interested in assuming the prime minister’s chair. He also stated that he is not in any conflict with Radičová and that their opinions differ only over this particular issue.
Mikloš has insisted that Mikulčík acted in the public interest when he signed the contract earlier this year to rent an office building in Košice from Nitra Invest, a firm co-owned by Ondrej Ščurka, the chairman of the SDKÚ branch in Nitra.
Fico called it cronyism
The leader of the parliamentary opposition, Robert Fico of Smer party, presented what he called a story of party cronyism when he told the media on April 11 about the lease agreement, charging that some of the funds would end up in the SDKÚ accounts. Mikulčík responded that the contract with Nita Invest was completely in line with applicable laws and would save state funds.
Radičová then initiated an investigation of the Tax Directorate by the Government Office and also requested Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík to submit a proposal to parliament for the NKÚ to audit the Tax Directorate.
On April 15, Nitra Invest sent a notification that it is withdrawing from the contract, stating that it did not want any further suspicions to be attached to its name.
Political observers noted that questions of impropriety surrounding the contract have put the SDKÚ in an unfortunate position and have urged the party to leave no questions unanswered. The Fair-Play Alliance, a political ethics watchdog, earlier said that the best way to resolve the controversy was to cancel the contract and start the procurement process again with full transparency.
Three days after Fico made his allegations of cronyism Radičová requested Mikulčík to take new bids for the tax authority’s office space in Košice and stated that if a cheaper offer meeting all requirements was submitted then the lease should be cancelled. After his meeting with Radičová, Mikulčík said he saw no reason to resign, saying all steps taken by the tax authority were legal and that renting the building from Ščurka’s firm would save the state about €3.5 million in upcoming years.
19. Apr 2011 at 17:00 | Beata Balogová