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The nomination shuffle

REGULAR post-election clean-ups, in which the nominees of parties that are consigned to opposition are themselves shown the door, have been part of the life cycle of every change of government in Slovakia.

REGULAR post-election clean-ups, in which the nominees of parties that are consigned to opposition are themselves shown the door, have been part of the life cycle of every change of government in Slovakia.

The scale of the reshuffle typically reflects the nature of the political change as well as the political culture of Slovak society.

There have always been highly charged jobs where it was more difficult to replace those who had become glued to their thrones by the ruling power – especially if they had served that power well.

Thus, for some time, efforts to fill certain crucial state posts can make it look as though the process is in fact the core business of government. Most recently, Freedom and Solidarity’s (SaS) continued inability to find an acceptable candidate for the top post at Slovakia’s security vetting agency has perpetuated this image.

The story of course starts with the previous government, since František Blanárik, an alleged former agent for the communist-era military intelligence agency, should have never been appointed to the National Security Office (NBÚ) at all. But once it had inherited him, SaS, to which the right of nomination to this key post belongs, should have moved much quicker to show Blanárik the door.

Three failed nominations, including a judge with some controversial baggage, will not engender much public trust in the party’s ability to fill crucial posts. For many it remains a mystery why SaS has been fishing for candidates among the judiciary, which – current reforms aside – remains a rather troubled pond.

A trial-and-error method might work well in the field of science where experimenting is at the heart of success, but when it comes to political nominations for positions such as head of the country’s vetting authority, ‘the keep trying until it fits’ approach might not only fail to work, but may eventually do irreparable harm to the credibility of the experimenter.

It is not that the Slovak public is unaccustomed to seeing people come and go from public jobs with bewildering speed. For example, since the Velvet Revolution, public broadcaster Slovak Television has had more general directors than the country has had governments.

No fewer than five people occupied the position of the Environment Minister in just the four-year term of the Robert Fico government, with the fifth short-lived minister making a joke, which he later claim the media had misunderstood, about how he had ‘obtained’ the ministerial post: he said he had merely sent in a CV.

The ruling coalition has been taking pains, even risking its own demise, to fill the post of the general prosecutor – or more precisely, to prevent Dobroslav Trnka, who is backed by Fico’s Smer party, from being reinstated for another seven years in that powerful chair.

The top post at the country’s Public Procurement Office also needs filling. The right to nominate him or her belongs to Smer, but Fico’s party put forward Ján Valko, who the prime minister quite rightly rejected on the grounds that under his management, Slovakia’s nuclear decommissioning company, JAVYS, had avoided using public tenders to conduct procurement processes. Smer thus wasted its chance to propose a nominee.

But Smer clearly has a different interpretation of the situation.

Fico was quick to say that “Radičová has fooled us all” because she had said that positions that ‘belong’ to the opposition would continue to ‘belong’ to it. He claimed that the ruling coalition obviously wanted to fill the post so that it could control its own businesses.

Now, if the ruling coalition had rejected a respected professional, an advocate of transparent public procurement, then Fico’s complaints would have merited some attention and could have prompted questions.

Instead, such nominations threaten to turn into a theatre of the absurd. This prompts two questions: Is the failure of Slovakia’s political parties to fill these jobs down to ineptitude or a scarcity of good candidates?

Or is it instead the case that decisions are often made hastily, and that partisan interests still weigh more heavily than professionalism and a clean history?

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