THE IDEAL candidate, a university graduate, will demonstrate knowledge of procurement procedures, have good managerial skills and have at least five-years of relevant experience. So reads the state’s job advertisement seeking applicants who might fill the top job at Slovakia’s procurement watchdog agency. A new chief for the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) will be chosen under the close watch of the public: this is the approach Prime Minister Iveta Radičová has chosen to take in response to an ongoing tug-of-war between opposition Smer party and her government over the post.
Robert Fico, chairman of Smer, insists that the right to nominate the person to lead ÚVO belongs solely to the opposition based on an unwritten agreement while Radičová holds that Smer missed its opportunity by clinging to an unacceptable nominee.
“Since Robert Fico did not use his right to nominate an acceptable candidate and since the government is responsible for the functioning of this important institution, as prime minister I chose to resolve the situation in a way that further processes will be under public control,” Radičová stated.
The top post at ÚVO has been vacant since April 11 when Roman Šipoš resigned after receiving withering criticism from Radičová. She pointed to what she called a sharp rise in cancelled public tenders as well as the authority’s failure to efficiently publish its decisions after undertaking audits. Šipoš, who was in office for less than a year, was tight-lipped about his reasons for resigning.
The Government Office published its call for candidates to seek the post on June 20, inviting any persons who feel they are qualified to submit an application by July 4. The government’s announcement stated an applicant should have at least five years hands-on experience with public procurement and possess managerial skills and moral integrity.
The chairman of ÚVO should guarantee that public procurement will be handled in the interest of the public, Radičová said, while asking potential candidates to consider the call with utmost seriousness and responsibility.
Meanwhile, Fico responded with an open letter accusing Radičová of ignoring a political agreement under which the head of ÚVO has been nominated by an opposition party in the past.
“I will take the liberty to remind you of your public statements and personal promises linked to this position as well as to the fact that between 2006 and 2010 Smer, as a ruling party, fully respected a political nominee of the opposition SMK party for the post of chairman of the Public Procurement Office as well as representative of your party to the post of deputy chairman,” Fico stated in his June 15 letter.
Ján Valko, the opposition candidate nominated by Smer for the post, failed to receive support from the government at its meeting on June 8, with the cabinet stating that JAVYS, Slovakia’s nuclear decommissioning company, had avoided using public tenders to conduct its procurement while Valko was its CEO.
Radičová responded that Fico had been repeatedly offered the possibility to submit the name of an acceptable candidate, while stressing that a professional approach, actual experience, natural leadership, independence and integrity are the necessary attributes. The prime minister said “the nomination submitted by Smer’s Robert Fico did not meet the agreed upon qualities” asserting that Valko’s background did not provide a guarantee of expertise and experience in public procurement.
Radičová also stated that Valko had twice run for a significant public post but had failed to win support and viewed this as a serious drawback to his nomination to head ÚVO. Radičová added that Fico had a chance to propose another candidate who would have the required qualities, but that Fico insisted on Valko.
“Since Smer insists on a candidate who does not meet the agreed upon qualities and preconditions for the post, it has not kept the agreement on nomination criteria,” Radičová stated. “Since he refused to propose a candidate who would meet the agreed-upon professional and personal qualities, he has not used the right of the opposition to [nominate] the ÚVO top post and thus he prevented the cabinet from proposing to parliament a candidate from the opposition. Such procedure by the chairman of Smer party is regrettable and irresponsible.”
Fico, however, insisted that Valko meets the professional criteria, stating that Smer does not in any way accept the arguments Radičová levelled against Valko. Fico stated it has never been proven that Valko managed state property in an uneconomical way and that “the contract between JAVYS and the Czech ČEZ company for the construction of the new nuclear block in Jaslovské Bohunice was described by your minister, Mr. [Juraj] Miškov, as correct, balanced and alright”.
Fico said his party is convinced that it is “an effort by the ruling coalition to control public procurement at any price and to take away from the opposition a significant controlling position” that is behind the government’s rejection of Smer’s nominee.
Fico stated he believes the ruling coalition wants to strip the opposition of a significant function that involves checking and auditing other parts of the government.
“If you fill the position of chairman of this institution by a candidate other than an opposition nominee, you will only further deepen the distrust towards yourself which you have caused by the way you handled your public statements and promises given as prime minister of Slovakia,” Fico stated in his letter.
In early April, Radičová reported that ÚVO had cancelled 111 out of 220 public procurements during Šipoš’s tenure and that she had received several complaints about the tender watchdog office’s operations. The prime minister also has alleged that ÚVO’s current deputy chairman, Marek Vladár, has a conflict of interest.
Vladár was responsible for public procurement at the Interior Ministry under the previous government and as deputy head of ÚVO he is now responsible for overseeing or reviewing several tenders that he had originally initiated, including tenders for production of electronic identification cards and for a registry of citizens.
Political observers and non-governmental organisation earlier this year said they would prefer an independent, non-partisan professional watching over public tenders.
“It should be an independent person,” the president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Grigorij Mesežnikov, told The Slovak Spectator. “If the coalition and the opposition had been able to agree on a joint candidate, this would have been the best solution. However, claiming that the opposition should have the right to control the coalition through this public institution is quite wrong.”
Mesežnikov added that the prime responsibility of the office is to assure adherence of public procurement processes to the law regardless of any links to a political party.
Mesežnikov said Fico’s insistence that the post belongs to the opposition is without foundation.
“The previous chairman of ÚVO, [Béla] Angyal, was not a nominee of the opposition at all,” Mesežnikov said, noting that he had been appointed by the second government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. Mesežnikov explained that Fico’s incoming government had accepted Angyal in the same way that the current ruling coalition accepted Šipoš, as someone who was not nominated as a representative of the opposition but by a party of the government – in this case Fico’s government – before the 2010 election.
Based on a change in the law on public procurement that took effect on April 1 the head of ÚVO is to be appointed by parliament based on a recommendation from the cabinet.
27. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová