THE LAW on pensions came close to becoming a commodity in a corruption case recently revealed at the Labour Ministry. However, a senior official who had been asked to change the wording of the law to suit a specific interest group – in return for a stay in a luxury hotel in the High Tatras and a payment of up to €20,000 – refused to comply and instead alerted the police.
The police have now charged an employee of the Labour Ministry, another senior official identified as Štefan M. According to Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, the suspect tried to bribe the female ministry official to sneak a provision into an amendment of the law on pensions then being drafted “so that it would suit a specific group”.
This was in September 2010, when the amendment was being prepared at the ministry. The law was recently passed by parliament during its September 2011 session. The bribe amounted up to €20,000, Lipšic said.
“He was trying to manipulate the legislative process in favour of a specific group,” Lipšic said.
The official who was offered the bribe promptly addressed her superiors and the police anti-corruption office, and cooperated with the police as their agent to document the corruption case.
Both Lipšic and Labour Minister Jozef Mihál paid tribute to the whistle-blowing official for contacting the police despite the lucrative offer she had been made. Apart from money, she was also offered a stay in a luxury hotel in the High Tatras holiday resort, the police confirmed to the Sme daily.
“It seems like a certain group had become used to influencing the legislative process in this way in the past,” Mihál said. “And this group, with great arrogance, addressed through a mediator a highly-positioned official at the Labour Ministry with an offer to introduce changes into the law on pensions and the second pillar that would suit the business interests of this group of people.”
According to Mihál, the accused official has been working at the ministry for many years.
Lipšic noted that legitimate attempts by lobbyists to influence the legislative process are obviously possible, and acceptable.
“But if any such groups want to do this by way of buying legislation, it will by no means be accepted,” he said.
All the major financial groups active in Slovakia denied that they had tried to influence the law on pensions. Penta, Slávia Capital, and J&T all dismissed the allegations by saying that they have no activities in the pension savings sector. Meanwhile Istrokapitál, whose Poštová Banka subsidiary bought a pension fund management company from ČSOB bank in early 2011, said it had no information about the case and had not engaged in the legislative process, Sme reported.
Accused official still employed at ministry
The senior official who reported the case and then cooperated with the police has not made any statements as she is required to remain silent about the case.
Štefan M., the official accused of attempting to bribe his colleague, is now being prosecuted, but still works at the ministry.
“The accused officer is still [listed as an employee] at the Labour Ministry in the department of social inclusion and material need aid of the section of social and family policy,” ministry spokesperson Slavomíra Selešová told The Slovak Spectator. “At the moment, however, he does not work as a civil servant.”
In line with the law, the ministry put Štefan M. outside the active civil service, “particularly due to the fact that his further activities would endanger the important interests of the civil service, mainly the confidence in lawfulness, impartiality and objectiveness of actions and decisions of a public official”.
Meanwhile, Štefan M. still remains a ministry employee. Such arrangements can last up to two years, during which the employee receives 40 percent of his or her salary. In the event that there is a valid ruling which convicts a public official of a wilful crime, his or her employee relationship with the state automatically expires.
Second graft case to hit Labour Ministry
This is the second corruption case affecting the Labour Ministry to have been revealed within the space of a few weeks. Officers from the anti-corruption unit of the police detained three people in early September, among them a former advisor to Lucia Nicholsonová, the Labour Ministry state secretary.
They were accused of soliciting 30-percent kickbacks from recipients of grants awarded by the Social Implementation Agency (SIA), a budgetary organisation of the Labour Ministry that draws upon EU funds. Overall, grants for more than €1 million are under investigation and the suspects may have received kickbacks of as much as €300,000.
In September 2011 the Labour Ministry also reported that it and the police were investigating three additional cases of possible corruption within the SIA and social companies, and added that criminal prosecutions had been initiated for improper use of EU funds.
3. Oct 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani