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MPs pick new guardian of rights

A FORMER judge and recipient of a civic courage award, Jana Dubovcová, has waited almost a decade to become Slovakia’s public guardian of rights – a job which she describes as the one she has always wanted. After her first unsuccessful bid in 2002, Dubovcová was finally elected on December 13, 2011, to replace Pavel Kandráč, whose second term in the role of ombudsman will expire in late March 2012. While the centre-right parties said Dubovcová was a good choice for the top job at the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, the largest opposition party, Smer, called the move a “very bad pick”.

A FORMER judge and recipient of a civic courage award, Jana Dubovcová, has waited almost a decade to become Slovakia’s public guardian of rights – a job which she describes as the one she has always wanted. After her first unsuccessful bid in 2002, Dubovcová was finally elected on December 13, 2011, to replace Pavel Kandráč, whose second term in the role of ombudsman will expire in late March 2012. While the centre-right parties said Dubovcová was a good choice for the top job at the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, the largest opposition party, Smer, called the move a “very bad pick”.

The job is an apolitical function, regardless of where on the political spectrum the candidate comes from, said Dubovcová, a nominee of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Most-Híd and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), shortly after she won 76 votes in the 150-member parliament. The former judge, who had been planning to run on the SDKÚ slate in the March parliamentary elections, said she would give up her list position.

Dubovcová’s said she aims to bring the office of the ombudsman closer to the people.
“It appears to me that the ombudsman works hard, but in a somewhat concealed fashion,” said Dubovcová, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “I would like to work in a manner that will make the office more conspicuous.”

The former judge, a staunch critic of the Slovak judicial system under current Supreme Court president and former justice minister Štefan Harabin, said that she had not known how the vote would work out until the very last moment. Of the centre-right ruling parties, only the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) had initially hesitated in its support for Dubovcová, but she eventually won the party’s backing.

The KDH, according to Radoslav Procházka, one of its MPs and the chairman of the parliamentary constitutional affairs committee, wanted to avoid a situation in which the post remained vacant for several months as Slovak law lacks a provision to deal with an outgoing parliament’s failure to fill the post. Besides, Dubovcová has all the qualities necessary to become a good ombudswoman, Procházka said.

“The professional experience of a former judge is important for this post and speaks in her favour,” Procházka said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that a substantial part of the agenda deals with complaints by people regarding the operation of the courts. “Even if the authorities aren’t marvellous, experience with that environment will help her in the post.”

Smer leader Robert Fico said he disliked what he called a partisan nomination to such a high constitutional position.

“It is a very, very bad pick,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR, adding that he had wanted the vote on the job to be held only after the parliamentary elections.

Dubovcová, a former chief justice at the Banská Bystrica Regional Court and a mother of five, rose to public attention in 2001, when she launched a corruption survey at her own court which suggested that over 30 percent of respondents had personally experienced corruption.

She attached her name to the “Red Light for Harabin” campaign organised by the NGO Fair Play Alliance to oppose Harabin’s election as Supreme Court President. In 2009, she was suspended and subjected to disciplinary proceedings after she openly criticised Harabin in the media.

Dubovcová shed her judge’s robes in the run-up to last year’s general election and was subsequently elected as an MP for the SDKÚ.

Dubovcová was among the hundreds of judges who filed so-called ‘wage discrimination’ lawsuits against the state, actions which Daniel Lipšic, a former justice minister and the current interior minister, called immoral. She argued that the purpose of her lawsuit was to point out the absurdity of a ruling by the Constitutional Court in which it used the wage discrimination argument as part of its justification in finding that the former Special Court was unconstitutional. Dubovcová later withdrew her complaint.

Though she did not face any challenger for the ombudsman post, the name of František Mikloško, a former dissident, MP and presidential candidate who for most of his career was a prominent member of the KDH, had been floated earlier this year. However, some observers dismissed Mikloško's potential candidacy, arguing that the office should be headed by a legal expert.


HZDS nominee prepares to depart



Slovakia has had only one ombudsman to date: Kandráč, who was first picked for the post in 2002, under a government led by Mikuláš Dzurinda of the SDKÚ. He ran as a candidate proposed by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) of Vladimír Mečiar. In 2007, he was confirmed in the post with support from the then-governing coalition of Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the HZDS.

Kandráč’s activity as ombudsman has been criticised by several human-rights activists and organisations.

“I don’t think citizens have felt they’ve had support when solving problems with the state administration or that anything has improved significantly,” said Šarlota Pufflerová from Občan a demokracia, a non-governmental organisation, as quoted by the Sme daily earlier this year.

In the past year, Kandráč has dealt primarily with unjustified delays in judicial and administrative processes, Sme reported. Of the 2,517 motions his office received over the past 12 months, according to his activity report from May 2011, as many as 64 percent were not correctly addressed to him. He proved in 176 cases that state offices had violated the basic rights and freedoms of citizens, with 145 of those concerning unjustified delays, Sme reported.

Sme also noted that Kandráč had rejected a complaint from the Slovak Journalists’ Syndicate to have the controversial 2008 Press Code, passed by the government of Robert Fico, reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

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