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A ROUND–UP OF THE TOP STORIES OF 2011

Corruption still in focus

Throughout 2011 the cabinet of Iveta Radičová continued to emphasise its efforts to fight corruption and bring more transparency into the public sphere. Since January 2011, all Slovak state, regional and municipal offices have been required to publish their contracts, paid invoices and purchase orders online. The publication of this information, designed to show how government entities spend public money, has already helped the media to uncover questionable spending at some Slovak ministries and state-run companies. Many observers say the law’s potential to reduce corrupt dealings in government is comparable to the passage of Slovakia’s law on public access to information in 2000.

Throughout 2011 the cabinet of Iveta Radičová continued to emphasise its efforts to fight corruption and bring more transparency into the public sphere. Since January 2011, all Slovak state, regional and municipal offices have been required to publish their contracts, paid invoices and purchase orders online. The publication of this information, designed to show how government entities spend public money, has already helped the media to uncover questionable spending at some Slovak ministries and state-run companies. Many observers say the law’s potential to reduce corrupt dealings in government is comparable to the passage of Slovakia’s law on public access to information in 2000.

Despite the adoption of anti-corruption measures, the country’s performance in the Corruption Perception Index 2011, which ranked Slovakia 66th out of 183 countries in the overall ranking and 26th in the EU and Western Europe region, showed that there is still a long way to go. However, observers believe that next year’s index, which will consider this year’s reforms, will improve Slovakia’s ranking, currently the fifth lowest among all EU members, with only Italy, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria scoring lower.

Transparency watchdogs suggested that among the main obstacles when dealing with corruption in Slovakia are the weak police and prosecution departments, and the notoriously patchy justice system.

During 2011 prosecution bodies nevertheless pressed charges over one of the most notorious cases of alleged corruption to arise during the last government: the so-called bulletin-board tender. Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic announced on March 9 that four people had been charged with tampering with a public procurement. At the same time, a motion was filed with the duty prosecutor to request that parliament strip a fifth suspect of his immunity from prosecution: former construction minister Igor Štefanov, who currently sits as an MP for the Slovak National Party (SNS). The request remains lodged with the General Prosecutor’s Office, but Štefanov has not been listed as an SNS candidate in the general election in March so will lose his immunity as an MP in less than three months.

His predecessor as minister, Marián Janušek, also from the SNS, has also been accused in the same case. The tender in question, for legal and support services worth €129 million, was won by a consortium of companies close to SNS boss Ján Slota after the tender was announced only via a notice posted on a bulletin board at the ministry in an area not normally accessible to the public. Several audits confirmed that the services provided via the tender were overpriced.

The government also launched a clean up on its own doorstep. A former advisor on economics to Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, Martin Novotný, was charged with indirect corruption connected to the state-subsidised reconstruction of biathlon facilities in Osrblie. Novotný and Igor Líška, a former Slovak ambassador to Kenya, were remanded in pre-trial custody over the charges, but Novotný was freed on October 26 after the Supreme Court ruled that he was unlikely to attempt to influence witnesses.

Novotný, Líška and the owner of the construction company which was commissioned to reconstruct the facilities were charged over an alleged bribe of €30,000 – or 10 percent of the state’s grant up to that time – paid to the Slovak Biathlon Association (SZB) and the Biathlon Club Osrblie. The money was intended to contribute to the completion of a multifunctional building in Osrblie’s biathlon centre. The government assigned a total of €1.6 million for the project, with €1 million to come from the Education Ministry, €300,000 from the Finance Ministry and the other €300,000 from the prime minister’s financial reserve.

Another top stories of 2011:
The government collapses and early elections are announced
Judiciary undergoes changes
Battle over prosecutor drags on
Minister sacked over wiretapping scandal
Troubled deals

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