LONG-TIME political allies of Robert Fico, whom he calls the pillars of Smer party, are expected to get powerful ministerial chairs in the new state administration. There is not any nail-biting involved in the nomination of the next interior minister as that portfolio will go to the deputy chairman of Smer, Robert Kaliňák, who held the post during the first Fico government between 2006 and 2010. Similarly, Marek Maďarič will return to the post of culture minister while the former state secretary (i.e. deputy minister) at the finance ministry, Peter Kažimír, will now take the minister’s seat. Dušan Čaplovič, who served as deputy prime minister for minorities, is expected to get a ministerial post and the media have speculated that he might become the country’s next minister of education.
The new cabinet selected by Prime Minister Fico is expected to take office on April 4.
Fico said on March 20 that selection of his cabinet was 60 percent ready and that he would introduce his complete team of nominees to the public six days later.
The new prime minister, who was given the responsibility of forming a government by President Ivan Gašparovič on March 15, is choosing his team at a time when much of the public is generally disillusioned about the way the country’s elected officials have functioned over the past two decades, a perception sharpened by the publication of the so-called Gorilla file containing purported transcripts indicating political corruption at high levels of government in 2005-06. Fico said the process of making high-level appointments is demanding.
“We are under immense pressure and under the public microscope,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “If someone fails and we go on discussing the matter for two weeks the public would not buy it. Making personnel decisions will be exceptionally difficult for the prime minister.”
Fico said he is carefully examining any possible skeletons in the closets of those individuals he is considering as well as candidates’ links to other people.
“The media are quite intensively working with names,” Fico said. “Perhaps it is good … and perhaps information will surface that we do not know. Step by step I want a government that will bring peace and professional performance to Slovakia. We need a normal and decent government to take power.”
Fico confirmed on March 20 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be led by career diplomat Miroslav Lajčák who he previously appointed foreign minister on January 26, 2009, replacing Ján Kubiš. Lajčák will resign from his current high-profile job as the European External Action Service’s managing director for Russia, the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans, where he reports to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Lajčák is currently one of Ashton’s six assistants and occupies the third highest position in the European External Action Service.
While Fico has said that he plans to offer some posts – such as the economy and agriculture portfolios – to apolitical nominees, he added that he wants his cabinet to be built mostly around ‘pillars’ from his Smer party. He confirmed that party stalwart Pavol Paška will be nominated as speaker of parliament, a position he held from 2006 to 2010.
The new economy minister might be Ján Valko, who Fico had proposed to lead the country’s Public Procurement Office in June 2011, a nomination that was rejected by outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, according to SITA. Valko was previously the head of the board of directors of JAVYS, Slovakia’s nuclear decommissioning company.
Smer’s general secretary, Ján Richter, might become the next labour minister but this post could alternatively go to Fico’s former economy minister, Ľubomír Jahnátek. Ján Počiatek, the former finance minister from 2006 to 2010 might now become the transport minister.
A regional leader within Smer, Peter Žiga, who was formerly state secretary at the Economy Ministry, is likely to get a job in the new government as well, and the speculation is that he will lead the Environment Ministry. Stanislav Becík, a former agriculture minister who was nominated by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in August 2008, might return to that post.
Along with the predictable nominations such as Kaliňák, Maďarič and Kažimír, some of the more controversial names that have appeared are Martin Glváč as possible justice minister and Zuzana Zvolenská as health minister. Glváč served as state secretary (i.e. deputy minister) at the scandal-hit Construction Ministry in Fico’s first government, while Zvolenská previously served as CEO of private health insurer Dôvera, which is owned by the Penta financial group, as well as heading its state-owned counterpart Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťovna (VšZP).
“It is pure speculation evoked by the media,” Kaliňák told public-service broadcaster Slovak Television (STV) in response to questions about the possible nomination of Glváč.
At the same time Kaliňák paid credit to Glváč, who is the head of Smer’s Bratislava branch, noting that Smer had its most successful election performance in Bratislava Region in 2012, with the party emerging on top for the first time despite the capital’s reputation as a stronghold of the centre-right.
SITA reported that there appears to be some opposition within Smer towards Glváč becoming justice minister because some party members are worried that his past connections could make him vulnerable to criticism.
According to the Sme daily, Glváč, has admitted to contacts with the now-murdered boss of the Bratislava underworld, Jozef Svoboda. In 2005, Glváč said, as quoted by Sme: “I have known him; I have met him several times and I am not ashamed of it.”
Glváč has also admitted that he occasionally played football and tennis with business tycoon, Vladimír Poór, who at times was a backer of the HZDS, SITA reported, citing unnamed Smer members.
These members of Smer also noted, according to SITA, that Glváč had been involved in a questionable transfer of a lucrative parcel of state land in Čierna Voda near Bratislava to a private firm, reportedly for a fraction of its real value, during the first Fico government. Glváč has denied any connection to the firm that bought the land, which was part of a complicated restitution deal.
An alternative shadow cabinet
While Fico has been pondering ministerial nominees he has also been building what he called a shadow cabinet that will operate from the Government Office. He stated that he wants to construct a strong team of advisers within his office, saying “let’s call it a shadow cabinet in which every department must have a partner at the Government Office”.
Fico said that the responsibility put on the government is immense and the Government Office must have oversight capabilities that will function as an internal control mechanism.
Fico also said he may pursue some consolidation of the state administration by merging the responsibilities of the Anti-Monopoly Office (PMÚ) and the Public Procurement Office, and by scrapping the National Property Fund (FNM), the TASR newswire reported.
Fico is also reportedly considering merging two of Slovakia’s three existing intelligence services: the Military Intelligence Service (VSS) and the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), the military counter-intelligence service. Fico said that merging these agencies made sense financially and might prevent questionable activities such as the recent scandal involving wiretapping of journalists by the VOS, the Sme daily reported.