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Justice Ministry goes to non-partisan figure

ONLY a few positions in the new Robert Fico cabinet now remain unfilled: in a steady stream of announcements and comments during the last week in March, the prime minister-elect has informed the public about most of the ministerial team that will run the government for the next four years. Despite media speculation that Martin Glváč, the chairman of Smer’s Bratislava regional branch, might get the post of justice minister, Fico has chosen a non-partisan nominee, the chairman of the Slovak Bar Association, Tomáš Borec, for one of the most closely watched ministerial seats.

ONLY a few positions in the new Robert Fico cabinet now remain unfilled: in a steady stream of announcements and comments during the last week in March, the prime minister-elect has informed the public about most of the ministerial team that will run the government for the next four years. Despite media speculation that Martin Glváč, the chairman of Smer’s Bratislava regional branch, might get the post of justice minister, Fico has chosen a non-partisan nominee, the chairman of the Slovak Bar Association, Tomáš Borec, for one of the most closely watched ministerial seats.

Former finance minister Ján Počiatek will get a plumb job at the head of what is being called a ‘super-ministry’. He will lead a revamped Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development, which will also coordinate the spending of European Union funds. Following a change made by the outgoing government, Počiatek will also inherit the tourism agenda. Počiatek will thus be able to monitor and control much of the EU money flowing into Slovakia.

Borec and Počiatek will join Robert Kaliňák, who is returning to his previous job as interior minister; Marek Maďarič, the returning culture minister; Miroslav Lajčák, who is abandoning a high-profile EU job to return to the Foreign Ministry; the former deputy prime minister for minorities, Dušan Čaplovič, who will now be education minister; as well as former state secretary (i.e. deputy minister) at the finance ministry, Peter Kažimír, who now takes the minister’s seat.

Zuzana Zvolenská, who previously served as chief executive of the private Dôvera health insurance company, which is owned by the Penta financial group, as well as its state-owned counterpart Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťovna (VšZP), will get the health minister’s job.

Two names were floated for the defence minister’s job: MP Peter Pellegrini and Glváč, who previously served under Fico as state secretary at the Ministry of Construction. On March 29, Fico confirmed that Glváč would get the job at defence, while also stating that the environment post would go to Peter Žiga, the head of Smer’s Košice branch. Žiga previously served under Fico as state secretary at the Economy Ministry.

Glváč is a somewhat controversial choice as his background includes time spent working with the Donar firm of businessman Fedor Flašík, which had a close relationship with the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the party of former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. Glváč has admitted that he occasionally played football and tennis with another business tycoon, Vladimír Poór, who has also been 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 the 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 as part of a complicated restitution deal.

Although it was not officially confirmed as The Slovak Spectator went to print, Stanislav Becík, a former agriculture minister and HZDS nominee, is likely to be agriculture minister while Smer’s secretary general Ján Richter should become the next labour minister, the post in the previous Fico term held by Viera Tomanová. She has not been linked to any senior public position.

The name of Ján Valko, the former head of the board of directors of JAVYS, Slovakia’s nuclear decommissioning company, has been mentioned as the country’s next economy minister, but his nomination had not been confirmed as of March 29. Nevertheless, the rumours were enough to prompt outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radičová to warn President Ivan Gašparovič about objections that she has to Valko, the Sme daily reported. Last year Radičová vetoed Valko’s nomination to lead the country’s procurement authority, the ÚVO, after he was proposed by Smer.


Borec appointment greeted as a ‘pleasant surprise’


Speculation about Glváč’s possible appointment as justice minister provoked objections even from some Smer members who, according to the SITA newswire, were worried about his connections to businesses and financial groups that could have made him vulnerable to criticism. By contrast, the news that Borec will lead the justice department has elicited no opposition.

“It is a very pleasant surprise,” said Zuzana Wienk, the head of Fair-Play Alliance, a political ethics watchdog, and a strong critic of former justice minister and current Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin, as quoted by Sme.

Fico said that Borec met all the criteria for the job, while Smer spokesperson Erik Tomáš confirmed that the party would not bind Borec’s hands when it came to picking his team.

“My instant mission will be to calm the situation within the justice department and take steps so that the judiciary fully returns to the activities it is granted by the Slovak Constitution and the law,” Borec said, as quoted by SITA, adding that he will also strive to improve the enforceability of laws in Slovakia.

Fico repeatedly stressed that his justice nominee is a strictly non-partisan candidate. Borec, 46, is a former member of the disciplinary committee of the Slovak Bar Association, and in June 2010 became its chair. Since 2011 he has been the arbiter of the Arbitral Court of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Since 2005 he has also been the arbiter of the Centre of Alternative Solution of Disputes concerning the dot.eu domain at the Arbitral Court at the Economic Chamber of the Czech Republic and the Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic.

According to Wienk, as reported by Sme, if Borec lasts in the ministry, there is some hope that the situation in the judiciary will not get worse and that necessary reforms will continue. A board member of the Slovak Bar Association, Ondrej Mularčík, said that Borec was not picked to lead the bar by accident in 2010, but because of his experience as a lawyer.


The ‘super-ministry’


Počiatek said that in the 2007-2013 programming period for drawing EU funds the most crucial thing is to secure money intended for road and railway infrastructure.

“The mass of EU funds allocated there is the highest,” Počiatek said, as quoted by SITA, suggesting that the drawing of funds could be achieved effectively by retaining the present form of the ministry.

Počiatek said that highway construction must progress at the fastest possible pace, and added that he favours the idea of financing highway construction from other sources besides the state budget and EU funds.

“I believe there is no reason to resist other ways of financing,” Počiatek said. He specifically mentioned the possible use of money currently administered by pension fund management companies.

In 2008 Počiatek found himself in hot water over a controversial meeting in Monte Carlo with the boss of J&T, an influential Slovak financial group. Fico at the time described the meeting as “unethical” and “immoral” given his government’s proclaimed opposition to such firms. In mid-June of that year, the central bank looked into suspicions that there may have been a leak of information during the re-setting of the Slovak crown’s so-called central parity rate against the euro in late May. Ivan Mikloš, now the outgoing finance minister, who was then in opposition, suggested that a leak may have allowed some financial groups such as J&T to indulge in insider trading during the re-setting, reaping significant profits. However, the central bank reported in September 2008 that no information concerning revaluation of the central parity of the Slovak crown to the euro had been leaked.


The speaker and his deputies


The leadership of the Slovak Parliament has also been largely settled. Pavol Paška will return to his old job as speaker of parliament and will have two Smer and two opposition deputies. Smer’s regional head for Banská Bystrica, Jana Laššáková, will serve as one of them, with Renata Zmajkovičová, another Smer deputy who previously headed the parliamentary mandate and immunity committee, as the other. For the opposition, Erika Jurinová of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) party will serve as deputy speaker along with Ján Figeľ, the leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

When it comes to the distribution of parliamentary committee chairs, Smer has left nine to the opposition. However, the right-wing parties seem unable to strike an agreement over the distribution of some of them. The main tussle is currently over the chairmanship of the economy committee, with both the KDH and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party angling to chair it.

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