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EDITORIAL

Money for nothing

EVERY change of government in Slovakia entails a whole army of political nominees marching into state-controlled institutions to take posts abruptly vacated by their predecessors. This is because those who rule the country prefer to have people with a sympathetic ear in all manner of places, both influential and mundane.

EVERY change of government in Slovakia entails a whole army of political nominees marching into state-controlled institutions to take posts abruptly vacated by their predecessors. This is because those who rule the country prefer to have people with a sympathetic ear in all manner of places, both influential and mundane.

As part of this “transaction” the old nominees are swept out of their well-paying jobs and since “fluctuation” is already in the genes of any appointment system which is based on something other than exclusively professional criteria, “golden parachutes” are attached to these positions.
The problem is that this nomination charade, which is of no value to anyone other than those directly involved, costs the state a lot of money. For example, this year’s “parachute” show just at the Transport Ministry is likely to cost taxpayers over €1.5 million.

Marcela Hrdá, the sacked head of the postal service, Slovenská Pošta, is due to pocket €178,000 in severance and bonus payments, while Pavol Kravec, who was fired as head of the state-owned passenger rail operator ZSSK in April, might get a farewell package of €205,000.

The recently installed transport minister, Ján Počiatek, blamed these particular golden parachutes on his predecessor, Ján Figeľ, who as minister was directly responsible for these companies. While Figeľ, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), said that he was aware of his responsibility for employment deals, he added that people he trusted had failed him. Lavish severance payments went to several KDH members and nominees, according to the SITA newswire.

If these people had been selected via a competitive process with strictly set professional criteria, then perhaps Figeľ and his party would have been in a slightly more comfortable position – because the nominees might not have been replaced. Of course, for such a situation to occur all the political parties, including Smer, which is now dominant, would have to stop installing nominees in jobs where political affiliation is of no relevance.

MP Radoslav Procházka from KDH called on his party’s nominees to return their severance payments and even said that the KDH itself should refund money to the state for any nominees who were not forthcoming. Two nominees, including Kravec, pledged to return their severance pay while also giving up their KDH membership.

Before anyone thinks that golden parachutes are a speciality of the KDH it is worth recalling that severance pay of €100,000 and €90,000 were given to two Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) nominees at TEKO, the Košice-based state-owned central heating plant, after they held their posts for a matter of weeks in 2011.

These golden parachutes transcend governments and parties and have appeared across the political spectrum over the past two decades. According to the Sme daily, Smer’s Miroslav Rapšík, who as recently as 2010 left his top job at the national electricity grid operator, SEPS, with a fat severance payment to ease his pain of departure, may now return to work as a board member of the very same company. Though SEPS has refused to say just how golden its parachutes were, Sme reported in 2011, citing information from the national privatisation agency, that five SEPS board members who served between 2006 and 2010 cashed in a total of €730,000.

Those who defend such payments say they make it easier to head-hunt someone for a top position. This might be true if one were talking about a pool of professionals who could pick their desired job based simply on their skills and experience. But political nominees exist for no other reason than to maintain a system of political patronage and their example means that the public has come to believe that bonuses of any kind are basically immoral.

Even if some political nominees do, by some coincidence, have managerial skills, they face being reminded later in their careers that they owe their lofty positions not to their abilities but to their party, whose reputation tends to tarnish much quicker than that of professionals with record is built on achievement

Sympathy for liberal, Christian democratic, conservative, nationalist or social democratic ideals – or for more extreme variations of these – should never qualify anyone for a senior managerial post, apart from a job party headquarters.

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