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Controversy over hospital contract

THE HIRING of a man whose day job is to shovel fuel into boilers to draft a management restructuring plan for Žilina’s main, state-run hospital, and then paying him €10,000 to do so, is of no concern, according to the Health Ministry. Reporting the fact, however, is a rather more serious matter, judging by the hospital’s decision to file a criminal complaint against the reporter who investigated the claims.

THE HIRING of a man whose day job is to shovel fuel into boilers to draft a management restructuring plan for Žilina’s main, state-run hospital, and then paying him €10,000 to do so, is of no concern, according to the Health Ministry. Reporting the fact, however, is a rather more serious matter, judging by the hospital’s decision to file a criminal complaint against the reporter who investigated the claims.

The first report into the affair appeared on TV Markíza on January 10. It reported that the hospital plan had been prepared by PP Partnership, a company whose legal representative is Juraj Majer, a boilerman. It also reported that he is the neighbour of the hospital director, Štefan Volák.

“In this case we consider the occupation of the authorised representative of the firm [which prepared the plan] to be absolutely irrelevant,” said Health Minister Zuzana Zvolenská, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Earlier in the week, the Health Ministry said that it was not Majer, but another co-owner of PP Partnership, Tomáš Tvarůžek, that had prepared the project. Tvarůžek is known to have worked with several Czech hospitals, and served as an adviser to Volák, Markíza reported.

Tvarůžek responded that he had been a co-owner of the company, but asked his friend Majer to become its authorised representative after he became chairman of Poprad Hospital, Sme wrote, apparently to avoid conflict-of-interest rules. Tvarůžek lives in the same village as Volák, but they are not direct neighbours, the Health Ministry told Sme.

The opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) called on Health Minister Zuzana Zvolenská to stop avoiding media questions and comment on the allegedly dubious practices at Žilina Hospital, the SITA newswire reported on January 15.

“Unfortunately, it has become a rule that nominees of Smer in state-run hospitals pass orders to their friends, neighbours and companies close to Smer,” said Viliam Novotný, SDKÚ deputy leader, as quoted by SITA, adding that such practices were witnessed during the rule of the first Robert Fico government (2006-10). “This is the way Smer foresees the management of the state health-care system.”

The SDKÚ also criticised what it said was the health minister’s attempts to cover up the actions of the hospital’s director.

At the beginning of the week, the New Majority party of Daniel Lipšic also called on Zvolenská to start answering the questions, and to dismiss Volák. Lipšic stressed that “if she does not do so, it will be an admission that she approves these dubious practices”, SITA wrote.

The ministry responded that it had already prepared an inspection at the hospital with the aim of clearing the name of the director. Meanwhile, the hospital announced it might file a criminal complaint against the TV Markíza reporter who investigated the claims, accusing her of slander and scaremongering.

Novotný said the criminal case against the TV Markíza reporter was an attempt to menace the independent journalists who have pointed to the case and sought answers, SITA wrote.

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