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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Horné Plachtince

IF YOU’re looking for the new El Dorado, just visit Horné Plachtince. The village in southern Slovakia, home to some 200 inhabitants, has in just a couple of days become one of the best known places in the country. No wonder. When your company plans to hand out as much as €130 million in state cash, you deserve the attention.

IF YOU’re looking for the new El Dorado, just visit Horné Plachtince. The village in southern Slovakia, home to some 200 inhabitants, has in just a couple of days become one of the best known places in the country. No wonder. When your company plans to hand out as much as €130 million in state cash, you deserve the attention.

The case illustrates a new scheme for siphoning off public funds. It works something like this: you find a municipality and convince it to become your business partner. Having a public entity in the firm enables you to organise public tenders. You then start looking for companies that can provide, let’s say, marketing services or legal advice. Naturally, not many established providers will notice a competition organised by an obscure small company. But your buddies will. So one of them, or a small group, will win the tender. At this point, you start visiting your friends at various public institutions and tell them that they don’t have to organise their own tenders, you have already done it for them. All they need to do is sign a contract with you, as a public procurer, and start ordering.

As many as 25 state institutions decided to collaborate with the firm from Horné Plachtince, including four ministries, two universities and the state-run lottery. The usual mix of politicians, top-level bureaucrats and former secret service members is involved. After the news broke, interior minister Robert Kaliňák, whose ministry was also involved, asked all state institutions to end their participation.

But regardless of how this particular case ends, a dangerous trend can be observed. Firstly, the ways of getting to public money are becoming more and more sophisticated. One case has been detected and stopped. But how many have not? No one knows. Secondly, it is very difficult to hold anyone accountable. The number of companies and institutions involved is so large that no single person is there to take the blame. Even Kaliňák can in the end appear to be the one preventing shady deals, when in fact he should be among the top suspects. And lastly, it is clear that this administration is determined to keep trying.

JAVYS, a state owned monopoly dealing with the shutting down of nuclear facilities, wanted to pay €1.2 million for PR services. The state lottery €4.7 million for marketing services. And the list could go on. Sadly, judging by opinion polls, the number of Smer voters that care could probably easily live in Horné Plachtince.

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