IN AN attempt to defend itself against accusations of nepotism, Agriculture Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek is letting people see the ministry’s internal selection procedures, but few seem satisfied by what they find.
Jahnátek met with the head of the parliamentary committee on the incompatibility of functions, opposition MP Miroslav Beblavý on October 8. The official responsible for recruiting new ministry employees was also present at the meeting. The pair sought to explain why a disproportionately high number of people in ministerial management positions have ties to Jahnátek’s native village of Komjatice, which has just 4,000 residents.
According to the Sme daily, the list of ministry employees with ties to Jahnátek includes the minister’s nephew Lukáš Peško (head control of projects financed from two EU operational programmes), his niece Petra Bohunová (head of operations and registration), Komjatice native Marek Gocník (general director of the department of implementation of regional development programmes and a member of the Slovak Land Fund council), the brother-in-law of the local Smer head in Komjatice Gabriel Jaššo (head of state property and investment), and former Komjatice inhabitants Peter Hajnala (head of the press office) and Stanislav Péli (head of internal audits).
All the employees in question joined the ministry’s staff only after Jahnátek took the ministerial post, and were selected in an “internal selection procedure”, which means that the announcement for the job openings was only published on the ministry’s intranet, and only ministry employees had access to the information, according to Sme.
As a result, all six of the employees in question were the only ones to compete for their respective posts.
Setting a precedent
Jahnátek admitted that Peško and Bohunová were both recruited for “temporary” jobs at non-managerial posts at their respective departments, with the office having no proof that they were picked in a proper selection procedure, Beblavý reported after his visit. Some weeks later, both were appointed to head their respective departments. Subsequently, a call for applications was announced for their posts as part of an internal selection procedure. Both Peško and Bohunová were the only ones to apply for the jobs.
While Jahnátek admitted to have encouraged his nephew to apply for a job at the ministry, he denied talking about it with his niece, Beblavý said, and the personnel official denied knowing the applicants were the minister’s relatives.
On October 8, Sme pointed out another person who was not properly selected for her post: Monika Pôbišová, the head of the minister’s office. She has held the position since April 2012 despite lacking a university degree, a prerequisite for the job, according to Sme. Pôbišová is technically filling the role on a temporary basis, but such temporary assignments cannot exceed six consecutive months, according to the law on civil service.
Beblavý announced he was going to pursue his filing to the parliamentary committee for incompatibility of functions to start a procedure against the minister for abusing his function. This could cost Jahnátek his annual salary.
“It is necessary to set a precedent that will clearly show the public officials that such actions are unacceptable,” Beblavý said.
The selection of civil servants at the Agriculture Ministry does not fall within the powers of the minister, ministry spokesperson Peter Hajnala, also a former Komjatice resident, wrote in the ministry’s statement.
“As soon as the information appeared in the media, I asked the ministry’s service department, which is solely responsible for these issues, for all material on the selection procedures in question, and I learned more about the individual cases,” Jahnátek said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Not a single one of the cases involved violation of the relevant legislation or rules pertinent to these procedures.”
Consequently, the minister said that he has issued an internal regulation for the ministry and organisations under its remit whereby selection procedures involving fewer than two candidates will be scrapped automatically from now on.
Jahnátek has maintained all along that he considers the media reports about his relatives employed at the ministry to be part of a campaign targeted against him personally. He indirectly accused Sme of taking part in a conspiracy, asking why the issue around the employees at the ministry is coming up now, even though they have been working at the ministry since January.
The minister claimed to have received information three weeks earlier that “an association” was preparing to discredit him in connection with “my being persistent about the milder fines” issued in the food industry. He did not go into further detail about the campaign, nor did he specify which “association” he was referring to, though most believe the veiled references target the Association of Commerce and Tourism (ZOCR), with which Jahnátek has clashed in the past.
The ZOCR responded to the allegations by saying its members “have never been and will never be a part of political and media games”, and that they have distanced themselves from Jahnátek’s “absolutely ungrounded” allegations.
14. Oct 2013 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani