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Ferry tender scandal has links to top Smer officials

Opposition wants a non-confidence motion in Environment Minister over controversial contract.

The new ferry over the Danube River(Source: Tbor Somogyi)

The €25 million contract for ferry transport over the Danube River is becoming even more controversial. Not only had the special ferry been completed before its design was specified, but more connections to the ruling Smer party are emerging. After Smer blocked a special session of the parliamentary agriculture and environment committee at which the opposition wanted to discuss the controversial contract, opposition deputies voice a plan to initiate a non-confidence motion in Environment Minister Peter Žiga.

“After this dead fish attitude shown by Mr. Žiga, who couldn’t even manage to attend this special committee session, we’re hereby beginning to collect signatures to dismiss the minister on account of his being the direct superior to Vodohospodárska Výstavba (VV) General Director Ladislav Lázar,” said Igor Matovič, the head of Ordinary People and Personalities (OĽaNO), as cited by the TASR newswire.

Matovič confirmed that as well as fellow OĽaNO members, he had been promised support by the whole Most-Híd caucus, the majority of the Christian Democrats (KDH) and quite likely the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, too.

“Now it’s just a technicality to collect those signatures,” said Matovič.

The opposition needs to collect and submit 30 signatures of MPs at least to oblige Speaker of Parliament Peter Pellegrini to convene an extraordinary session within seven days. It is unlikely the motion would be successful as Smer holds majority in parliament.

The special session was scheduled for November 13 but it did not take place due to the absence of governing Smer party lawmakers.

“Members of this committee for the Smer party refuse to participate in pre-election campaign of deputy Matovič,” said Magda Košútová, Smer MP and vice-chairwoman of the parliamentary committee when explaining the absence of Smer MPs.

Environment Ministry spokesman Maroš Stano added that they still wait results of inspections by the Public Procurement Office, the Supreme Audit Office and the Environment Ministry. This is also a reason why the committee did not take place.

“Until there are results, this is only a pre-election campaign of Mr. Matovič,” said Stano as cited by TASR.

The contract

The contract for ferry transport between Danube River ports at Vojka nad Dunajom and Kyselica (Trnava region) was signed by the state-run water management company Vodohospodárska Výstavba (VV) and private Bratislava-based company Ponton City in June 2015, for a period of 15 years. The contract is worth at least €25 million. The new ferry was to replace an obsolete ferry.

It was Slovenská Plavba a Prístavy- Lodenica, a daughter company of Slovenská Plavba a Prístavy, a shipping company with a not transparent ownership structure, which designed and manufactured the ferry in February, the Sme daily reported. But the VV’s tender for the 15-year order was launched only on February 23 when those interested might have asked for technical requirements for the new ferry. In the end only Ponton City entered the competition for the order while another three interested companies had asked for documents too. VV did not scrap the tender even though the legislation enables it to do so when only one order arrives in a tender. 

Links lead to top level politicians

All the relations in the background of the contract are important because they may indicate how the ferry could have been manufactured in line with the idea of VV even before its specific features were published, Sme wrote.

The links lead to the Defence Minister Martin Glváč as well as Vladimír Rak, chancellor of Environment Minister Peter Žiga, according to Sme.

Lawyer Michaela Töröková who represented shareholders of the winning company Ponton City at the shareholders’ meeting and lawyer Lívia Krnčoková, who validated the course of the shareholders’ meeting, are partners with Glváč in the RHK Real company. Krnčoková, who is member of the Smer party, knows with Rak from the supervisory board of the Bratislava-based Play Slovakia company. Rak is the member of the VV supervisory board. But VV claims that it did not negotiate tender conditions of the order, Sme wrote.

Read also:Shell company linked to ferry operator

Transport Minister Ján Počiatek selected Töröková’s husband Štefan Török for the board of directors of the National Highway Company in 2012, while Török was in 1997 the technical director of Slovenská Plavba a Prístavy, Sme wrote.  

Töröková appeared in the case when she represented shareholders of Ponton City - CFS from Bratislava and Spinex from Košice. The former is owned by the US firm Business Investments which resides at the same address as Interblue Group, the infamous company which acquired emission quotas from Slovakia in 2008 for below market value and then sold them to Japan, causing the state an estimated loss of €47 million. The latter is owned by BJMC, linked to Jozef Blaško who is, according to the Týždeň weekly, a relative of a Smer sponsor Ľubomír Blaško, the Sme daily reported.

Matovič also pointed out that total annual costs for operation of the old ferry by the state Slovenský Vodohospodársky Podnik (SVP) in 2013 was €490,671. But the new operator Ponton City will ask for €4.95 million annually.  

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