Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee to Carry Out Probe at MFA

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Stock photo by TASR

Bratislava, November 25 (TASR) – MPs from the parliamentary foreign affairs committee have decided to carry out a probe at the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry at the end of a special session dedicated to the issue of allegedly overpriced cultural events linked to Slovakia’s Council of the EU Presidency.

The committee began the session on Thursday (November 24), when Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajcak (a Smer-SD nominee) was questioned. On Friday, the ministry’s former employees Zuzana Hlavkova and Pavol Szalai, who assert that events related to launching the presidency were overpriced, had their turn. Transparency International Slovakia director Gabriel Sipos took the floor as well.

Based on a proposal by Miroslav Beblavy (Independent), the committee also passed a resolution that it should ask the parliamentary plenum to task the Supreme Audit Office (NKU) with carrying out an inspection at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Committee chair Frantisek Sebej (Most-Hid) believes that the probe might shed more light on the case.

In reaction to the accusations the ministry has described Hlavkova and Szalai as rank-and-file employees who weren’t familiar with the whole process of preparing cultural events, but both of them denied this on Friday. Hlavkova said that she was employed in a state advisor post as an expert in cultural promotion. Szalai was a senior state advisor with the second highest salary grade.

Hlavkova and Szalai, along with the TIS chief, again asked the ministry to publish all documents related to a concert that was designed to promote the presidency logo. Sipos rejected the ministry’s claim that the law doesn’t allow this.

“I’ve identified myself with the need for transparent access for the public to this kind of document,” said Sebej in support of publishing the materials.

Beblavy recalled the Opposition’s concern in December 2014 when an exemption for public procurements was being approved for events related to the Slovak presidency. There were claims that the Foreign Affairs Ministry was given a blank cheque, as it enjoyed society’s trust. This has now disappeared, however, said Beblavy.

“The ministry isn’t telling the truth. It’s manipulating, concealing, doesn’t want to disclose contracts. No wonder it isn’t trusted any longer,” said Beblavy.

State Secretary Ivan Korcok, who represented the ministry at the committee session, rejected such criticism. According to him, the exemption wasn’t a blank cheque, as the rules for how the ministry could proceed in such cases were strictly specified.

Hlavkova, who initiated the whole case via her blog, isn’t satisfied with explanations from Lajcak or other ministry officials. “I don’t know why they’re acting like this, but I think that if they actually wanted to prove that everything is okay, they would disclose all invoices, all contracts, as well as the names of people who worked on them,” she said.

The aforementioned concert held at the Slovak National Theatre in February to present the logo of Slovak presidency was organised for the ministry by Evka Agency. It was selected based on a market survey, with the ministry contacting three agencies and then choosing the best one. “We didn’t know its name in advance. We were only told by our boss that this was an agency close to the Smer-SD party,” said Hlavkova on Friday, with Szalai confirming this. “You’ll definitely understand our decision to quit the ministry when we saw that the event was taking place in this manner,” added Szalai.

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