More Questions Than Answers

Just me, stirring the pot…

As promised, a follow-up on a post from a week ago, where crni sparred with St. Luka, Davor and myself over what qualifies a person to be a minister for (in this case) higher education, science and technology.

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Gregor Golobič during yesterday’s hearing (source)

As you know by now, PM-designate Borut Pahor nominated president of Zares, Gregor Golobič to the post. This sparked controversy, with one side (in our case personified by crni) arguing that Golobič is severly lacking experience in the field and is thus ill equiped for the job. The ultimate proof for that being that it took him close to 20 years to finish his studies and write his diploma.

The other side (personified by the above mentioned rogue band of die-hard communist cunts) however contended that Golobič has enough experience, not in the least because a ministerial post is inherently political (no lack of experience there). Add to that the fact that he his a proven techie, understands new tehcnologies and can add a stint in Ultra (a high-tech company) to his CV. Overall, the communist cunts conteded, Golobič’s broad “humanities” orientation with a degree in philosphy, political skill and IT experience make him an extremely suitable candidate for the job.

But.

What did the man himself say about his future job?

Firstly, during his hearing Gregor Golobič said that he is a politican and not an expert and as such does not have ready-made solutions. He went to add, that he has more questions than answers (probably deliberatly echoing Borut Pahor in his inaugural speech). As a minister, Golobič apparently will not deal in specifics of education and research – he will, rather, leave that to autonomus institutes and agencies – and will pursue public interest. In the field of research that means – according to Golobič – that he will give equal importace both to applied research, which must be co-funded by the private sector and basic research, funded apparently by state. (source)

Secondly, he will increase investment in R&D by 0.1 to 0.3 percent of GDP per annum, aiming to have 3% of GDP annually invested into R&D, a third of that coming directly from the budget, the rest from private sector. (source)

And thirdly, Golobič said something that might be considered his ministerial creed: Namely, that “in order to find the right answers one must be aware that one’s value is limited“.

EDIT:
Fourthly: On taking him nearly two decades to write his diploma and get his degree, Golobič countered that he was actually a student for only five of those 20 years and was lured away from finishing the studies by the turmoil of the 80’s, when he took up editorships, publicising and ultimately politics. He apparently also gave up his scolarship to pursue these interests. Fifteen year later he passed additional exams and finally wrote his diploma.

This were just a couple of excerpts from a three-and-a-half-hour long hearing. The entire trascript is here (Slovene only, I’m afraid)

Any thoughts?

Zoran Janković Marks Two Years in Power

On Monday Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković marked his second anniversary of assuming office. He was popular and controversial at the same time even while he served as CEO of Mercator, but was removed from position slightly less then a year after Janez Janša won the 2004 elections. He took the dimisal very personally, even more so when it transpired that his removal was a part of a secret (and oft denied) deal between then PM Janez Janša and CEO of Laško brewery Boško Šrot to allow the latter to finalise the MBO of Laško brewery and buy Mercator under the table, while ceeding control of Delo daily to Janša and his yesmen. Zoran Janković wanted to join in on the political fun and decided to run for mayor of Ljubljana in 2006 municipal elections. He won in a landslide, getting 63 percent of the vote in the first round and was sworin in on 17 November 2006.

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Two years have seen Zoran Janković rise from a powerful CEO to one of Slovenia’s few political forces that actually have to be reckoned with. Not only does he have the ear of former president Milan Kučan who apparently privately advises the mayor on occasion. He has also shown that he intends to fly his own colours and while professing similar ideology to that of Slovene left, he has on occasion broken rank with parties which later went on to form The Trio (SD, LDS and Zares). His influence in the city he runs is such that presidential candidates and political parties alike have flocked to him for support prior to the elections.

22 projects

One of the reasons for Janković’s victory were the twenty-two projects, for which he set out an exact timetable, with the new Ljubljana football stadium in Stožice area being the centrepiece of his platform (and a sybol of two failed mayors before Janković). The trick is, that none of these project are his. They are old or adapted project which have been around for years, some even decades. What Zoran Janković did, was that he put them together, packacged them neatly and sold them to the voters.

His sucess will be measured by the timetable he himslef set. In that respect mayor Janković is behind schedule laid out by candidate Janković. It is also true that mayor Janković knows things candidate Jankovič could not have known and which made a somewhat reality check with some projects. However, fact of the matter is that things are making headway. Construction sites are being opened, longterm strategic urban plan is about to be passed, quality of life in the city is slowly starting to improve. Not that it was all that bad to start with, but closing the city centre for traffic was a major step forward and the pedestrian zone is about to be expanded.

On the other hand, the push forward took many by surprise. Almost without exceptions the 22 projects have given birth to one or more grass-roots groups which have opposed mayor’s plans. They soon started to follow an established pattern. The groups claimed that the mayor was creating a fait acompli by building first and asking questions later, while mayor Janković claims that these groups suffer from a clear case on NIMBY syndrome. So far the mayor has prevailed, but he will have to work on discipation of this resentment as well.

A special issue are his plans to overhaul locations designed by Jože Plečnik, most notably the Central Market and the Bežigrad Stadium. Here the government intervened on a couple of occasions – to the joy of some and to dismay of others and different architectural visions have clashed. And while renovation of Central Market seems certain (complete with an underground garage), Bežigrad stadium is far more dicey and at this stage it looks as if enterpreneur Joc Pečečnik, the private investor might get burned in the project. Also, another completely private project, the new Kolizej building in downtown Ljubljana is extremely controversial, both in terms of size as well as design and it is far from certain that it will actually be built.


I’m your worst nightmare

Mayor Janković is in the eyes of some plowing through Ljubljana with a delicacy of a buldozer on steroids. In the eyes of others, however, he was the kick in the ass this city badly needed. The latter still seem to be in the majority, but it is anyone’s bet if his enormous popularity will hold. At the end of last year he got an 80% approval rating. His approachable persona and extremely well-honed PR skills have made him a formidable enemy to the government of Janez Janša, which – seeing that he just might get elected – tried to discredit him with a poorly timed smear campaign. The result was that Janković shot way above the 50% needed to win the election, as did his list of candidates for city councilors. He thus enjoys a rare luxury of having an absolute majority of 23 councilors in a 45-member city council. As such he doesn’t have to form coalitions, making his political life infinitely easier.

Rather than removing an unwanted CEO, the outgoing PM Janez Janša facilitated the creation of a rallying point of Slovene political left, ulimately leading to his removal from power. Janković’s political position was strengthened by the fact that the government chose to funds for municipalities in such a way that benefited rural areas where it got more vote, depriving the city of Ljubljana of some 57 million euros. This created a massive wave of resentment, which Janković used masterfully. On election day 2008 it became clear that he delivered Ljubljana, so to speak. Ljubljanchans answered his calls for a massive turnout and gave that final push needed for Borut Pahor‘s Social Democrats to outperform Janez Janša’s SDS. The price: give Ljubljana back its 57 million euros.

Fall from grace

Politically speaking, Janković put a lot of eggs in one basket by building on these 57 million euros. The new PM designate Borut Pahor has already said that the unjustice Ljubljana suffered has to be undone, but that the specifics of this must yet be worked out. In political speak this means that just giving back the money is more or less out of the question. Besides, there is an economic crisis looming. Mayor Janković does have an ace up his sleave. Months ago the city filed a suit against the state for unlawfully depriving it of funds and it could be that there is a tacit agreement between Pahor and Janković to see the case through. If the court rules in favour of the city, then the state has legal cover to cough up the money. It has to. If however, the court finds in favour of the state, there is still the Law on Nation’s Capital City, which stipulates that the city of Ljubljana enjoys a special status (but does not specify that status). So ammending the law and putting in some bacon might just do the trick.

In any case, mayor Zoran Janković, who in his two years did more to develop the city that previous four mayors did in the last 16 years put together, is now facing a far more daunting task: Finishing his projects in spite of the economic crisis as well as proving to his fellow citizens that opposint Janez Janša and supporting the left was not in vain. Given his performance to date he can do it, but it definitely not a given. And while in the end he will be cut more slack than he claims he needs, his is a daunting task and the votes will show no mercy if on election day in 2010 they think he underpeformed. However, in order for Janković to be voted out of office, an equaly charismatic figure must appear on the city scene to oppose him, Right now, there is none. But that’s not saying much.

Now This Is What I Call Good Television

The setting: Slovene state television, Monday night’s prime time slot.
The players: On one side, Boško Šrot of Laško Brewery and Igor Bavčar of Istrabenz and economists Bogomir Kovač and Jože Mencinger on the other.
Hiding in ambush: Zoran Janković, mayor of Ljubljana and former CEO of Mercator retail chain
The question: Are Šrot and Bavčar selling Mercator because they’re in deep financial doo-doo as a result of a credit crunch and should the state buy Mercator back.
Statement of the day: Boško Šrot: “I’m not blackmailing the state. It would be blackmail if I said that I’m selling Mercator to a foreign owner if the regulators continue to terrorise Laško. But I’m selling after a careful consideration, because regulators continue to terrorise Laško

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The fact that Boško Šrot and Igor Bavčar appeared on TV screens together speaks volumes. Either that the crisis is hurting them bad and they can no loger protect their position with money but have to resort to PR instead, or that they think that with Janez Janša gone, they’ll be operating in a friendlier media climate.

Well, the latter was definitely not the case. The show was interesting but not brilliant. The moderator held her own, but there was precious little being said that we did not already know about. And then she cued in mayor and former CEO of Mercator Zoran Janković, whose appearance visibly upset both Šrot and Bavčar. Zoki (who was implicitly labeled as a good guy in this story) did not say anyhing new either, but it was clear that neither Šrot nor Bavčar expcted him to be on the show. Even more: while I cannot say this for certain, I can totally imagine that both Šrot and Bavčar appeared under condition that Janković is nowhere near the studio. Well, he wasn’t. He was patched through via a videolink.

This is true television. Grill your guests on live TV and when they think they’re in the clear, drop a bomb.

Of course, the Mercator affair is highly political and yesterday’s show would not have been possible before the elections and quite possibly not after the new government is sworn in. Thererore it is only obvious that it was done during interregnum, when Janša’s goverment is no longer a factor and Borut Pahor‘s goverment still hadn’t become one. This is one of the better examples why RTVSLO should be purged of political influences: this way RTVSLO could actually produce wathcable and relevant content.

I want some more…

P.S.: Sorry about yesterday’s MMM (or the lack thereof). Things just kept – well – popping up! :mrgreen:

Boško Šrot Regroups, Tries To Sell Mercator and Buy Večer

As you already know, Boško Šrot of Laško Brewery announced his intention to sell the 48 percent stake in Mercator he controls. But just to freshen your memory, allow me to re-post the two relevant paragraphs from Tuesday’s post:

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Boško Šrot: What’s more important. Beer, retail or newspapers?

(..) Boško Šrot of Laško re-entered the limelight, apparently seeking to cash in on the change in governement as well as on the economic crisis. As you might know, he and his dependant companies own as much as 48 percent of Mercator, the largest reatil chain in Slovenia. Šrot got hold of Mercator for a below-market price in exchange for ceeding control over Delo newspaper to Janez Janša and his SDS. He later double-crossed Janša who, in respoce, started his famed “war against tycoons”, the only real result being that Šrot, his Laško Brewery and Mercator are being investigated for alleged cartel agreements.

Now, Šrot is “threatening” to sell his 48% percent stake in Mercator if the government agencies do not back off and hinted that he would be willing to sell it back to the state. Hopefully the new PM will not fall for the same trick his predecessor did and will not finance Šrot’s MBO of Laško by buying back Mercator at a markup price. Pengovsky smells an out-and-out foul play here (..)

There’s more, however. Only hour after pengovsky published the above, Delo newspaper announced that it bought almost 80 percent of Večer newspaper. Now, Delo is owned by Laško, meaning that if Delo indeed takes over Večer, Laško would control three out of four most influential daily newspapers: Delo and Slovenske Novice (a tabloid), both published by Delo, as well as Večer, whose influence in Štajerska region is unparalleled.

The motivation behind the move to sell Mercator is still being questioned. Is Boško Šrot running out of money to finance the MBO of Laško, trying to pre-emptively dicsipline the new government or pull the same trick twice:

Officially, Šrot says that he is selling Mecator because the regulators are “terrorising his company” and that he’s had enough of it. Were the new government to put a leash on regulators, however, Laško might be persuaded not to sell half-a-billion-euros-worth of Mercator stock, quite possibly to a foreign owner. The last sentence resurrects the debate of national interest in economy. Interestingly enough, when Laško and Interbrew were locked in a battle for Union brewery in 2002, it was Boško Šrot who lauched the theme, saying that it was waaay better for Slovene companies to be owned by Slovene capital – that this was in our national interest, so to speak.

Boško Šrot won the “brewery wars of 2002”, but this time around, it seems the “national interest” will be a tough sell. Namely – The state does not own either Laško or Mercator anymore, meaning that it has little or no interest vested in Mercator. Some say that the new (foreign) owner would drastically reduce the number of employees and limit access of Slovene food and drinks producers to Mercator’s shelves, threatning an entire branch of Slovene economy.

Which is a load of bollocks (I seem to be using the phrase a lot lately)

Mecator has a 36% market share in Slovenia and the number of employees is by now no doubt “optimised”, i.e.: overworked and underpaid. There will be precious little a new owner will be able to do in that department. As far as Slovene food and drinks producers are concerned, things are even more simple. If the new owner wil indeed try to squeze Slovene products out, it will soon be faced with declining sales and in turn declining profits, not to mention the fact that other retail chains will be more than happy to re-employ the old “Buy Slovene!” approach and increase their market share.

So, why should the government fork out half a billion euros to finance Šrot’s MBO of Laško, just to reacquire Mercator. Should this happen, Mirko Tuš, owner of Tuš retail chain would rightfully ask “what about me!”. Mercator is not a company at peril (not yet, at least) and there is absolutely no reason for the state to cough up the money. There are more pressing issues for the new government to address with taxpayers’ money.

The presumptine new minister of economy, Matej Lahovnik, already said that there is no reason for the state to buy Mercator:

“I don’t see a reason for the state to buy [Mercator] back at the same price it sold it three years ago. Even if we did buy it, we’d be faced with the question, what to do with it in the coming months (…) We’d have to sell it again. Are we to buy it back again in four years at a higher price? It makes no sence, so the state will not buy Mercator back. Unless the price would be lower. In that case the purchase might be possible”

As far as Delo’s takeover of Večer is concerned, however, things are both clearer and a lot more murky at the same time. The takeover is definitely illegal, as Delo did not get an approval to increase its share in Večer above 20%. The approval is issued by the minister of culture and under pre-2005 legislation it was automatically rejected if the combined media companies exceeded certain limits in terms of market share and/or reach. When Janša’s government changed the Law on media, it also changed this particular article. Under current provision the decision whether or not to allow media concentration or not is made solely at the minister’s discretion. Which naturally opens the road for some heavy lobbying and even top-level corruption.

The presumptive new minister of culture Majda Širca (like Lahovnik, she too is a member of Zares) did not take a position on this issue, but I would expect her to uphold the decision of the outgoing minister Vasko Simoniti, who rejected any possibility of allowing the concentration and even filed criminial charges, and notified the Market Protection Office.

And after she does that, she might want to re-examine the media conentrations that were allowed under tenure of Vasko Simoniti. And those before him…

BTW: If you’re interested on how the new minitster sees the new role of RTVSLO, click here (Slovene only)

Pahor’s Cabinet

Only hours after pengovsky posted on the new PM-designate, leaders of the Quartet finally put specific names to specific portfolios, thus enabling Borut Pahor to propose his cabined. Here is a quick rundown of the candidates, based on my meagre information about them.

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Five out of eighteen. More will follow

Prime minister: Borut Pahor (but you knew that)

Minister of foreign affairs: Samuel Žbogar. A very skillful diplomat, perhaps lacking in colour a bit. Apparently more of a technocrat. Will make a nice change after the omnipresent Dimitrij Rupel, but Žbogar’s nomination shows that Pahor intends to bask in the limelight of foreign policy and need Žbogar as someone who runs the show but doesn’t take all the credit.

Minister of internal affairs: Katarina Kresal. As predicted, president of LDS got the internal portfolio, which seems right up her alley. She’s a lawyer (albeit a corporate one) and her party specifically emphasised human righst abuses during the campaing – most notably rulings of the consitutional court which have yet to be enacted. The most infamous of these rulings is the decision to restore The Erased to their former status. Katarina Kresal (the first ever female minister of internal affairs) will now get her chance to make good on her promises. Besides, her portofilo covers police forces as well. I can already picture her in a uniform. Ahhhh….

Defence minister: Ljubica Jelušič. A defence expert and a professor on Faculty of Social Sciencies. She is very well known and respected in the academic circles, but little is known of her managerial ability. If and how she handles the continuation of Patria affair will be a tell-tale sign of her competence. Like Katarina Kresal, Jelušič is the first ever female Slovenian defence minister and hers is a difficult task, as Slovene army is facing a rather disturbing shortage of fresh flesh.

Minister of higher education, science and technology: Gregor Golobič. Again, as (sort of) predicted. Arguably the man with the broadest horizons in the government, the leader of Zares got a portfolio where he will be able to combine his various interests and backrgounds and yet leaving him ample time and maneouvering space to do some serious politics, without being too much in the limelight.

Minister of enviroment and urban planning: Karl Erjavec. The man who went for broke and almost lost everything. President of DeSUS may have been stripped of 24/7 armed bodyguard, a bullet-proof Audi and a police escort, but as Slovenia goes about revamping its aged railway system, there will be more than enough opportunities for Teflon Karl to make speeches and cut ribbons, while talking about “his pensioners”.

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The next five. Eight to go.

Minister of education and sports: Igor Lukšič. Pahor’s right-hand man and lovingly known as party idelogoue. A professor of political sciencies on Faculty of Social sciencies in Ljubljana. He always maintained that repressive and ideological apparatuses are two of the most important sub-systems of any given state, with eductation being the prime agent of a state’s ideology. A generaly likable guy, who earned his Ph.D. at the age of 29 will finally get to show what he’s made of. His research into ideologies will probably make him a prime target of opposition attacks (something along the lines of reintroducing Leninism to schools, I imagine)

Minister of economy: Matej Lahovnik. Apparently it took some arm twisting for Lahovnik to take this post. There are at least two reasons for that: If there ever was a crappy job in the world, this is it. Along with labour and finance porftolios, minister of economy will have all the shit in the world thrown at him as soon as recession hits this side of the Alps for real. Secondly, it was Lahovnik, who advocated that fresh people take the helm, counting himself out of the equation on multiple occasions, not in the least because he once already held the very same portfoilo. Talk about putting a foot in one’s mouth…

Minister of finance: Franci Križanič. A widely respected macroeconomist, who was once already nominated for a ministerial post (in 1996, when Janez Drnovšek was inches away from forming a left-wing government). Recently he already worked with the outgoing govenment, when the latter drafted Slovenian bail-out legislation, which allocates 12 billion euros to secure interbank lending. But first Križanič will have to clean up state finaces, which are kind of muddled ever since the government claimed to have created a surplus, while the court of audit found a deficit instead.

Minister of labour, family and social affairs: Ivan Svetlik. Another professor at the Faculty of social sciencies. An expert in the field, but it remains to be seen how well he does as a minister. Officially a DeSUS nominee he is believed to be without actual party affiliation. The list of his immediate worries is long and distinguished: pensions, wages, unemployement… No wonder ministers of labour tend to have a short political life span

Minster w/o portforilo for development and European affairs: Mitja Gaspari
. A boring sounding title hides the powers of a super-minister whose chief task will be to coordinate efforts of the above three portofolios and ensure that everybody will be on the same page at all times. Picked personally by Pahor some time before the elections, Gaspari will have almost unprecedented influence in the economic area of Pahor’s reign, as Pahor himself leaves a lot to be desired in this respect. Gaspari, however, already held the finance portfolio and was Governor of the Slovenian Central Bank. He also ran for President in 2007, narrowly losing second place to Danilo Türk in the first round.

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Ministers 11 through 15


Minister of Public Administration (civil service): Irma Pavlinič Krebs
. Once a MP from Koroška region, Pavlinič Krebs will take over from Gregor Virant who quietly but effectively ammased extroardinary powers under one title. The ministry handles most if not all of government tenders, coordinates the entire public administration (upravna enota, for all of you who’ve come in contact with Slovenian bureaucracy) and the system of wages in the public sector (some 300.000 employees)

Minister of Transportation: Patrick Vlačič. Another personal pick by Borut Pahor, Vlačič was/is the party’s chief expert in the field and has been a vocal opponent of practices under previous minsiters, all of whom came – without exception for the past 16 years – came from the ranks of SLS. Former finance minister Andrej Bajuk of NSi tried in vain to penetrate the shield SLS had created especially around the area of highway construction and maintainance and the full scope of the influence might (might!) become apparent only now. Vlačič’s first order of business will be to fix the “vignette fiasco”, where the European Comission demanded that Slovenia introduces a short-term vignette for transit vehicles. At the moment ther are only a 12- and 6-months vignettes available, and it seems that introducion a short-term one would break the financial model.

Minister of Culture: Majda Širca. A very important ministry, as it covers media as well. The ultimate test will be whether or not she will hold her party’s election promise to eject political interests from the board of RTV SLO, but her direction will become apparent almost immediately. Yesterday Delo newspaper bought Večer newspaper, in a move which violated the stipulation that any media cocentration above 20% of ownership must be pre-approved by the minister. As of 2005 the decision in minister’s alone and her decision will speak volumes. Hopefully she will a) deny the request to allow ownership concenctration and b) move to reintroduce legal requirements to approve or deny concentration, so that the decision will not be made at the discretion of the minister anymore.

Minister of justice: Aleš Zalar. Former president of the Ljubljana district court and a vocal opponent of the outgoing minister Lovro Šturm, especially ever since the two fell out over Zalar’s candidacy for another term as president of the court. Šturm went above and beyond the call of duty to prevent Zalar from getting another term and ever since the animosity is not just professional. Zalar will have to work closely with his party boss Katarina Kresal to enact overdue decisions of the constitutional court, but he is expected to take an up-close-and-personal look of the new penal code, which came into effect earlier this month and is according to some experts non-standard at best (and a piece of shit at worst).

Minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries: Milan Pogačnik. Another former SLS-fiefdom, important especially because of the ridiculoslly large amoutns of EU funds which are channeled through here. Pogačnik will probably have to face the issuse of GMOs sooner rather than later, as well as other pressing issues, mostly to do with climate changes.

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And the last three…

Minister of health: Borut Miklavčič. The recurring theme of Slovenian health system are queues. While health is not really my forte, it can be said that the new minister will be tasked primarily with wrapping up investment projects of past mandates and trying to optimise the health sector which in all honesty is not in all that bad a shape, were it not for endless queues and severely outdated diagnostics equipment. Miklavčič was until now CEO of The Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia, performing compusolry health insurance and as such handling vast amounts of money. Upon assuming that position, he reportedly had to have his office debugged. Twice.

Minister w/o porftofilo in charge of local self-government: Zlata Ploštajner. Noone saw this one coming. Almost completely unknow, she once headed regional development agency in Kozjansko (an underdeveloper region south of Celje). However, pengovsky did take a couple of her courses while at the university, where she was lecturing as an outside expert and I can tell you that she didn’t strike me as a ministerial type. However (and this is me being cynical) if the new PM has plans to kill the regional legislation for good, she is as good as anyone for the job.

Minister w/o portfolio charge of Slovene expatriates: Boštjan Žekš. Former president of Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciencies and is very much respected on the political right as well. Perhaps Žekš’s nomination is a token attempt to appease the opposition since noone really knows why the hell do we nees this ministry. But the outgoing government changed the law which now stipulates that the ministry must exists – and there it is.

BTW: Sorry for beign late in posting this. Things to see and people to do.