Political Implications of Fire-Retardant Foam

Today a wee bit more serious post on the political implications of the Šentvid tunnel fiasco. Long story short, as a chunk of fire-retardant foam fell off the ceiling for the second time, hitting a car of a German tourist, thus forcing closure of the tunnel for the third time in four weeks, the media and public outcry was so huge that it was obvious that heads must roll – even in Slovenia, where politicians and senior officials seem to be innoculated against responsibilis objectivis, sensus vulgaris and moralis generalis, especially when little green pieces of paper are involved.

The destroyed car of the unfortunate German tourist (source: Dnevnik video)

Medical analogies aside, the mere facts that the tunnel was attrociously expensive and that it was completed more than a year after the initial deadline had passed drew enough criticism that deep down everyone quietly agreed with Minister of Transport Radovan Žerjav, when he said (during the opening ceremony) that he hopes everyone will soon forget all the bad things surrounding the construction of the tunnel. His nightmares, however, were only beginning.

Truth be told, Radovan Žerjav was minister for little less than a year, so he cannot personally be blamed for every fuck-up with the tunnel, however, with statements like this he put his head on a platter. Besides, he was selected because he was suppose to do a better job than his predecessors.

So when they cleaned up the mess after the first closure, reopened the tunnel and said that this time it was safe for real, imagine the disbelief and outcry when it turned out that the tunnel was not safe. It wasn’t just that the foam hit a moving vehice (smack right down on the hood of the car), but also the fact that the SOS line in the tunnel wasn’t working and that luckily another driver came by (it was 2 AM on a weekday) and called for help using his mobile phone. Luckily noone was hurt and time was not of the essence.

Heads were obviously going to roll. Or were they? A blame game ensued, with the government and DARS (the State Motorway Company) blaming the contractor, Ivan Zidar‘s SCT, the latter blamed its subcontractor, a British company Ceramicoat, and they in turn blamed the initial poor state of the entrance to the tunnel and poor management of the project. Days later, the board of DARS could no longer play stupid and tendered their resignations, as did minister Žerjav.

But this is where things start getting interesting: Both DARS’s board and the minister (a member of SLS, one of the junior coalition parties) offered to resign. But didn’t resign. They effectively said “hey, it’s up to you”. Furthermore they made their offer to the government. In case of DARS that was the propper way of doing things, as it was the government who named members of the board in the first place. However, minister of transport offered his resignation to PM Janša personally, and I’m still not sure whether that was an extremely cunning political move or just another case of political arrogance and ignorance combined.

Namely: under Slovenian constitution, ministers are elected by the parliament, not named by the prime minister. Thus the minister blatantly ignored constitutional provisions, as he would have to offer his resignation to the parliament, which would then have to hold a vote on it. But now the minister – knowingly or not – pulled the prime minister (who until now was keeping awfully quiet on the matter) front and centre, forcing him to take sides. Although it seems a very straightfoward case, the PM must have found himslef in quite a predicamend and kept quiet ever since. He is expected to make a statement (of sorts) today, almost two weeks after the final closure of the tunnel.

If the PM accepts the minister’s resignation, he a) admits that he let SLS pick the wrong guy (again) and b) grossly exceeds his constitutional authorities and abuses powers vested in him by taking decisions which are only the parliament’s to make. If however, he rejects Žerjav’s resignation, the PM takes direct responsibility for the fuck-ups surrounding the tunnel, putting his own head on a platter thirty-eight… no… thirty-seven days before the elections.

So far Janša is treadng carefully, but it will be interesting to see what course of action he takes. He might make the minister resign of his own accord and let him keep running the minister in a caretaker capacity, as the PM is unlikely to bother looking for a replacement candidate during an election campaign. On the other hand, forcing another SLS minister to resign will probably sever whatever links there still are between that party and the rulling coalition. This miight result in SLS walking out of the coalition just prior to elections, making this yet another coalition SLS walked out of at the very end of a term.

More will be known in the next few days, so stay tuned….

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

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