In what was not an entirely expected turn of events, the parliament yesterday unanimously adopted the committee report on the TEŠ 6 (Tower Six of Šoštanj coal power plant) corruption case. In addition, the parliament also voted to approve a virtually unprecedented move to report to the police the suspicion of gross negligence in execution of public office, a criminal offence carrying up to three-year prison sentence (Article 258 of the Penal Code).
TEŠ 6 (photo by yours truly)
The report concludes that the whole project was tailored to the needs of the coal lobby with specific MPs acting as stooges and pushing its agenda. The document blames every government from 2004 until 2012 for being needlessly careless and allowing the project to balloon and eventually derail. But while there is plenty of blame to go around, the report singles out and pins the largest share of the blame on then-PM Borut Pahor, his finance minister Franci Križanič and economy minister Matej Lahovnik for either actively looking the other way (Pahor) or even facilitating corruption (Križanič, Lahovnik) when it was already obvious the whole thing was going tits-up but disaster could still have been prevented.
This development is somewhat unprecedented. Or will that turn out to be, well, unpresidented? Powers of a parliamentary investigation are broad. Witnesses testify under oath, people investigated are allowed to have a lawyer present, no-shows can be made to appear before the committee via some well-directed use of police force, and so on. But over the years, committees doing the investigation developed a nasty habit of leaving their work unfinished. Sometimes because early elections are called but mostly because they’ve become a tool of political grandstanding with lofty speeches and broad accusations being made without the need or even intent to bring matters to a close.
For a while it seemed this will happen to the committee on TEŠ 6 as well. While the body was making real headway throughout the parliament’s four-year term, culminating in an epic face-off between Borut Pahor and Gregor Golobič, former leader of Zares (Pahor’s erstwhile coalition partner but
now since then one of his harshest critics). Soon after that, the committee adopted and the parliament approved an interim report already singling out Pahor as one of the culprits for the clusterfuck. But after that the enthusiasm of the committee leader Matjaž Hanžek almost petered out and for a while it seemed that there will be no grand finale. The explanation at the time was that there is not enough room in the parliament as every committee (standing or otherwise) is rushing to address urgent matters after the resignation of PM Cerar and the possibility of early elections being called.
In the end, however, a room was apparently found, the committee adopted the final report which pinned most of the blame on president Borut Pahor who served as PM in 2009 as well as Franci Križanič and Matej Lahovnik, then-ministers of finance and economy, respectively. Surprisingly, however, the parliament as a whole approved the report in a plenary session with 70 votes in favour and none opposed. That’s well north of a two-thirds majority, usually reserved for key legislative acts. This in itself means that the report transcends the usual politicking and that there was (and still is) something profoundly rotten in the TEŠ 6 project.
The vote also indicates that there is broad political agreement that the issue is so toxic that no-one wants to go near it or defend the people named in the report. Case in point Janez Janša: His two governments (2004-2008 and 2012-2013) are roundly criticised in the report for cosying up to the lobbyists and not fact-checking claims about financial viability of the project but the leader of SDS nevertheless voted in favour of the report. It’s not every day we see a politician vote for a report condemning his actions.
Then again, Janša probably (and rightly) figured that any flak he catches will pale in comparison to the can of whoop-ass that is going to be opened on president Pahor. That the latter is probably in deeper shit than it appear at the moment is also indicated by exactly zero Social Democrat MPs rushing to his rescue when the parliament was voting on whether to refer Pahor, Križanič and Lahovnik over to the Prosecutor General. When the party you used to lead as PM and still exert influence over deserts you, you know you’re in trouble. Which is also why Pahor is flat-out rejecting the findings of the committee and is continuing to refuse any sort of responsibility for the entire shit-show.
To put it in a constitutional context, the president of republic is rejecting the finding of the highest representative body of the sovereign (i.e. the people). This has the potential to get really ugly really fast.
As with everything else that is happening in the Slovenian political cess-pool these days, there is an election spin that can be put on all of this. We’ve already noted how Janša calculated that it would hurt him less to vote for condemning himself if it meant keeping the spotlight on Pahor than it would to engage in some self-defence and re-open the question of his role in the ad-hoc coalition between SD and SDS which gave us TEŠ 6 in the first place.
The same calculation seems to have been made on the part of Social Democrats as well. While SD MPs voted in favour of the report they abstained from voting on the amendment to the report, referring Pahor & Co. to the prosecution. And while that means they didn’t exactly stab their former leader in the back, they did nothing to protect him either, effectively throwing Pahor under the bus and simply washed their hands over the issue. Ironically, such a move is very Pahor-like and quite fitting for members of the party who (for the most part) try to emulate their erstwhile boss in any way they can.
And while we’re on it: During the debate Jan Škoberne MP for Social Democrats lamented reporting Pahor to the authorities for fear of tarnishing someone’s reputation. But the young and ambitious MP would do well to remember his own party’s history as to not embarrass himself too much. Pengovsky is, of course, referring to the case of Andrej Magajna, a MP for SD during the 2008-2011 term who broke ranks with the party over the law on public television and soon found himself accused of trafficking in child pornography. While there were numerous theories swirling around back then, the charges were eventually dropped but Magajna never recovered politically. So, yeah, the SD does know a thing or two about tarnishing reputations…
Therefore, President Pahor, who will most likely sign an act this Saturday calling parliamentary elections, is poised to become an object rather than a subject of the election campaign. This in itself is a small coup by the SMC which tabled the amendment and is also looking to generate a more positive image out of it. What better way of portraying yourself in a positive light than saying “the president is under investigation and we’re doing the cleaning up”. This should add to the bump in opinion polls the party of Miro Cerar is enjoying at the moment. A few more weeks like this and they’ll be able to cross over to double digit territory (they are polling marginally below 10 percent at the moment) and close the gap between them and the three leading parties (SD, SDS and Marjan Šarec List – LMŠ).
On the other hand, the largest coalition party will have to play defence on issues investigated by two other parliamentary committees. While the one led by Anže Logar (SDS) dealing with alleged Iranian money laundering and financing of terrorism through NLB bank (Nova Ljubljanska banka) is dealing with events years before SMC came to power, the party can be made look bad simply by association as it obstinately refuses to sell the bank despite earlier assurances. The other investigation, however, dealt with corruption in the health sector and minutes before they voted on the TEŠ 6 repot, MPs adopted report by this committee which – among other things – finds the minister of health Milojka Kolar Celarc personally responsible for failing to act on committee’s earlier findings.
Anyway, things are poised to get interesting in Muddy Hollows.
P.S.: last time around pengovsky promised to write up the Russian conundrum experienced by Slovenian politics. That post is still coming. It’s just that a whole lot is suddenly going on and priorities tend to shift on a daily basis.