The Slovenia Times

Environment minister resigns over dodgy rail track model tender


Leben was overseeing the rail rack project during the term of the previous government, headed by current Foreign Minister Miro Cerar who also heads the party that nominated Leben for environment minister.

Šarec, who praised Leben's dedication, told the press that they had made the decision together and that he would gladly cooperate with him again in the future if the police investigation finds no fault with the outgoing minister.

The prime minister also called for the resignation of Damir Topolko, the boss of the Infrastructure Agency, which handled the tender. Unless Topolko resigns, Šarec expects Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek to dismiss him. She, in turn, has a press conference scheduled for tomorrow.

Šarec moreover underlined that he would make the final decision whether the environment minister candidate proposed by Cerar's Modern Centre Party (SMC) was up for the job and added that it was essential that the work started by Leben continued.

The prime minister also wondered how come the allegations had only been made now, more than a year after the scale model was made. Other people involved in the email correspondence about the tender leaked to the media should also take responsibility, said Šarec.

He was referring to the email correspondence that included several officials at the Infrastructure Agency, as well as representatives of a PR agency that handled the project, and of the companies that made the model, as well as Cerar's office.

Nonetheless, Šarec said that the correspondence had not persuaded him that Leben had "ordered to choose this or that bidder".

He also warned against drawing parallels among the three ministers who offered their resignation since the government was sworn in in mid-September 2018.

While Cohesion Minister Marko Bandelli and Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček both had to go because of mistakes they made while serving as ministers in Šarec's government, Leben's alleged wrongdoings stem from his work in the previous government, said Šarec.

Most coalition partners are yet to comment on today's developments, however Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) head Karl Erjavec said before Šarec's press conference that the prime minister's decision was predictable.

The Left, the minority government's partner in the opposition, expressed hope that this would mark the end of staffing scandals in the government.

Meanwhile, opposition Democrats (SDS) president Janez Janša tweeted that the pace with which "rotten apples" are falling from the tree indicated that the government would not last beyond spring 2020.

Zmago Jelinčič, the head of the National Party (SNS), on the other hand said that Šarec had chased away his third good minister, while he was still clinging to Cerar, who, in Jelinčič's view, is responsible for the scale model scandal.

New Slovenia (NSi) MP Ljudmila Novak, meanwhile, said that the scale model tender had not involved only one person and that others involved should also take their part of the blame.

Moreover, most environmental NGOs also expressed regret with Leben's resignation, with virtually all of them saying that he was the first minister in a long time who was an expert in the field.

Although he gave in to the Magna car paint shop investment in Maribor, he managed to make big steps on many other key issues. Apart from banning construction of hydro power plants on the Mura, Leben also banned free plastic bags at the cashiers and stopped fracking attempts in north-east Slovenia, the Slovenia Greens illustrated.


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