New environment, health ministers appointed
Šabeder had spent the past year serving as director general of UKC Ljubljana, Slovenia's largest medical centre, which employs around 8,000 staff, but had no previous experience working in the health sector, having previously served as the boss of seed producer Semenarna Ljubljana.
He succeeds Samo Fakin, a seasoned healthcare manager who raised great expectations when appointed along with the rest of the government in September last year, winning wide approval among the stakeholders. With much needed health reform not yet in sight, Fakin resigned earlier this month citing ill health.
Presenting the nominees to parliament, PM Marjan Šarec said that Šabeder was a "well thought-through and informed choice".
"Šabeder has been able to get to know waiting lines and the reasons for them inside and out. He's aware of the systemic flaws and legislative shortcomings. As an economist he knows finances, as a manager he understands the workings ... He has heard the employees. He has had a taste of different trade unions."
Summing up, Šarec said that Šabeder knew the diagnosis, but that he had his work cut out for him.
So far serving as one of the two state secretaries at the Environment Ministry, Zajc succeeds his boss Jure Leben, who stepped down in February after becoming embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing related to a botched tender for the scale model of the Koper Divača trial project which he was responsible for as state secretary at the Infrastructure Ministry in the previous term.
The debate in parliament today showed that Zajc, having announced that he would resume Leben's work and that he shared his views on key environmental issues, earned across-the-isle approval mainly because of the proactive approach taken by Leben at what had previously been a neglected department.
Šarec repeated his praise for Leben saying that work at the ministry over the past six months had been a "model of good work", something that he credited not only the minister but his whole team for.
"This is why I was the happier that the SMC (Modern Centre Party) proposed as Leben's successor his state secretary in charge of the environment," Šarec said.
After years of the head-in-the-sand approach, even denial, progress at the Environment Ministry is visible, Šarec said. "I see Simon Zajc as a guarantee for the work started to continue and be completed, for problems yet to spring up to be solved and for the planned projects to be launched."
While coalition MPs mostly echoed expectations raised by the prime minister, the opposition were more divided with the National Party (SNS) pledging its support, New Slovenia (NSi) approving of Zajc but not of Šabeder, while the Left and the Democratic Party (SDS) directed criticism at both.
The Left's Matej T. Vatovec commented that the way Zajc saw environmental problems unfortunately remained within the "neoliberal diapason". He criticised Šabeder for his "advocacy of the manager revolution in public healthcare".
The NSi commended Zajc on his good presentation on the parliamentary committee and his good knowledge of the field, while complaining that Šabeder offered few solutions. However, MP Aleksander Reberšek said the coalition should see to a sufficient majority for the two nominees itself and could not count on the NSi's support.
Similarly, SDS MP Jelka Godec berated Šabeder for failing to offer any concrete solutions for the piled-up problems in healthcare. She described his answers to questions put by members of the parliamentary Health Committee as cynical, saying they did not augur well for a political consensus for change.
As for Zajc, a 38-year-old who has little experience in the area of the environment safe for his six-month stint as state secretary, the SDS said that he did not possess enough knowledge in the field put in his charge.
Unlike the SDS, the SNS endorsed both nominees with party leader Zmago Jelinčič remarking he did not envy Šabeder for the many problems in healthcare "falling on his head" after they had been waiting for solutions for too long. He expressed the expectation that Zajc would resume the excellent work of his predecessor in office and that he and Šabeder would contribute to a "more sensible Slovenia".
Coalition parties pointed to the mountain of problems that both new ministers are facing, expressing their expectations that they would get down to work fast.
Both new ministers have already picked their state secretaries, with Šabeder opting for Tomaž Pliberšek and Zajc keeping incumbent State Secretary Aleš Prijon in charge for spatial planning, and Marko Maver, who also already serves at the Environment Ministry.
Šabeder and Zajc are replacements number three and four in the Šarec cabinet after those at the Culture Ministry and the Ministry of Development and Cohesion Policy.