Opposition parties file motion of no confidence in Počivalšek
The move, which the LMŠ announced on 23 April, comes after a wave of accusations was levelled at Počivalšek and the government about purchasing procedures and the quality of equipment as well as about attempts to influence the Agency for Commodity Reserves to choose certain suppliers.
More than a week ago, Ivan Gale, the deputy head of the agency, came forward with accusations of strong political pressure and other potential irregularities in the procurement. The whistleblower also told the Tarča current affairs show that Počivalšek had personally intervened in favour of a ventilator contract with the company Geneplanet worth EUR 8 million.
Počivalšek denies any wrongdoing, describing the media reports on the topic as an orchestrated head hunt. He acknowledged things could have been done better, but said the situation at the start of the epidemic had been unprecedented.
He said that neither he nor his colleagues had lobbied or politically influenced decisions in any way, adding that the goal of the communication had been to speed up procedures and secure protective equipment for frontline staff at a time when it was needed the most.
Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Saturday that Počivalšek still enjoyed his trust and that a government report on the procurement would be sent to parliament this week.
Presenting the motion to the press, representatives of all four parties said the responsibility for the controversial procurement of protective equipment lied with the entire government, especially since the PM expressed support for Počivalšek, and that more measures were to follow.
LMŠ MP Robert Pavšič said a parliamentary inquiry into the procurement procedures would be launched in a few days.
He said the minister had been violating the law, which applied also in times of crisis, in conducting procurement procedures, which should have been conducted by the Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices any way. "It's about a whole range of direct and indirect breaches of the law, but mostly avoidance and misleading, and apparent cronyism and corruption," he said.
LMŠ head Marjan Šarec added on the sidelines on today's meeting of the National Security Council that there was also no clear information on what the needs for protective equipment had actually been.
Some equipment was available at the start of the epidemic, including ventilators, and the UKC Ljubljana hospital for example had EUR 30 million available for purchasing more of it, he said. Other health institutes also had permission to purchase equipment, he added.
Šarec also said the Chinese ambassador had offered assistance. The state only needed a company to import the equipment, and this could have been the Agency for Commodity Reserves or state-owned companies, for example pharma company Krka, Šarec said.
Šarec said the goal was to get to the bottom of this. The economy minister is not the only one responsible, as orders were coming from the top, he said, noting that some e-mails had apparently been written by Janša's wife.
Deputy head of the SD deputy group, Bojana Muršič, said "this government, this coalition has created a parallel world for itself, and only dishonest practices are coming out of it". She said the SD condemned cronyism in the procurement of protective equipment, noting the procedures must be investigated.
"Every time Janez Janša is in power millions in provisions are paid out," said MP of the Left Miha Kordiš, pointing to the 1990s defence scandal and the 2008 Patria scandal.
Maša Kociper of the SAB warned that determining political responsibility in the parliamentary inquiry or the no confidence vote would not bring back the millions that were possibly lost in the deals.
The SAB had demanded parliamentary oversight of all public procurement during the epidemic and a special fund, which would be used to finance all epidemic-related costs, but its proposals were rejected, she noted.
In the motion of confidence the parties allege that Počivalšek is politically responsible for financial profiteering of individuals and companies in procurement of PPE and other medical supplies and for uneconomical spending of public funds.
Blaming him for "unethical, crony and corrupt collusion in favouring companies and individuals" to buy PPE from, they say that due to his "lying and misleading of the public and media" the minister has lost trust in his integrity and work.
They note conflicting and inconsistent statements by Minister Počivalšek and Defence Minister Matej Tonin and shifting of the responsibility for PPE procurement from one body to another.
They allege that by misleading the public that the state could only buy through Slovenian intermediaries, the Economy Ministry squandered favourable bids by the Chinese state company Sinofarm and the online giant Alibaba.
They cite data showing that the Agency for Commodity Reserves paid some suppliers up to 100% of the order's value in advance, even though Počivalšek ruled out any money being paid up front.
To vote out the minister, at least 46 out of 90 deputies of the National Assembly would need to vote in favour of the motion. The four opposition parties have 37 deputies between them, while Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of another opposition party, has announced the three deputies of his National Party (SNS) will not support the motion, which he said was "without any juice and completely void".