The Slovenia Times

Minister Počivalšek on track to surviving ouster motion


The coalition backed him, speaking of an unjustified political attack on a minister who did well in chaotic conditions, while the opposition spoke of war profiteering.

It was Robert Pavšič of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) who led the opposition effort in the marathon session, repeating the accusations about opaque, uneconomical purchases and procedures that allowed profits for the government's cronies and about the alleged misleading of the public and corruption.

"You manipulated - maybe you followed orders, but you are responsible nonetheless. Above all, we are not convinced by your claims you were saving lives - it was perhaps wallets you were saving instead," Pavšič said.

The opposition mostly took issue with the government's decision to task the ill-equipped Commodity Reserves Agency with the purchases and to use intermediaries instead of buying directly, all with the intention of enabling commissions.

"This is why they immediately shelved the bids that allowed direct procurement and organised logistics," argued the Left's Miha Kordiš, one of the most outspoken critics of the developments. He noted that Croatia for instance had been buying directly from China.

While Kordiš accused the government of having engaged in organised crime, Franc Trček of the SocDems spoke of war profiteering, arguing margins of over 100% could not be labelled any other way.

The coalition, however, defended Počivalšek all the way, applauding during his speech and pointing to the chaos that reigned on the PPE markets during the height of the pandemic.

Počivalšek, who spoke of malicious and exaggerated lies levelled against him, denied having stated that direct procurement had not been possible legally and argued the government had decided to use middlemen because this allowed it to shift all the risks onto them.

"I bear full responsibility for this, without any fear," he said, arguing intermediaries had been the only rational thing to do in the chaotic situation.

Another major point of contention were ventilator purchases, more precisely an EUR 8 million contract singed for 220 ventilators from the company Geneplanet, even though these ventilators had not been assessed favourably by medical experts.

A whistleblower said the deal - which was scaled down after it started making headlines - had been confidentially described by Počivalšek as a deal for the senior coalition Democrats (SDS), an accusation raised again today by the LMŠ'š Pavšič.

"It can be concluded that you manipulated with the number of ventilators [in the country before the purchases], so as to create the illusion of a state of emergency. You created an ability to buy larger numbers of ventilators under severe time pressure," Pavšič said, arguing the actual number in mid-March had been at least 404 and not 168 as initially stated by government representatives.

While Health Minister Tomaž Gantar later spoke of 281 ventilators, Počivalšek responded to this accusation by saying this was not his data, but data that had been received from the Health Ministry and used as a basis for procurement planning.

The supporters of the ouster motion - the LMŠ, the Social Democrats (SD), the Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) - however continued to express indignation, some suggesting Počivalšek had only been a pawn in the ventilators game, but nonetheless responsible.

While several opposition MPs noted Počivalšek had also been economy minster before the March change in power, the coalition stood firmly behind him, pointing the finger at the previous government for not starting with procurement sooner.

Marko Pogačnik of the SDS said the government had published all contracts and called on the Court of Audit to examine the procurement. He added it had been "the standard suppliers in Slovenian healthcare" that had had the highest price margins and that he believed the attacks started when these suppliers were excluded.

PM Janez Janša wrote on Twitter that "the primary school-level reading of the motion against Počivaček, written with much strain like an essay, reveals all the intellectual and moral misery of leftist politics, whose failure to act is to blame for most of the deaths caused by coronavirus".

Several calls were moreover heard against the criminalising of everybody who tried to help with the procurement, including from the MPs of the junior coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), who however also argued that the accusations heard should not be the subject of an ouster motion but of an investigation by the relevant authorities.

The only opposition MPs to defend Počivalšek were those of the National Party (SNS). Their head Zmago Jelničič echoed a tweet that had been retweeted by PM Janša and that targets the credibility of Court of Audit president Tomaž Vesel for allegedly having been in contact with Commodities Reserves Agency whistleblower Ivan Gale.


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