The Slovenia Times

PM's partner sparks controversy over nutrias

Tina Gaber, the partner of PM Robert Golob, carries a box with a petition against the removal of nutrias from Ljubljana Marshes.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Tina Gaber, the life companion of Prime Minister Robert Golob, has caused controversy for alleging corruption in the plan to trap and remove nutrias from the Ljubljana Marshes. An influencer and an animal rights activist, Gaber is one of more than 24,000 people who signed a petition against the plan.

Gaber posted a video to her Facebook profile a few days ago targetting a study which deals with nutrias and muskrats as invasive species in the Ljubljana Marshes landscape park.

Commissioned by the park, the 2019 study defines the methodology to determine the nutria and muskrat populations and suggests measures and methods to determine the impact of the two rodent species on the protected flora, fauna and habitat types in the park, and to manage their populations.

The authors of the study estimate the cost of monitoring, control and measures to reduce the populations at roughly €540,000 over six years, which was what Gaber took issue with.

She alleged a conflict of interest in the lead author of the study, well-known biologist Hubert Potočnik of the Ljubljana Biotechnical Faculty, arguing that he was a member of the science council of the Slovenian Hunting Association, which would benefit from the trapping and removal of nutrias.

She alleged there was a "clearly stated motive of future systemic corruption" in the study, talking of "financial interest of certain individuals" in the nutria removal plan.

Faculty takes stand against "quasi-science"

Potočnik, a teaching assistant at the Ljubljana Biotechnical Faculty, rejected Gaber's allegations as "insulting on a personal, professional and institutional level".

Speaking for the newspaper Dnevnik, he said the study did not give anyone either work or money; under the terms of the call, the study authors had to assess the costs of a six-year removal of nutrias and muskrats from the Ljubljana Marshes, "whoever was to perform it or if they were to perform it".

Several of his colleagues have come to Potočnik's defence and his faculty has issued a statement denouncing the attempt to discredit researchers and promote the more popular "quasi-science" as unacceptable.

They underscore that nutrias are globally recognised as invasive non-native species. The species is particularly common in the Ljubljana Marshes, where its population is increasing and threatens the park's biodiversity.

"Although often endearing to the general public, nutrias can cause significant and irreversible damage (destruction of vegetation, erosion of riparian zones, threat to native flora and fauna, etc.). They also carry a number of pathogens and parasites that are potentially dangerous to humans and other indigenous species," their statement reads.

The faculty also underscored that animal rights advocacy by activist organisations should not be equated with nature conservation or expert guidance on the management of animal populations.

PM defends Gaber

Gaber's comments and her activism has drawn considerable public criticism with many critics arguing that she is in a conflict of interest herself and that as the prime minister's partner she is exerting pressure on civil servants.

Appearing on the news programme on the commercial broadcaster POP TV on 26 July, Golob said his partner's activism was well known to the general public and as such transparent.

He finds it perfectly normal and right that the civil society has its views and that it draws the government's attention to them even though the government does not always agree with them.

He said that he could not dictate to his partner what to say. He added though that he thought too that a better solution should be found to manage nutria populations, although he was not an expert.

On the same programme, philosopher Boris Vezjak said that given her accusations, an apology from Gaber or even from both of them, Gaber and Golob, would have been in order. "I believe this was an unacceptable meddling in the autonomy of the profession, in the autonomy of science."

He agrees that a petition signed by that many people should be taken into consideration but said this did not mean they were right. "If we have a petition signed by five billion people who claim the Earth is flat, it won't make the Earth any flatter," he said.

Commenting on the controversy for the Slovenian Press Agency, analyst Aljaž Pengov Bitenc said that as the prime minister's partner Gaber should better understand the power and reach of her words, and should exercise self-restraint.

"Anyone who gets their hands on a bigger megaphone", must realise that they should better consider what they say or write in public. "The claims of someone with 50,000 followers can take on a life of their own and can have unpredictable consequences," he said.


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