Public administration minister under fire
Public Administration Minister Sanja Ajanović Hovnik has come under pressure after media have reported of her costly trip to New York and dubious disbursement of public funds to an NGO run by her former business partner at a time when the public finances are under strain due to the devastating August floods.
A close aide to Prime Minister Robert Golob, Ajanović Hovnik first came under media scrutiny after TV Slovenija reported that she and her entourage spent almost two weeks in New York in July to attend a forum on sustainable development at the cost of over €33,000 to the taxpayer.
Just days later the minister came under the spotlight again, after the media reported that her former business partner won €300,000 in an open call for NGO funding published by her ministry.
Another issue that has been raised is that the former business partner, Kaja Primorac, through another firm she owns, had advised several other applicants and had received a commission in return. The weekly Mladina reported that all the applications she advised were selected.
Minister denies wrongdoing
Ajanović Hovnik has been adamant that she will not resign, insisting that she has done nothing wrong and has been transparent about her work. While she continues to enjoy the support of Prime Minister Golob, the opposition Democrats have announced a motion of no confidence in her.
The minister has said she will launch an internal audit of the purchase of plane tickets for the New York trip, which she said she felt were too expensive. But she denied any wrongdoing in the ministry's open call for NGOs.
She and her ministry have been insisting that she had had no say in who would be picked for the funding since the decision was in the hands of a special commission. "I did not have any influence on decisions," she said, which the commission head confirmed.
She also told the public broadcaster on 30 September that as soon as she learnt about Primorac having advised other applicants, she informed internal ministry departments and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption "because I do not agree with anyone connected with me getting a single cent in such a call."
The open call has not been wrapped up yet since contracts with selected providers have not yet been signed. She is now waiting to hear from ministry services how the call can be annulled. "As soon as there is a legal basis for this, believe me I'll do it," she said.
However, the minister, who is leading key negotiations with public sector trade unions when the government is planning cost-cutting measures and a delay in public sector wage reform due to the huge cost of post-flood reconstruction, appears to be in a precarious position.
Opposition planning ouster motion
Janez Janša, the previous PM and leader of the Democrats (SDS), announced on 3 October that the larger of the two opposition parties would file a motion of no-confidence in Ajanović Hovnik. While the motion is still being drafted, Janša wrote on X that criticism of the minister was more than deserved.
He suggested the party expected the same to happen as in the case of former Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan, who resigned before parliament discussed and took a vote on the SDS-sponsored motion of no-confidence in him.
The smaller of the two opposition parties, New Slovenia (NSi), has already announced it will support the motion of no-confidence, while the largest faction in parliament the Freedom Movement said they continued to support the minister from their party ranks, but would make a final decision once they got all the explanations over the allegations against her.
Similarly, the junior coalition party, the Left, said the ruling coalition would discuss the ouster motion once the anti-graft watchdog had provided its opinion on the matter and the minister had offered her explanations. The other coalition partner, the Social Democrats have not responded yet.
Cabinet reshuffle in the works
The government is facing a reshuffle with unofficial sources revealing that Golob is planning to replace Agriculture Minister Irena Šinko and Minister of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning Uroš Brežan. Šinko has already confirmed this for Radio Slovenija.
One of Šinko's shortcomings is supposedly the inefficient work of the Administration for Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection, which has been recently the target of criticism over a pesticide scandal. Meanwhile, Brežan is said to have been slow to act on post-flood reconstruction.
After standing in for health minister since Bešič Loredan resigned in July, Golob is putting forward for the post Valentina Prevolnik Rupel, a state secretary at the Health Ministry and member of the strategic council for health at the prime minister's office.