The Slovenia Times

Management Fiasco in Port of Koper


Gašpar Mišič, who resigned as a state secretary at the PM's office last week amidst mounting pressure following the announcement of his intention to bid for the top job at Luka Koper, reportedly won backing from the supervisors representing the employees and the Koper city, as well as chairman Dino Klobas.

Indeed, it was Klobas's appointment to the helm of the supervisory board a fortnight ago that was interpreted by the media as a sign that Gašpar Mišič would be appointed as CEO in a move allegedly sponsored by Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković and his Koper ally and counterpart Boris Popović.

Commenting on the appointment, which was backed by five votes to four, Klobas said he had been trying to build a broader consensus, but since he failed opted to support Gašpar Mišič for the benefit of Luka Koper as any further delay in the appointment of CEO would cause harm to the operator of Slovenia's only commercial port.

Klobas said the board voted on a total of four candidates for the post, which will become available as the term of the incumbent chairman Bojan Brank ends on 6 September, and that each supervisor could only back one candidate.

"We assessed all the candidates on the basis of the same criteria and we established that Mr Gašpar Gašpar Mišič stood the biggest chance so we opted for him," said Klobas, adding that Gašpar Mišič had told supervisors in the interview that they could "remove him without severance pay" if he failed to meet the targets agreed.

Gašpar Mišič, 47, a former sailor who graduated in nautical engineering and then made a successful career in real estate before entering politics at the national level in 2011, announced that he would get down to work at once and that he would prove many had been wrong about him and his intentions.

"I'm foremost an entrepreneur, a businessman, only then a politician. I entered politics because of dissatisfaction over the way Slovenian politics had been led... I have no one in the background, not even in my party. This is my personal decision," he told the STA.

Noting that he would like the PM to be proud of him as a member of her party and her former state secretary, said he had a solution to what he said was a "paralysis of Luka Koper", which he indicated he planned to tackle by winning support from the local community for the port's development.

Outgoing chairman Bojan Brank, who bid for reappointment, said the supervisory board's decisions must be respected, but he thanked "the four" supervisors who, as he understood the situation, "saw competence and experience as possibly the criteria that ought to prevail".

Gašpar Mišič's appointment has invited an immediate condemnation from political officials with PM Alenka Bratušek labelling it as "intolerable" while announcing that she would be meeting her aides on Tuesday morning to discuss the matter and examine potential action in response to the decision.

Gregor Virant, the head of the junior coalition Citizens' Party (DL), indicated a possible course of action as he said his party demanded of the government to do everything in its power to have the supervisory board and Gašpar Mišič replaced.

President of the coalition Social Democrats (SD) Igor Lukšič was equally indignant. "So utterly out of touch. This has gone too far," he said, suggesting that the supervisors of the SOD fund, which is responsible for the management of state assets, consider the situation and act or else face a dismissal.

"It is up to the management and supervisory board of SOD to act now. Only then it is the government's call and if it fails to react, we have nothing to do in such a coalition", said Lukšič, who sees the appointment as a "concentration of everything bad that is known as political staffing".

The state as the majority owner of the port operator has the option of calling a shareholders' meeting to replace the supervisory board, which could then potentially replace the chairman. Asked about the possibility, Klobas said the majority owner had a right to call such a meeting.

A call for an immediate appointment of a new supervisory board and Gašpar Mišič's replacement also came from Karl Erjavec, the leader of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), who called the appointment unacceptable and running against Luka Koper's interests.

The Restitution Fund (SOD) announced that it would look into the situation as a responsible manager of state assets and consider potential further steps while taking into consideration interests of all stakeholders and take action in line with its statutory obligations.

The opposition People's Party (SLS) responded to the appointment in a tweet by party vice-president Olga Franca, who had in the past served as a member and chairman of the supervisory board of Luka Koper, saying: "Under Gašpar Gašpar Mišič Luka Koper will go under."

SLS leader Franc Bogovič joined the condemnation of the appointment by describing it as the result of last year's opposition to the Slovenia Sovereign Holding, arguing that those who did not understand why the PS opposed the holding then, could see the reason in practice today.

The opposition party New Slovenia (NSi) also pointed to the potentially negative consequences for the company of what it termed as an "outrageous", "unethical" and "unhygienic" decision, arguing that being a member of "Janković's Positive Slovenia is unfortunately the only reference today".

The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party (SDS), reacted with sarcasm. "Sincere congratulations to Prime Minister Zoran Janković for the successful enforcement of a 'positive' staffing policy at Luka Koper!", the party tweeted.

Janković, who had to resign as PS leader over a damning graft report just as Bratušek was voted into office in March, expressed satisfaction with the supervisory board's decision, lauding the board's "courage and independence" in the face of adversity.

Just today Luka Koper reported a 25% increase in half-year net profit to EUR 7.8m after posting a net profit of EUR 10.4m in 2012. Although the volume of cargo transshipment was down 2% on the first half of 2012, revenues were up 3% to EUR 73.2m.

Total transshipment hit 17.9 million tonnes last year, up 5% year-on-year. Luka Koper's biggest markets include Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia.

The port of Koper was established in 1957 to compete with Trieste in neighbouring Italy. A railway connection between the port and the hinterlands was established in 1967 and the container terminal was constructed in 1979.

Unveiling his plans for the port today, Gašpar Mišič said the construction of a third pier was not a priority for him. Instead, he advocated the extension of the existing two piers by a few hundred metres beyond current plans, which would automatically mean deeper basins.

Gašpar Mišič would also like to separate public infrastructure projects from the non-pubic sphere as the former are eligible for EU cohesion funds. He also plans to improve transport links with hinterland markets and to increase volume of transshipment, as well as aim for at least 7% return on Luka Koper share by 2017.


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