Environment minister facing no-confidence vote

Ljubljana – Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak faces a no-confidence vote in parliament on Friday over the statements he made in a leaked conversation with a spa company boss 14 years ago, with the opposition also having several other grievances against him. Vizjak, who has rejected all of them, is confident he will be backed by enough MPs.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left, Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the deputy group of unaffiliated MPs filed the motion to oust the minister on 27 October after several sections of a lengthy recording of his conversation in 2007 with Bojan Petan, the CEO of the spa company Terme Čatež and the publishing group DZS, were made public.

In the recording, Vizjak offered Petan agreement on the management of Terme Čatež, the largest owners of which at the time were companies affiliated with Petan and the state, as well as a deal on the withdrawal of the spa company’s own shares.

He also offered Petan the state’s support in his plan to take over of another spa company, Terme Olimia, while warning him over action to challenge the decisions of the Terme Čatež shareholders’ meeting, asserting the government would find a judge “to break his nuts”.

While Vizjak acknowledged that the recording was authentic, he said his goal at the time was to protect the interests of the state in the takeover of Terme Čatež.

Responding to the motion to oust him, he said the initiators of the motion had not proven in any way that he had violated any rules or laws as environment minister.

He said that he had tried to persuade Petan 14 years ago not to go through with the “harmful takeover of Terme Čatež”. Now it is clear that the takeover damaged the company, its owners, the state and taxpayers. The state has lost more than EUR 100 million, he said.

He thinks the recording was leaked now because of the legislative changes on waste management that are in parliamentary procedure and that will prevent companies dealing with waste to continue making profit off the state, taxpayers and users of utility services.

The opposition believes Vizjak should go also because he approved a six-fold increase in the amount of thermal water that spa operator Terme Čatež is allowed to extract and gave a concession for the use of thermal water to spa Terme Gaja, saying that a mayor with ties to the ruling Democrats (SDS) is behind the EUR 60 million hotel complex project.

Vizjak said in response that Terme Čatež would not extract more water, but that his move was merely legalising the existing situation. In Terme Gaja case, he said that a new decree replaced an old one from 2008, as the existing concessionaire gave up its concession. A public call is under way based on the new decree granting the concession, he said.

According to the opposition, Vizjak is also responsible for a damaging waters act that was blocked in a referendum in July. They also allege his failure to give experts and NGOs a say in preparation of laws, and argue he favours the interests of profit over those of the public, all of which charges Vizjak rejects.

Another grievance is that Vizjak purchased stock of the energy company Petrol prior to full liberalisation of fuel prices.

Vizjak said he had bought the shares more than four months before the liberalisation and that neither the Securities Market Agency nor the Commission for Corruption Prevention had found any irregularities.

Although the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) said it no longer supported the minister, the no-confidence vote is not likely to succeed, as it would have to be backed by 46 of the 90 members of the National Assembly.