Inquiry quizzes Janša about rapid test verification, bonuses

Ljubljana – Prime Minister Janez Janša made another appearance before the opposition-sponsored parliamentary inquiry examining the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic on Friday. He discussed the verification of rapid antigen tests, payout of bonuses and the legal basis for the introduction of coronavirus measures.

Asked by Marko Bandelli of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) about the eligibility for the payout of crisis-related bonuses, Janša said that this was the decision of the heads of individual institutions.

These have also taken action in the event of irregularities, he said, adding that the government did not have this power at its disposal.

As for the legal basis for the implementation of protective measures, such as face masks, Janša said the that the infectious diseases act, passed 25 years ago, provided the government and, in many cases, the Health Ministry with this basis.

The prime minister added that the pandemic had shown that the legal basis had to be upgraded, which the government had done in the form of ten Covid legislative packages.

“There are probably dozens of more specific legal bases in them, and only 2% or 3% may have been challenged at the Constitutional Court. Some of them have also fallen.”

Janša noted that hundreds of regulations had been repealed by the Constitutional Court so far, including in the times when there was no epidemic and when governments had plenty of time to ponder on these decisions and take action.

The chair of the inquiry commission, Robert Pavšič of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), presented a letter from Metka Paragi, a former employee of the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food (NLZOH), in which she warns Janša of several irregularities and inconsistencies since Tjaša Žohar Čretnik took over at the NLZOH.

Janša said that the NLZOH director, to his knowledge, had always acted very professionally, and that he did not know what the dispute between her and Paragi was about, so he could not comment on that.

The prime minister also questioned the truthfulness of the allegations in the letter, adding that any such warning was passed directly to the responsible persons.

“If the allegations turn out to be true, the health minister would have probably taken action. As far as I know, the NLZOH has done a good and exemplary job,” he said.

Janša noted that the data from the laboratory on the amount of coronavirus in wastewater by region was a timely warning of what was to follow regarding the development of the epidemic.

Pavšič also asked Janša to comment on the allegations of the head of the rapid test task force at the Health Ministry about the inadequate verification of rapid antigen tests for mass testing supplied by the company Majbert Pharm.

The prime minister asked whether the government should act on the basis of what a sole expert says, or whether it should decide on the basis of the opinion of competent institutions.

“There are hundreds of rapid tests, and all of them have gone through various verifications, and it is possible that in some cases something was wrong,” he said, noting that there had been problems with reliability of rapid tests all over the world.

Janša denied Pavšič’s allegation that he had personally brought self-tests from Slovakia and gave them to the NZLOH for verification. He said Slovakia had donated rapid tests to Slovenia, which the NZLOH had verified as a competent body.

The prime minister also noted the importance of Covid-19 vaccination rate, saying that the higher it was, the lower the pressure on hospitals and the death rate.

Asked who was responsible for the vaccination rate, Janša said that vaccination was not mandatory in Slovenia, so it was the responsibility of each individual. He added that the rate was similar as in other countries that had a single-party regime.

“Why is vaccination rate in eastern Germany, where the German Democratic Republic used to exist, is approximately the same as in Slovenia, and the western part, which is governed by the same government, is above the European average,” he wondered.

Janša expressed regret about each and every excess death, while noting that the number was in line with the vaccination rate, which the government hopes will increase during the ongoing, second Vaccination Days campaign.

The prime minister said that every individual assessment of whether the epidemic has been successfully tackled was subjective. “What is objective are international comparisons,” he said.

Janša noted the recently published ranking by The Economist weekly in which Slovenia was second only to Denmark among 23 selected OECD member countries in terms of how well it has coped with the economic aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pavšič told the press after the session that the commission would soon draft an interim report, adding that additional issues had been raised regarding the verification of rapid tests after Janša’s testimony.

He noted that Janša had first denied having anything to do with rapid tests from Slovakia, and “then this quickly turned into possibly, and finally he confirmed that he expected the NLZOH to verify the tests that he submitted for verification”.

The MP said that this meant the prime minister admitted interfering in procedures that should be strictly professional and without any interference by politics.

Pavšič also labelled as “bizarre” Janša’s statement about the vaccination rate in Germany that the MP interpreted as the “Communists being blamed for the situation in the country.”