NIJZ head sees plans for his dismissal as political pressure

Ljubljana, Cankarjev dom. Izjava za medije o aktualnem dogajanju v zvezi z novim koronavirusom. Predstojnik obmocne enote NIJZ v Kopru Milan Krek.

Ljubljana – The head of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), Milan Krek, finds the announcement of his potential dismissal by the likeliest PM-designate Robert Golob as a form of unacceptable political interference. He does not intend to offer his resignation after the new government is sworn in, he told the STA.

Golob, the leader of the general election winner Freedom Movement, told the current affairs show Tarča on Thursday evening that if appointed prime minister, he will replace Krek with the previous NIJZ head, Ivan Eržen.

Asked whether he would be willing to return to the helm of the institute, Eržen told the STA that “if Milan Krek decides to resign, then this is one of the possibilities to resolve the situation, at least a temporary solution.”

But Krek has no intention of resigning after the new government is sworn in, which could happen in early June, saying that he intends to continue to protect the NIJZ against such “political pressure”.

He finds it unusual that a party leader would publicly announce such a staffing move as only the NIJZ council has the power to replace the director, noting that reasons of political nature are not enough to dismiss him. Moreover, he does not see his appointment two years ago as a case of political staffing.

Krek took over as the NIJZ head in April 2020 soon after the Janez Janša government replaced the members of the NIJZ council and after Eržen, acting head of the NIJZ at the time, decided not to run for a full term. Since then, Krek has been often criticised for lacking the competence to head the country’s public health response to the epidemic.

He is not an epidemiologist or an infectious disease specialist and prior to his term at the NIJZ he was known for running the government’s anti-drugs office and for his work with addicts.

Eržen, an epidemiologist, took over after Nina Pirnat stepped down as NIJZ head immediately after the Janša government was sworn in in March 2020. As the acting head of the NIJZ he was critical in his public appearances of some of the government’s measures to contain the epidemic.