Opposition files motion to oust labour minister

Photo: STA

Ljubljana – Four opposition parties have filed a motion to oust Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Janez Cigler Kralj over his work during the epidemic and the ministry’s decision to grant funds to an NGO with close links to the minister. They need 46 votes in the 90-member National Assembly to succeed.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the other three left-leaning opposition parties, the SocDems, the Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), filed the motion arguing that the minister had been irresponsible in dealing with the epidemic in care homes, at companies and in social dialogue.

The motion was signed by all MPs of the four parties bar SAB MP Franc Kramar, who is on a long-term sick leave, and Dejan Židan from the SD, who believes several other ministers would deserve to be ousted “much more than Minister Cigler Kralj, and primarily the entire government would”.

The MPs of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS), which recently left the government, were also invited to contribute their signatures but decided against it. Deputy group head Franc Jurša told the STA that was because the party had not studied the motion and would not take any rash decisions.

The proponents of the motion believe the minister did not devote enough attention and care to elderly homes during the epidemic although it was clear they will be the most critical institutions. Cigler Kralj also did not oppose the decision by the then Health Minister Tomaž Gantar that residents suspected to have been infected will not be transferred to a hospital.

As the instruction on the setting up of three zones at care homes was issued, the minister “knew that most homes cannot create separate zones” and could have predicted the consequences of this but still failed to act.

“It is true that Cigler Kralj was not in charge of everything that was related to care homes but it is also true that he obviously allowed for the part of the misguided actions, for which the Health Ministry is otherwise in charge of,” the opposition parties said.

They also noted that he did not prepare care homes for the second wave of the epidemic, which was his task, and that rapid tests were introduced at care homes late.

They believe Cigler Kralj failed to prepare appropriate legislative bases for curbing the epidemic at companies, that his dialogue with social partners has not been appropriate and that he did not respond to violations of workers’ rights.

They also accuse him of corruption and cronyism in granting of funds to Zavod Iskreni in an open call for funding for project supporting vulnerable groups in the epidemic. They argue the minister favoured the NGO which he had co-founded.

Iskreni was granted EUR 130,000 in the public call issued last summer. 135 organisations applied for the funds, with the ministry granting funding to 17, some of which received a similar amount of funds as Iskreni.

As soon as the ouster motion was announced, the ministry said that Cigler Kralj did not intend to resign because he did not cooperate in or influence the public call. It also rejected claims that he himself made the decision to grant the funds to Iskreni.

The ministry also denied claims by the opposition that Cigler Kralj co-founded Iskreni. It said he joined the co-founders of the association 12 years after it was founded and left all of its bodies last year before taking over as minister.

The minister said on Tuesday that his ties to the association were based only on voluntary work from which he had no financial gain. As for the criticism regarding prevention of infections at care homes, he said yesterday that the ministry had done everything they could.

Cigler Kralj will comment on the motion to oust him in more detail on Monday, his New Slovenia (NSi) party said, while NSi head Matej Tonin said on Twitter yesterday that every institute, including Zavod Iskreni, had the right to run for funding and be granted funds if it met all the requirements.

The network of Slovenian NGOs said on Thursday that merely the fact that the minister had once founded an institute was not an obstacle for it to receive funds from the ministry. This would be illegal if he or his family members were still among the founders.

The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Slovenian Bishops’ Conference expressed concern over the matter as well, saying that the left-leaning parties which oppose the funding of the institute were being discriminatory against the NGO because it advocates family values.

Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Twitter that the motion to oust the minister proved that the KUL coalition did not believe its no confidence motion in the government would succeed. “Because why else would they try to oust a single minister if they thought they will bring down the entire government,” he wrote, adding that Cigler Kralj worked well and in line with the law.

Yesterday he tweeted that an “extremely useful debate” would follow where it would be revealed how much money had been allocated for NGOs and how much for health under the rule of the left-leaning parties.

He also said that taking such steps in the middle of the epidemic was a “disgraceful destructive action that only the left in Slovenia is capable of”.

This is the fourth ouster motion filed in this government’s term. Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs have survived the votes, while Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec had resigned before the vote.