By: Sara Bertoncelj (Nova24tv)
In his presentation to the National Assembly’s committee, the candidate for the position of Minister of the Interior, Boštjan Poklukar, highlighted three priorities he has set for himself, namely – the fight against corruption, management of migrations, and depoliticisation, professionalisation and modernisation of the police. MP Branko Grims was interested in the progress of the investigation into the Gen-I energy company scandal, about which all of the Balkan countries have reported recently. He also asked how Poklukar would ensure greater equality of treatment in the proceedings – for example, we have not heard anything in recent months about the Fotopub affair, which shocked the Slovenian public in August last year. Grims also pointed out that the situation at Slovenia’s borders under the current government is catastrophic, and that by tearing down the fences, we are moving further away from core Europe.
Boštjan Poklukar, the candidate for the position of Minister of the Interior, recently introduced himself – for the second time, as he said in his introduction – before the Committee on the Interior, Public Administration and Local Self-Government. He had previously already served as Minister of the Interior in 2018, under the government of Marjan Šarec. He is proud to have gained experience in all three pillars of national security during his career, which has lasted for more than 30 years, he said, adding that he is very familiar with all three pillars. He went on to outline his key priorities for action: fighting corruption, managing migrations, depoliticising, professionalising and modernising the police.
“One of my first political moves will be to issue mandatory guidelines to the police to prioritise the handling of corruption crimes,” announced Poklukar, who had previously already highlighted the problem of the procurement of protective equipment in the healthcare sector in general and during epidemics. “The National Bureau of Investigation will regain its autonomy and independence,” he added. He went on to mention the goal of finally removing the barbed wire on the border with Croatia by the end of this year. He said that a working group of experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations was already working at the Ministry to develop a new migration strategy – with a focus on protecting vulnerable groups and taking into account the changing global context. He invited NGOs to joint cooperation – not only to help draft the new migration strategy, but also to help reform certain laws, including the law on public gatherings.
“When I read the report on the extraordinary police control of the demonstrations, I have to admit, I was appalled,” he said, adding a few platitudes about police repression, which he said was fuelled by the highest levels of authorities. The former Director-General of the Police, Dr Anton Olaj himself, also ordered a report on the demonstrations, which contradicts the findings of the report that was ordered by the supervisors of the Directorate of the Police and Other Security Tasks – which is why the law needs to be changed, and supervision needs to be monitored, Poklukar said. He believes that systemic safeguards should be put in place to prevent political interventions in the police. He would also give police training a bit of a “facelift” by adding emphasis on the value system.
The Gen-I investigations and the Fotopub affair are an enigma
Given that Poklukar has listed the prosecution of corruption and economic crime among his priorities, MP Branko Grims wanted to know how the investigations into the malversations reported throughout the Balkans would be conducted – he was, of course, referring to the Gen-I energy company affair, which involves the current Prime Minister. Grims also wanted to know how the ministerial candidate would ensure greater equality in the procedures, because there is also an element of corruption when there is no equality – while some things move at lightning speed, we have not heard much more about the Fotopub affair in recent months – perhaps because the strings lead to the very top of the Golob government. On migration, Grims said that the main thing that should be ensured is its legality, i.e., that there should be no illegal migrations. The situation at Slovenia’s borders under the government of Robert Golob is catastrophic, to say the least, and tearing down the fence is, after all, a move that will bring us further away from core Europe, where fences are no longer seen as something undesirable. What is more, at the last ministerial meeting of countries of the European Union, the representatives supported the idea of protecting Europe’s borders with fences in the future, which would even be financed by the EU – which puts a strange light on the policy of the current Slovenian government, which intends to remove the fence. “The fence is a preventive message that is extremely effective in deterring illegal migration,” stressed Grims, who also mentioned that the current government has also quietly withdrawn the army from the border.
The police are independent and autonomous and will continue to be so, Poklukar replied to Grims’ question, adding that the investigations currently being carried out by the police should not be of interest to the minister, but he believes that the situation was somewhat different in the previous mandate.
He lied about the shooting of protesters during the Janša government
“The best official was the official at the top of the police who sprayed us with a water cannon, who shot and fumigated around Ljubljana and carried away peaceful demonstrators who were reading the Constitution in front of the National Assembly,” he said in response to a question from MP Vida Čadonič Špelič, who said that she felt that the ministerial candidate was a good official who was grateful to those who had enabled him to become (in the past and now) Interior Minister. She asked him whether he would be able to say no if he was asked to do certain things according to their instructions. Regarding the fence and migration, Poklukar shifted the responsibility to Croatia, which has since joined the Schengen area. “I would not cause too much drama here,” said Poklukar, who, in his previous mandate, also erected a fence on the border and advised people living along it to lock themselves in their houses to be safe from migrants. Today, he believes that the EU’s internal border is not one that needs to be further protected.
MP Andrej Kosi said that Poklukar was proposed for the post as an obedient minister – unlike former minister Tatjana Bobnar. He also asked Poklukar to explain his position on the abolition of the motorway police while noting that neighbouring countries seem to disagree with the assessment that the EU’s internal borders do not need to be controlled – for example, Italy has increased its border controls with Slovenia precisely because of the increase in migrant crossings, and Austria has done the same.
Anton Šturbej said that he believes that depoliticising and bringing professionalism back into the police is an extremely difficult task and that so far, things have not gone in that direction – which has escalated into political pressure on former Minister Bobnar, who resigned as a result. Šturbej wanted to know how Poklukar would react when Golob asked him to replace certain staff and whether they had already agreed on this. “Are you aware that police staffing is not the responsibility of the interior minister, let alone the prime minister?” he asked, pointing out that at the beginning of 2020, the media wrote that Poklukar, as interior minister, had tried to influence the police leadership, and Bobnar had already resisted this at the time. “Will you be able to restrain yourself and follow the pre-election promises of your party, the Freedom Movement (Gibanje Svoboda), that there will be no political recruitment in the police?” he asked. Poklukar replied that what had been happening during the last two years would never happen again.
The National Bureau of Investigation will be more effective with a change in the law, Poklukar stressed, while MP Anja Bah Žibert pointed out in regard to the change in legislation related to the appointment of Director-General of the police that this is not a common practice abroad and that the person at the top of the police is always from the police. “Does this mean that Poklukar does not trust the police structure?” she asked. “How can citizens trust the police, if not even the Prime Minister himself trusts the police, and why is he being protected by non-police personnel?” she asked. She also wanted to know when we will get a Director-General of police with full powers any time soon, or who is the candidate for the post in question. “How are you going to do it non-politically, since you are a politician?” the MP wanted to know about the appointment of the Director General. She also recalled that during his previous mandate, Poklukar had recruited a person to his cabinet who was suspected of corruption and clientelism – namely, the person in question was Julija Rupnik, and the Slovenian Police Officers’ Trade Union (Sindikat policistov Slovenije) had reported Poklukar to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption and the Court of Audit.