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Monday, August 8, 2022

Why do we trust supervisory institutions?

By: Dr. Matevž Tomšič

One of the main features of so called new democracies is the weakness of institutions. This is especially true for the so called supervisory institutions, i.e. those that are supposed to oversee the enforcement of common rules of the game, which means ensuring that individuals, groups and organisations act in accordance with the norms adopted by the broad social consensus (including laws and regulations that have been adopted on the basis of legal and legitimate procedures). This also includes sanctioning those who violate these norms. But of course, such institutions must act neutrally, that is, make decisions based on general principles, i.e. regardless of the political, ideological, or any particular orientation of those concerned.

Weak supervisory institutions are typical of countries that have been subject to the communist type of social order for decades, where the entire institutional apparatus in all areas was only a tool in the hands of the ruling party elite. Therefore, checked “morally and politically appropriate” staff were in key positions. The problem is particularly acute in those countries that have failed to make a systemic break with the past. There people with the “old regime mentality” still occupy important positions. They are usually associated with the political underworld, which has its roots in the structures of the former communist regime.

Unfortunately, Slovenia belongs to this group of countries. Problems with the functioning of the judiciary are known. This is not just about its inefficiency, which is reflected in large court backlogs. Even more problematic is the political instrumentality that has found expression in a number of politically motivated judgments. The most obvious – but by no means the only – case was the Patria case, where defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison on the basis of non-existent evidence – which was only overturned by a decision of the Constitutional Court.

The instrumentality of supervisory institutions is largely the responsibility of their key people. A typical example of this is the conduct of the President of the Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia, Tomaž Vesel, in the process of auditing the purchase of protective equipment at the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic last year. The appearance of his impartiality was severely shaken from the very beginning, when it became known that he had met the infamous Ivan Galet even before the initiation of the proceedings. He is the man who launched the whole affair to the public, so the mainstream media declared him a “whistleblower”, although it soon turned out that he was involved in some of the most controversial deals, so it is obvious that with his public blaming of others he, above all, wanted to protect himself. Vesel then pressured his deputy, Jorg Kristijan Petrovič, who was responsible for drafting the procurement report, to finish his work as soon as possible, and after he refused to give in – as he had far too little time to review the report – Vesel revoked the power of attorney a few days later and transferred it to his more “cooperative” colleague. And completely “coincidentally”, this coincided with the tendencies of the left wing opposition to overthrow the government, which was also counted on by its “prime minister” Karl Erjavec, who explained to his MPs the content of the report (this is supposed to be devastating for the Minister of Economy Zdravko Počivalšek), even before it was completed. It is possible that Erjavec bluffed (definitely not for the first time), but the impression was created that the president of the Court of Audit was willing to participate in this political game. On top of all that, his credibility was ruined by his “free time” work for the FIFA World Cup, with which he earned several times more than his regular salary, however, he did not have the appropriate consents for it.

Vesel’s conduct in the described case discredited not only him but also the institution he runs. Therefore, only his early and irrevocable resignation could restore at least part of the confidence in it.

Matevž Tomšič is a sociologist, university lecturer and publicist. Since 2008 he has been teaching and researching at the Faculty of Applied Social Studies in Nova Gorica. In addition, he is also engaged at the Faculty of Information Studies in Novo mesto and at the Faculty of Media in Ljubljana. He is also a collaborator of the Study Center for National Reconciliation and president of the Association of Journalists and Publicists.

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