Tuesday, Jun 14 2011

Politics

  • Gregor Golobič, the president of the political party Zares and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology

    Gregor Golobič, the president of the political party Zares and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology

Caught in the lie

Ultra Scandal

03.07.2009

By Barbara Štor

Gregor Golobič, the president of the political party Zares and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, remains in both positions, not yet withdrawing himself from politics. The demands for his resignation appeared after his admitting that he had misled the media during the 2008 general election campaign regarding his investment in a successful IT company.

“I have chosen the more difficult of the two options available,” explained Gregor Golobič to the Slovenian public, the Prime Minister and his colleagues, after he had taken full ten days to consider whether to stay in politics or not. Golobič was convinced that resigning would not fix the original mistake.

He added that resigning would, “... in fact mean repeating the same mistake again. Back then that was my mistake and a mistake that had consequences for me; today, this would be a mistake that would also have consequences for others.”

He also explained that he was aware that he had lost some of the trust he has previously enjoyed, but said he would do everything in his power to earn it again.

However, few were pleased with the minister’s explanations or with his continued presence in politics. Not only the opposition, many voters also called the attention to the fact that when a minister lies without any consequences, democracy in Slovenia has died a little, and that lying has now become a value in politics.


The Disclosure

The scandal with Minister Golobič broke out at the beginning of June as the media reported that Ultra d.o.o., a high-tech firm from Zagorje, where Golobič was employed between 2003 and 2007, had some EUR 21 million of unsecured loans at the state-owned Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB). When the media examined the loans, it also became clear that Golobič owns 10% of Ultra SUM, the Netherlands-based company, which owns 70% of Ultra d.o.o. This was a fact that he withheld from the media during the 2008 general election campaign.

However, according to Golobič, he did not want to hide anything; he merely wanted to prevent Ultra from becoming a target in the campaign. “This was a mistake, for which I apologise and which I regret,” the president of Zares said, when announcing that he would reveal his decision on whether to resign as a minister and whether to withdraw from politics after hearing the opinions of colleagues, his party, the government and the public.

That Gregor Golobič owns a stake in the Dutch company Ultra SUM was also confirmed by Drago Kos, the head of the Anticorruption Commission, where Golobič had to declare his assets at the beginning of his mandate.


Double Standards?

Golobič was not the first nor probably the last politician to withhold certain information from the media. What is striking in this case is the fact that the minister and his party Zares are outspoken opponents of bank loans for management buyouts. For example, a couple of months ago Golobič demanded the resignation of NLB CEO Draško Veselinovič, because of the extension of an unsecured loan of some EUR 150 million to Infond Holding, one of many companies controlled by “tycoon” Boško Šrot.

The media has also discovered that the minister’s former employer was involved in unsecured loans, although Ultra as well as NLB immediately rejected such accusations as a rumour, with NLB stating that the loan was adequately insured.


Different Responses

The responses to Golobič’s action among the Slovenian public were various: from full support to resignation demands. The Slovenian President Danilo Türk, for example, pointed out that Golobič had done nothing illegal, since he reported his investment to the Corruption Prevention Commission. According to the president, holding back the information from the public is morally wrong and a mistake, but he also added that a person who makes a mistake deserves a second chance.

In contrast, the opposition parties were of course united in the view that Golobič should resign immediately. According to the President of the SDS, Janez Janša, Golobič should follow the example of Pavel Rupar, who resigned his position as deputy in October 2006.

Meanwhile, the Zares party gave Golobič their complete backing. “I would like Gregor Golobič to stay president of Zares and the Minister of Higher Education,” declared Speaker of Parliament Pavel Gantar after the meeting of the party council, adding that he enjoyed full support from the vast majority of party members.


The Decision

Apparently, Gantar’s wishes have been fulfilled. Gregor Golobič remains a minister and has not withdrawn from politics. When declaring his decision, he explained that it was made more easily after discussions with colleagues in his party, coalition and the cabinet. His decision was also influenced by the party’s results at the European Parliamentary elections. The party received 9.77 percent of the votes cast and Ivo Vajgl from Zares will hold a seat in European Parliament for the next five years.

“I have carefully considered the gravity of the accusations against him. It is wrong not to declare all your assets to the public. However, I have decided to keep Golobič as minister, since he presented his personal property statement to the Anticorruption Commission, which is everyone’s duty,” stated the Prime Minister Borut Pahor.

Asked whether he would sell his 10% stake in Ultra Sum, Golobič said that “there are no direct reasons” to do so, also explaining that he was not afraid of a possible challenge in parliament. This would give him “...a chance to directly respond to their reproaches, clearly, unequivocally, eye to eye,” he added.


Lies in Politics

The lie is a very common weapon in politics. It is generally assumed that if you want to win an election, you’d better start lying and tell the people what they want to hear. Politicians also lie when they get into trouble; they think the consequences of telling the truth are too severe to bear. However, many seem to get caught in their lies. Who doesn’t remember Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky affair?

In the 18 years of Slovenia’s independence, many ministers have been replaced or have stepped down from their post, none of them because of lying. The only Slovenian politician who resigned because of untruthfulness was the already-mentioned former SDS MP Paver Rupar, who did not register an apartment with the Anticorruption Commission.

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