Janez Janša: The purchase of protective and critical medical equipment was in line with the law
- Former Prime Minister Janez Janša (2020 - 2022)
At today’s extraordinary session of the National Assembly, the deputies discussed the proposed resolution on the acquaintance with the report on the status, reasons, reserves and orders of personal protective equipment and critical medical equipment upon the declaration of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) epidemic and the purchases that enabled Slovenia’s success in overcoming the epidemic. The proposed resolution was submitted for discussion by the Government of the Republic of Slovenian and, at the session, Prime Minister Janez Janša further explained the proposal.
Below we have provided an unauthorised transcript.
JANEZ JANŠA: Thank you for giving me the floor. I believe it is high time that parliament, in respect of its work, also organises itself in accordance with the epidemiological situation; namely, that measures should be adequately modified in accordance with the situation.
Mr President, Distinguished Assembly, The Government has drawn up a report on the purchase of protective and critical medical equipment, as well as on the circumstances that led to the procedures that were used being chosen. Now, since the report discusses the circumstances, allow me say a few words about them. I am not in the position I am in because the coalition that was formed undermined the previous government or wanted to take over power, especially not at a time when the epidemic had just begun, but because the previous government threw in the towel at the beginning of the epidemic and because, really, that was probably the only constructive solution as the time.
When we were putting together this coalition, we invited everyone that is seated here today in the opposition to join. We asked everyone to come help us. What the result of this request was, you all know. In the past two months, almost exactly two months in fact, Slovenia was able to curb the epidemic, despite the general lack of support. Today, Slovenia has the best epidemiological picture in Europe, which means that the end of the general epidemic could soon be declared, which will likely coincide with the date when the first two anti-corona legislative packages cease to be in force.
This means that even our planning, in very difficult circumstances, was practically exact to the day, of course that is if, on the basis of the responsible behaviour of us all in the coming days and weeks, the epidemiological picture remains as it is now or at least does not take a significant turn for the worse. Slovenia is therefore transitioning from the period of an epidemic to a period where there is a risk of a second wave occurring, which makes it possible for many of the general measures to be discontinued, while only a few specific measures remain in place, and even these will only remain for as long as the epidemiological picture, which is generated with a delay, as you know, will permit due to the duration and development of the infection.
Now, we are transitioning into a phase where there is a danger of individual outbreaks occurring in the second wave. You can see just how dangerous this is if you read about the latest news from Seoul. It is a city of several million people and it is experiencing a second wave that has led to the city going in to lockdown again, simply because one infected person went to four bars in one night and they were forced to shut down the city ten days later. In this phase, the future or the managing of the risks is ultimately no longer in the hands of the Government or this National Assembly, but rather in the hands of each individual, and whether this good epidemiological picture continues in the future depends on this.
Regarding the purchase of protective and critical medical equipment, it took place in accordance with the law, which enables fast-track procedures in the case of epidemics or emergency situations, in the chaos that you all experienced but some of you want to quickly forget about. In circumstances that the world has never seen before. It is also because of this, because the Government was aware of all these risks in such circumstances, that the Government, before you even began asking any questions here, decided to make public all the procurement contracts, which was set in motion and they were made public and are still publicly available. Tell me of another government that made its contracts publicly available right away, even if it was not during a time of crisis. The Government itself also urged the Court of Audit to examine the purchases and then, after you had spoken of a commission of inquiry for three weeks but still did not propose one, the coalition even proposed a commission of inquiry that included this Government’s term in office. Evidently, everything will be examined.
The first criticisms emerged about the fact that, in the beginning, advance payments were required for the equipment. As it began escalating and we knew what this would entail, the competent ministry decided to attempt to purchase the equipment without any advance payments. This meant that those selling the equipment had to put up the money for the advance payments themselves or obtain a suitable bank guarantee. The state did not lose anything with respect to these risks. I do not believe that there is currently any European country that paid in advance for this equipment and that had everything supplied to them in accordance with these advance payments. They simply did not get the equipment or they received equipment that was not in line with what they ordered, with certificates in Chinese, and they were left with only two options – one of which was to reject the order and be left with no equipment, demand refunds of the advance payments, as of yet no-one has received them, as far as I know, anywhere. There were tens, probably even hundreds, of such cases, or they simply accepted that they had been cheated. I do not know of any European country where this did not happen. I have spoken to many colleagues. They all experienced these issues. Regarding the losses, I believe Slovenia lost the least by far, if any advance payment at all, so far. Incidentally, we received the first shipment from the European Commission, I believe it sent three hundred thousand surgical masks. We thanked them kindly. Today, an urgent dispatch came from the European Commission stating that we should by no means distribute these masks as they only just began checking the certificates, which turned out to be unsuitable. Today.
The European Commission, which has tens of thousands officials, which had many problems from the start. But then, when the competent ministry decided to not pay the advance payments, in that very moment, if I am correct in saying, and the minister himself will probably mention this as well, approximately EUR 30 million in supplies was paid for and everything that was paid for was also supplied, and what was not supplied had not been paid for. As far as I have learnt from my colleagues from elsewhere in Europe, they are in a worse state, a much, much worse state.
But then, when the issue of advance payments was no longer a problem for some, because there weren’t any, the issue became profit margins. I do not know what the profit margins were for each individual supplier, as in those first few weeks everything that could be supplied was bought, as long as it met the minimum standards. All the contracts have been made available, everything can be verified, but it seems at the moment, as is partly recorded in the report, that the suppliers who are the standard suppliers to the Slovenian healthcare system for protective equipment had the largest profit margins. That is who had the largest profit margins. And all the problems began after many of these suppliers were shut out, while those who were competent to do so, and are known today as whistle-blowers, signed the contracts with the largest profit margins, while the most problems were with the old suppliers. And now, attention is clearly simply being diverted. But each and every contract can be verified.
There is no issue here and the Minister of the Economy said, in the first week already, that he would probably be explaining himself before various commissions of inquiry three years after the end of the epidemic, but this was a time when it was a matter of life and death, and what he did at that time, together with many other colleagues at the commodity reserves and the ministry and at other ministries that responded, saved tens of lives. In Slovenia, thank God, more than ten times fewer people died due to Covid-19 per capita or per million inhabitants than in neighbouring Italy, than in Spain, than in the United Kingdom, than in Belgium and so on. More than ten times fewer. And considering the fact that many of these countries do not border on an epicentre, as is Italy, and practically all these countries had governments in place for months, years, half a term of office at the time of the outbreak, not a government that took office one day after the declaration of the epidemic and, further, we did not want to bring this up, but the epidemic that was declared on 12 March was declared unlawfully, it was not within the power of the Ministry of Health, this is something the Government had to do, but since the government of Mr Šarec did not want to do this or Mr Šarec himself did not want to do this, Minister Šabeder did this of his own volition. There is copious correspondence relating to what happened in the last week before we took over office and you will see, it will get very interesting when this is investigated. The first thing that we had to do, on 13 March, was to legally rectify the declaration, otherwise all the measures would have been nullified. The question of what was invalid in the meantime is a different matter altogether and it is pointless troubling ourselves with it now.
Now, to all of you who are making such a fuss of this protective medical equipment while the epidemic is still ongoing. First of all, you could do the same in two months’ time. There are no other countries in the world where such things would be happening as they do here in Slovenia, where the opposition would make the same kind of fuss that you do. We have invited you to join the coalition, we have invited you to participate in the adoption of anti-corona packages, we have sent you all the materials for the second anti-corona act. Instead of providing comments, you held press conferences to criticise some drafts. Well, if you can call that being constructive, then thank you. Another thing concerning these purchases. I have received hundreds of emails, offers, urgent messages, proposals in relation to these purchases. Anyone who thought they knew someone in this field sent an email. I also received dozens of emails from the, let us say, reputable businesspeople from the opposition, offering their assistance. I have not discredited a single one of them, because I consider all of this as well-intentioned, let us say, the attempt of Mr Židan to intervene and help. There were probably some profiteers among them, but most of them had good intentions, they wanted to help and now things are going in a completely unsound direction.
The crisis is still here. The epidemic will probably be formally declared over by the end of this month. Some measures will remain in force. However, the recession is at our doorstep and we will have to invest great efforts to prevent the recession turning into a depression. Everything that is currently going on in the sense of obstructing these measures, overthrowing the Government, protesting – all these things are out of reasonable bounds. The protests led against the measures to contain the epidemic are also being held in Switzerland, Germany, in countries that are infamous for their radical parties. You will not see any coalition or opposition member participating in such protests. I would say that Slovenia is a major exception in this regard. In Slovenia, you wear masks, you take selfies in groups at a time when this is prohibited. Now, what kind of example are you setting? The future control of the epidemic does not depend on ordinances or on whether 25% of the population will keep some of the new habits they have had to learn. It depends on whether all of us can abide by this, because one small minority can jeopardise the health and lives of many or all of us. I will read you another text now. In Slovenia, the Criminal Code is in force. Article 297 thereof reads as follows: "Whoever publicly incites or stirs up hatred, violence or intolerance in respect of nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, skin colour, origin, financial situation, education, social position, political or other beliefs", that is whoever publicly incites or stirs up hatred or intolerance in respect of political or other beliefs, "and commits this offence in a manner that can jeopardise or disturb public law and order, or uses threat shall be sentenced to up to two years in prison. If the offence referred to in the preceding paragraphs is committed by publication in mass media on websites, the editor or the person acting as the editor shall be punished by the sentence referred to in paragraph one or two of this Article and so on and so forth".
My esteemed colleagues, the protests you have been diligently taking part in and inviting others to join are marked by death threats, indeed, death threats. In public.
T-shirts bearing inscriptions of death threats are worn, that is to say, are worn by prominent individuals. Death threats are heard at meetings of management bodies of the national television. The Government session lasted three hours, three hours the session ran under a banner threatening death to the 220,000 who voted for the Slovenian Democratic Party. And this happened while this party was part of the opposition. I have received direct death threats. This is being presented as something completely normal on the national television’s website. In spite of the provisions that I have quoted from the Criminal Code. Therefore, I am asking you, I am asking the competent persons in the police, persecution service, courts – does the rule of law apply in Slovenia and do the laws apply to everyone equally? Is it allowed to threaten with death those who are deemed second-class citizens? Such things happened in Berlin in the 1930s and we know what that led to. Such things happened in the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers in 1989 and what happened then? The first victim was Ivan Stambolić, the president of Serbia, who was killed and buried on the Fruška Gora mountain. And this is no issue. This is no issue. I believe that these things are difficult to hear, because you are part of them. I think it is about time for someone to make an end to this.
In addition to fighting the epidemic together with the great majority of this country, this Government has also introduced a range of measures that you have approved in the National Assembly to prevent the epidemic from affecting the majority of the population, the most vulnerable.
My esteemed Social Democrats colleagues, when you were in the government in 2009, when a similar fall of gross domestic product occurred, did the pensioners, did the students, did the families, did the farmers receive any solidarity benefit? In every third session of your government in 2009, you added additional 200 million for the banks. And nothing for the people. The only practical measure from that time was to finance subsidies for shorter working hours, which is what we are also planning to do. We have received nothing from you – the socials who show solidarity. Did we protest at that time, has anyone threatened someone with death? In spite of the situation being more critical and unjust.
Those of you who were in power in 2013 took half a billion, 500 million from the junior bondholders and those buying the shares of the bank Nova kreditna banka Maribor when the IPO took place. And then you gave those 500 million to those who drained two tycoon-owned banks, Factor and Probanka. This is why proceedings are still ongoing in the Slovenian courts and the European courts. In the end, the Slovenian taxpayers will pay a billion euros when all this is finished. This Government is taking a different approach to handle this situation. I think this is something that some people find to be the main issue.
The suitability of measures is also confirmed by the assessments undertaken by the European Commission. This year, our economy will be affected and the gross domestic product will fall a little less than the EU average. However, based on the measures introduced – I am quoting directly from the spring report of the European Commission – our economy will be able to grow by approximately the same percentage in the coming year.
This means that if we will be smart, the well-being of Slovenian people will not be significantly affected. Nevertheless, we cannot achieve this objective in such a manner, in an atmosphere that is being created right now, when ministers are bound to write reports, sit in extraordinary sessions of working bodies for hours with sessions being interrupted and resumed and so on. In times of the epidemic, no opposition in the world is doing that. Thus, only little time is left to deal with other things. To those who were in the previous government – you left us with an administration far worse than we have ever taken over from any government. The ministers have to do most things by themselves.
You claim that you have many ideas on how to handle this situation. Well, our doors are still open. If anyone has smart ideas and wants to help, we are prepared to expand the coalition at any time. Join us, accept the responsibility, and we will overcome this situation with significantly fewer efforts. So these are the key questions. Now, how to overcome the recession, how to prevent it from turning into a depression that would cause as much distress as the last economic crisis, when we were the most affected and the last European country to emerge from recession apart from Greece. How to attract more investment, how to remove the administrative hurdles rather than helping those who interfere and try to stall procedures as long as possible.
We have taken over 400 legacy projects from the Slovenian Environment Agency, which means that tens of thousands of new jobs are in stalemate due to some individuals who declare themselves a non-governmental organisation and file appeals when the building permit has already been granted and then it takes years for this permit to become final. Instead of joining forces in such matters and, given all due consideration to environmental protection, seeking productive solutions, you flatly reject this, although you are aware that this is a significant issue in our country.
Hence, we are now urging you to move from a stage of complaining to a stage of cooperating, at least while we are still in a situation in which we are actually seeking innovative solutions to ongoing issues on a daily basis and making plans for the issues still to come.
As I have already said, the invitation remains the same as in the beginning of this term of office. Whoever wants to help may join us, put their proposals on the table and propose capable people. Using this approach, Slovenia will definitely achieve greater success. If you plan to overthrow the Government, you may do this in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and in line with the usual proceedings to save time.
However, I will warn you against breaking the law. Such threats break the law and return Slovenia into a situation that, upon the declaration of our independence, we believed would never re-emerge.