Prime Minister Janša attends session of the Commission of Inquiry on COVID-19
Prime Minister Janez Janša today attended the 6th regular session of the Commission of Inquiry to determine the potential political responsibility of holders of public office for financially inappropriate measures and the allegedly unjustified restriction of rights in the implementation of measures related to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Prime Minister had previously attended the Commission’s 2nd regular session, answering questions from the Commission Chair and deputies on measures taken by the Government to contain and limit the spread of coronavirus infections. More information about the Prime Minister’s first appearance at the Commission’s session is available at: https://www.gov.si/novice/2021-09-24-predsednik-vlade-janez-jansa-o-ukrepih-v-prvem-in-drugem-valu-epidemije-koronavirusa/
Prime Minister Janša also attended the Commission’s 4th regular session, speaking about the activities of the expert group and the measures adopted by the Government to contain and limit the spread of the virus, and provided details about the procurement and supply of vaccines in 2020. More information about the Prime Minister’s second appearance at the Commission’s session is available at: https://www.gov.si/novice/2021-11-11-predsednik-vlade-janez-jansa-na-seji-preiskovalne-komisije-v-drzavnem-zboru/
At today’s session, the Prime Minister first answered questions about the awarding of bonuses during the coronavirus epidemic. He said that he would like to hear about other cases of undue bonus payments, so that they could be investigated. "Of course, the Government does not have the authority to decide on how bonuses are awarded; the Government adopts a general regulation, while concrete decisions on bonuses were made by the heads of institutions, who also took action when irregularities were uncovered," said the Prime Minister.
Responding to a deputy’s questions about various statements of certain public figures (including the former President of the Republic, Milan Kučan) regarding Fascism and Fascists, he said that calling people and things Fascist was not due to the epidemic but had a longer history. He recalled that, when he was in prison in June 1988, the main investigator of the secret military police made comments about the assembly of 340,000 people in Kongresni trg, saying that Fascists had gathered in the Ljubljana square and that the entire Slovenian nation was clearly on that path and Yugoslavia would not be particularly worse off if those people were killed or exterminated. "Anyone who opposed the Party’s dictatorship was called a Fascist, and some people still haven’t given up such habits in the 21st century," said Prime Minister Janša.
“When it comes to external phenomena, it’s normal that the opposition and the coalition have differing views," the Prime Minister went on to say. He added that it was sad that insisting on differing views at any cost was at the forefront even when it was time to come together in the fight against the epidemic.
"The Communicable Diseases Act, which was adopted 25 years ago and has applied without anyone challenging it at any point, has stipulated and continues to stipulate, when a communicable disease poses a threat to our population, the Government adopts protective measures. In many cases, the act also authorises the Minister of Health to adopt protective measures. The legal basis for measures such as mask wearing has therefore existed in Slovenia for 25 years," said the Prime Minister, commenting on the legality of the adopted measures. "However, the pandemic, which is not declared by national authorities but by the WHO, has shown, not only here but also elsewhere in the world, that the legal basis must be supplemented, and the Slovenian Government did that in the ten anti-corona packages, which not only mitigated the consequences of the epidemic, but also supplemented the legal basis for taking action," said the Prime Minister. "Dozens of more clearly defined legal bases for taking action were probably prepared, 2–3% of which were challenged before the Constitutional Court," stressed the Prime Minister.
In response to questions regarding the operation of the Slovenian National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food, the Prime Minister said that it was a professional institution of experts who worked "day and night to be able to conduct all those tests." "On multiple occasions, the data they provided on, for example, the quantity of virus in wastewater in Slovenian regions, served as a timely suggestion about how the virus would evolve in the future. And when I talked to colleagues from other European countries, I realised that, although they had similar laboratories, they didn’t have such data. I don’t know of a single case in which the prognosis of the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food proved wrong or when their data was incorrect," said the Prime Minister, who described the Director’s work as not only professional but also exemplary and self-sacrificing, "because what we are dealing with here is not a normal set of circumstances, and people there really work hard."
As regards the letter of one of the employees about the operation of the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food, brought up by the Commission Chair, the Prime Minister said that it was definitely referred to the Minister of Health who undoubtedly looked into the allegations raised in the letter. "If the allegations were true, action would likely have been taken or I would have been informed," said the Prime Minister.
Replying to the question as to why the opinion of the said expert was not considered, the Prime Minister wondered whether the Government should adopt its position based on the facts provided by a single expert or based on the consensus of all professionals working in the area concerned. "So, let me use a metaphor: should we act in accordance with a separate opinion of a Constitutional Court judge or with the opinion issued by the majority of Constitutional Court judges," asked the Prime Minister. He added that the Commission Chair obviously wanted the Government to act in accordance with a statement given by an individual who was in a dispute with the head of an institution or to follow a person with a different opinion. "If opinions vary, they should be clarified with the relevant persons and institutions," explained the Prime Minister.
As to the verification of rapid tests, Mr Janša stressed that, currently, there are hundreds of rapid tests on the market and all of them were subject to various verification procedures. "In Slovenia, about 100,000 people are tested on a daily basis. If issues with these test were significant, this would not work. However, problems did arise in the beginning of the pandemic, because it was not clear whether the tests were reliable and whom to trust. This was not the case only in Slovenia, but everywhere in the world. Today, these things run rather smoothly," said the Prime Minister. He recalled that some experts were also against rapid tests from the very beginning, but the experience from other countries helped experts harmonise their opinions on this matter. "We were not among the first in Europe to introduce rapid tests, but rather among the last, precisely because of all these concerns," recalled the Prime Minister.
"At each European Council meeting, COVID-19 and state measures are discussed. The same goes for testing. As I have already said, many doubts and different practices were voiced initially. I have always brought up these discussions in meetings and working groups, in which government measures were discussed. It is possible that I proposed we try everything that other countries have already introduced," continued the Prime Minister. He also stressed that, upon his personal request made to the Slovakian Prime Minister, Slovakia donated rapid tests to Slovenia. "I have never seen these tests myself. However, the tests cannot be used until they have been verified and we have an institution that checks this. As far as I know, we have not bought any tests from Slovakia," said the Prime Minister, rejecting the allegations that he personally brought the tests from Slovakia and commissioned the National Laboratory of Health, Environment and Food to verify them. "The Czech Republic lent us protective equipment, gloves and masks in the same quantity as the equipment that was sent to China by the Šarec Cabinet; Hungary and Poland also provided some equipment," explained the Prime Minister as he described the assistance provided by other countries.
"The effects of the pandemic vary across countries. In terms of deaths per case, we rank 12th in the EU. If we consider the order of this unfortunate statistic, excess deaths show that Slovenia has the same ranking as in terms of vaccination coverage. This means that we are protected to the same extent as we are vaccinated. The higher the vaccination coverage, the less hospitalisations and the less deaths due to the coronavirus," said Mr Janša. He added that, in the second wave of the epidemic, the above average excess deaths occurred predominantly in the homes for the elderly, which have seen no investment in 15 years, because the money was rather given to non-governmental organisations at Metelkova 6. "The fact that the homes for the elderly have seen no investment in 15 years is not a political topic and it should be stressed that money was provided for things that did not bear any fruit," explained the Prime Minister.
He also said that, at the beginning of the week, he held a telephone conversation with the Danish Prime Minister. "In Denmark, the number of cases per million is higher than in Slovenia, but the number of patients in intensive care is significantly lower than in Slovenia, because almost the entire adult population of Denmark is vaccinated. The vaccination coverage of the adult population in Slovenia is 70%, which explains the higher number of cases and hospitalisations," said the Prime Minister. He emphasised that Slovenia has not introduced mandatory vaccination and that the responsibility to vaccinate resides with each individual.
"At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, vaccines were hard to come by everywhere, in Slovenia, the US or Luxembourg. As far as the EU is concerned, we have managed to reach the level of producing excess vaccination doses at approximately the same time. Now, there is enough vaccine," stressed the Prime Minister. He added that neither he himself nor the Government had ever fuelled mistrust towards healthcare professionals.
"My verdict on who succeeded and who failed in the fight against the epidemic is subjective, and the same goes for the deputies. An objective verdict may only be given by data and international comparisons," stressed the Prime Minister Janez Janša. He noted that the OECD had recently compared how governments in individual countries managed the crisis and, in terms of fighting the epidemic, Slovenia ranked second just behind Denmark. "The economy is very important when fighting the epidemic. For example, rapid testing is a huge expense that needs to be covered. If the economy does not work and is stifled by the epidemic, everything else is also stifled, social affairs and normal life as well. When a neutral international institution reviewed and calculated various data, Slovenia ranked second in terms of fighting the epidemic," stressed the Prime Minister. He also pointed out the data showing that, last year, Slovenia's deficit was 1.6 percentage point lower than projected. "We have borrowed one billion less than permitted and our results were also substantially better than forecast. All these objective figures prove how successful the country was in fighting the epidemic," concluded the Prime Minister Janez Janša.