STA, 27 February 2019 - Lavishing praise on the work of Environment Minister Jure Leben, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec announced on Wednesday that they had come to a conclusion that it would be hard for Leben to continue in his job whilst investigation is under way over his role in the previous term in a tender related to the Koper-Divača rail project.
"We made this decision with a heavy heart," said the prime minister, underlining that they had made the decision together after a lengthy talk.
He added that he would be happy to work together with Leben in any other capacity in the future if no fault is found with the outgoing minister for the tender for a scale model of the Divača-Koper track, a project Leben oversaw in his capacity as Infrastructure Ministry state secretary.
Šarec said that Slovenia had not had an environment minister like Leben for 15 years. "He was the first after a long time to start moving things [at the department], the first to be out in the field, the first to regularly report to me about all activities, be it Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week. He really cares about this department."
The prime minister underlined that he would demand that Leben's successor kept up the work he started and the pace he had set.
He believes that the Modern Centre Party (SMC), which got the department in coalition talks, would provide a good candidate but "I will reserve my right to decide whether the candidate is appropriate for the job".
Šarec: Leben did a good job, surprise that complaints were not voiced earlier
"Minister Leben has done a very good job, he will continue doing it until his successor is appointed and I want the same work continue at the ministry."
The prime minister also expressed surprise that the alleged wrongdoings had only been voiced now, wondering why the people who "now claim to have known a lot" had not acted earlier.
Today's announcement comes after weeks of speculations about a 2017 tender for the track scale model in which the more expensive of the two bidders got the order, only to hire the cheaper bidder to actually make the model, which had ultimately not been paid.
Šarec also said he expected the resignation of Damir Topolko, the head of the Infrastructure Agency, which handled the scale model tender. If Topolko refuses to resign, Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek should dismiss him, Šarec said.
Šarec said that his insistence on Topolko's resignation was logical, as he himself had said that the tender chose the wrong bidder due to an algorithm error in an Excel table. He also said that other people involved in an email correspondence about the tender should take their responsibility.
He was referring to an email correspondence including several officials at the agency, as well as representatives of a PR agency that handled the project and of the companies that made the model, as well as the former prime minister's office.
Nonetheless, Šarec said that the correspondence had not persuaded him that Leben had "ordered to choose this or that bidder".
Moreover, Šarec said he expected of Bratušek to make sure that Leben would not be the only one shouldering political responsibility.
The prime minister also warned against drawing parallels among the three ministers who offered their resignation since the government was sworn in in mid-September 2018.
While Cohesion Minister Marko Bandelli and Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček both had to go because of mistakes they made while serving as ministers in Šarec's government, Leben's alleged wrongdoings stem from his work in the previous government, said Šarec.