Was the Director of Slovenia’s Statistical Office Dismissed for Following the Law?

By , 09 Jun 2020, 13:26 PM Politics
Matej Lahovnik speaking at the government press conference Matej Lahovnik speaking at the government press conference Screenshot of a Youtube video

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On May 21 2020 the Slovenian Government dismissed the director of the Statistical Office (SURS) Bojan Nastav, who was appointed for a five-year term in August last year. The decision took effect the next day and the acting director for a period of six months became Tomaž Smrekar. The media now reports the reason for replacement of the head of SURS was his refusal to submit confidential information to a non-authorised body of external government advisors in an unorthodox way.

Following his dismissal, Bojan Nastav told RTV Slovenia he had learnt about the decision from the government website’s session’s minutes, and that he was not familiar with the reasons for his firing.

The new acting director, Tomaž Smrekar, who began working immediately after Bojan Nastav was dismissed, explaining to RTV Slovenia that it was impossible for the around 300 SURS employees to properly analyze all the data, and that help will be needed from the government’s advisory group, headed by Matej Lahkovnik.

The Statistical Council of SURS demanded the government to present the reasons for the replacement of the head of the agency, and the government replied citing Article 83 of the Public Employees Act, which allows public officials to be dismissed within the first year of their office.

The Statistical Council then asked for another opinion from the attorney Rajko Pirnat, who claims that the head of SURS is not covered by this law, but rather under the jurisdiction of the National Statistics Act. For this reason, the Statistical Council has issued a request that the Constitutional Court decide which of the two laws applies in this case.

According news portal Necenzurirano.si, Nastav was dismissed on a request of Lahovnik’s advisory group, which approached SURS with a request for raw economic data. SURS then replied that the data can be accessed under certain circumstances prescribed by the relevant legislation. Access to the SURS database for research purposes is only allowed with prior approval, in a safe room and only after employees have anonymized the data - covering up names and other identifying data of specific companies, since SURS is obliged to protect statistical confidentiality.

Furthermore, reports necenzurirano.si, the Lahovnik’s advisory group is functioning as an informal association, which works pro bono and without any legal grounds for its activities. Its members are not responsible to anyone and therefore also not obliged to protect the data that they obtain from state bodies. Its members work for private companies and boards, which could use such data for their personal gain.

Because Nastav didn’t seem to respond to the group’s request, concludes Necenzurirano.si, Lahovnik called Prime Minister Janez Janša and Nastav was immediately replaced.

Since its inception the current Janša government has replaced most of the heads of the state security apparatus, including heads of the police and the army, National Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Police, and Office of the Republic of Slovenia for the Prevention of Money Laundering. The head of the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (SOVA), however stepped down on his own after Janša’s government excluded SOVA from the National Security Council.

According to Mladina, several of these heads were removed in order to stop investigations into the financing of Janez Janša’s SDS party.

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