Forest Research Institute head claims: "Ministry asked us to rig hiring of new director"



Neja Markičević, Goran Mehkek / HANZA MEDIA

Acting Institute director Dijana Vuletić and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak

The Croatian Forest Resaerch Institute has been looking for a new director for more than seven months now, while a number of Institute employees claim that someone in a position of power is attempting to rig the tender for the position.

Hrvatski šumarski institut (the Croatian Forest Research Institute) has been looking for a new director for more than seven months now, without success. The reason ‒ according to a number of employees ‒ is that the terms of the vacancy are being rigged for someone who may be favored by the powers that be, but does not meet the required criteria.

The new Management Board, headed by Milan Oršanić of the Faculty of Forestry ‒ an appointee of the the Ministry of Science and Education (MZO) and Minister Blaženka Divjak ‒ has annulled another competition for the vacancy, in which two of the four applicants had reached the final stage, fulfilling all the set conditions. The reasons for this have not been given. The three members of the Board appointed by the MZO and having the majority, are now demanding that Acting Director (AD) Diana Vuletić, whose second regular term on the post expired in July, amend the existing hiring rules.

Specifically, they want to remove the requirement of five years of work experience in management jobs in the forestry industry. Acting Director Vuletić refuses to comply. Under the management of the current AD, the Institute received excellent marks in the international accreditation process four years ago, as the fourth best institution in the country. AD Vuletić is against the change of the rules and so is the Institute's Scientific Board and two members of the Management Board. They do not want to lower the criteria.

Third attempt

‒ The first competition to fill the vacancy was canceled due to procedural mistakes ‒ says Vuletić. We have sought to change the rules so that the requirement is for five years experience in management in science, not necessarily in forestry; the Ministry did not respond. They asked us to publish a vacancy announcement again, with the old rule about five years in management in the forestry industry. We did that, but the new Management Board annulled this second competition for the vacancy, appointed me as the AD, and is now seeking to abolish this five-year requirement ‒ says AD Vuletić.

She has been at the helm of the Institute for the past eight years and cannot be reelected. In the last competition to fill the vacancy four candidates applied. Milan Pernek and Mladen Ivanković went to the final stage, while Sanja Perić did not meet the five-year requirement and Miroslav Benko was too close to retirement. They are all employees of the Institute.

‒ Two members of the Management Board (those not appointed by the MZO) and 19 members of the Scientific Board voted against annulment, but the majority on the Management Board is held by the MZO appointees ‒ says Vuletić. ‒ Because of the hitch, there is a possibility that the pay will be late. We are 40-percent financing on the market, the fourth institution in the country on quality, have numerous projects granted EU funds, more than 10 young scientists, students from Germany on student exchange... we just want to be left to do our job. ‒

Her story is confirmed by one of the candidates in the competition for the vacancy, Milan Pernek, who claims that no explanation for the annulment has been given. ‒ There is no mention of a legal remedy you might use to lodge a complaint ‒ he says. ‒ It is striking to see the people appointed by the MZO display such willfulness. It is obviously to someone's benefit that the conditions be adjusted for someone, that they are suitable to someone. There is no other explanation. ‒

In addition, some employees of the Institute accuse (chairman of the Management Board) Oršanić and Board member Jurica Tomljanović of conflict of interest. Oršanic is an employee of the Faculty of Forestry and a former Dean, and Tomljanovic is the head of the Croatian Forestry Authority branch office in Senj. Their opponents see the conflict of interest there, because the two institutions are in competition with the Forestry Research Institute on the market.

What the Ministry says

Oršanić, on the other hand, will not give up on the plan to amend and clarify the rules and says that only two to three people at the Institute could apply for the vacant post under the current rules. He rejects the idea of rigging.

Conditions too strict?

‒ We will invite applications for the third time according to the new criteria ‒ he said. ‒ I consider the requirement for five years' experience too strict. Only two to three meet it, and there are young and capable people who do not even have the opportunity to gain experience. Secondly, I believe that candidates should have a detailed program of work and not just submit a single page or two-page general plan, as has been the case before. The program should be the only condition, not some criteria that only a small number of people can meet. I will not give up on this. I have even suggested having an international tender, rather than have the people who have been in the system for 10-15 years simply 'inherit' the posts.

He argues that he is not in a friendly relationship with the Minister, but says that have indeed know each other for many years, ever since he was Dean at the faculty, and she a Deputy Rector. He rejects the suspicions of the conflict of interest and points out that chairmen of the Management Board were also employees of the Faculty of Forestry before.

‒ I informed the Minister of annulment of the vacancy competition; she told me to do what I thought best ‒ he says, announcing a new invitation for applications for the next week.

"Five years of experience are not required even in the election of the Rector of the University"

The Ministry of Science and Education, headed by the Minister Blaženka Divjak (appointed to the post by the HNS party, a junior partner to the HDZ in the ruling coalition), sees nothing disputable in the effort of the Management Board at the Forestry Research Institute to abolish the five-year experience in forestry management requirement.

The Ministry also says it has not received a new proposal to change the said rule book. "The Ministry of Science and Education does not appoint the Director of the Croatian Forestry Research Institute", says the Ministry. "It is done by the Institute's Management Board. The Ministry has not received a new proposal to change the Rules of Internal Organization [of the Institute]. We do not see abolishing the five-year requirement as a precedent, given that even much larger institutes, such as the IRB (The Ruđer Bošković Institute) do not require it, and it is not part even of the election process of the Rector of the University of Zagreb. This allows a broader circle of potential candidates, and not just from the ranks of the Institute."

The response additionally says that minister Blaženka Divjak has absolutely no intention to interfere with the election of the Director, and that it is fully and independently the matter for the Management Board.