THE CHAIR underneath yet another Slovak National Party (SNS) nominee is wobbling after the European Commission said that it would not reimburse a single euro spent within the controversial bulletin-board tender organised by Slovakia’s Construction Ministry. Minister Igor Štefanov’s rhetoric was still filled with swagger on October 7 when he said that Slovakia will not lose any money over the tender.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said that he would request the Supreme Audit Office to again check on the tender and if its audit shows any waste of public funds those responsible for the tender would be held responsible.
The controversial tender has already cost the previous SNS-nominated construction minister, Marian Janušek, his post and two official investigations have found that Slovakia’s public procurement rules were broken in awarding a €120-million contract to a consortium that included Avocat and Zamedia, two firms reported to have close links to Ján Slota, the head of the SNS. Services already provided under the tender involved what the investigations found to be overpriced logos, TV spots, and services.
The contract had been awarded after the original tender notice was advertised solely on an internal bulletin board at the Construction and Regional Development Ministry in an area not normally accessible to the public.
Nicholas Martyn, Audit Director at the Directorate General for Regional Policy of the European Commission confirmed on October 6 that the EC had completed its analysis of the bulletin-board tender and that Brussels would not reimburse Slovakia for any of the funds spent in the subsequently cancelled tender, the TASR newswire reported. Martyn added that the EC appreciates that Slovak authorities have taken a pragmatic approach towards the matter and would not bring a case seeking reimbursement of the spent funds before the European Court of Justice.
“It really could not have happened otherwise,” said Zuzana Wienk, director of the political ethics watchdog organisation, the Fair-Play Alliance. “It is completely evident that the European Commission is a body with a much stricter political culture than is standard in Slovakia and it really acts in the name of taxpayers and for their protection.”
The consortium had been paid €11 million under the tender before it was cancelled.
According to Wienk, it has been clear from the very beginning that the European Commission could not pay for money spent as part of a tender organised in the way it was.
“The fact is, the only institutions that could achieve the return of the wasted money are the Prosecutor’s Office or the Construction Ministry,” Wienk said. “The ministry has clearly shown that it does not protect taxpayers’ money and would not take such steps.”
So Wienk thinks that the Prosecutor’s Office is currently the sole body which could recover some of the funds already spent.
“If the Prosecutor’s Office protects the rule of law in this country, then it should do it,” Wienk said. “According to our analysis, the sums that have been paid to firms from the bulletin-board consortium are much higher than the market prices so the state budget could get back a relatively significant sum which could be spent for the benefit of taxpayers.”
The parliamentary opposition parties had already called on Prime Minister Fico to recall Štefanov, who prior to his appointment was a key lieutenant of the previous minister, Janušek, and whose signature appears on many of the key tender documents. Fico has thus far rejected sacking Štefanov, saying that he was only an officer of the ministry executing orders and that full responsibility lies with Janušek.
Štefanov is claiming that Slovakia “won't lose a single euro” and that Slovakia’s taxpayers will not be affected since the EU funds designated for the tender will be used to cover other state activities and the money already paid will be replaced from the state budget.
The chairman of the SNS, Ján Slota, responded to the recent developments by suggesting that since the funds from the tender were mostly spent for media promotion and advertisements and because “those media are now the first to criticise” that perhaps the media should return money to the ministry, TASR reported.
Ivan Mikloš, the deputy chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the strongest opposition party, viewed the recent developments as the European Commission convicting the cabinet of Robert Fico of committing a scam, the SITA newswire reported.
Mikloš also reminded the prime minister of what he had said a month ago: that the European Commission would reimburse a significant part of the funds already paid to the firms involved in the bulletin-board tender. The SDKÚ has also called for the immediate recall of Štefanov.
12. Oct 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová