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€1.1 million for tagging bears

SLOVAKIA’s nature protection agency hired a private company from Bardejov to perform tasks that had already been finished by state forestry companies even before the tender was opened. Critics called the process absurd, while the agency said applicable law bound them to the procedure, the Sme daily reported.

SLOVAKIA’s nature protection agency hired a private company from Bardejov to perform tasks that had already been finished by state forestry companies even before the tender was opened. Critics called the process absurd, while the agency said applicable law bound them to the procedure, the Sme daily reported.

The State Nature Protection (ŠOP) agency was granted €700,000 from Slovakia’s Environmental Fund to prevent bark beetles from spreading in protected forested areas. ŠOP then prepared a tender for this work which was won by LSO, a private, Bardejov-based company. What LSO then did was to use the money it received to pay Lesy SR, the state forestry company, and other regional forestry companies which had earlier undertaken the protective measures. Sme wrote that according to the invoices, LSO profited by €200,000 under this tender.

The preventive measures against bark beetles must be taken between April and September, and partly also in October, in order to be effective and the public procurement was not finished until the end of October, Pavel Mathe, a forester and former ŠOP employee, told Sme, adding that by the time of the tender the preventive measures had already been completed and it was clear to what degree.

“Such procurement is illogical and absurd and in my opinion also contradicts the law,” Mathe said, as quoted by Sme.

Employees of the state and regional nature protection companies said that defects in the procurement system are to blame for the process. First, they said ŠOP does not know in advance how large the grant from the Environmental Fund will be and therefore cannot announce a tender earlier in the year. Secondly, while in the past the services were procured directly from the state company managing the applicable forests (such as State Forests of TANAP in the High Tatras), the Public Procurement Office complained about that process and ŠOP was asked to initiate public tenders that could be won by any firm. But at the same time the state companies managing the forests had the responsibility to protect the forests from bark beetles and had to use their own resources within the effective time period and then hope that the expenditures would be reimbursed after the public procurement.



Pricey bear surveillance



Protecting state forests from bark beetles is not the only service that LSO has provided under contract to ŠOP, however. The Sme daily reported that LSO also has a contract to run a bear monitoring programme and that for €1.1 million the company is required to capture a maximum of 15 bears in the High Tatras and tag them with GPS collars. Sme wrote that the contract does not state the minimum number of bears that LSO must outfit with GPS collars. In mid 2012, the company is required to submit a comprehensive ethological study of the bear population in Slovakia.

Sme wrote that LSO had no previous experience with similar projects and that so far the company has set four traps but has not captured or tagged any bears.

An expert in this field told Sme that he believes this contract was grossly overpriced.

“For this money you could easily map the entire bear population in central Europe,” Marián Janiga from the Mountain Biology Research Institute of the University of Žilina told Sme.

Former ŠOP head Ján Mizerák, who signed the contract on behalf of the state, said that the project should continue because it will provide valuable information.

The Environment Ministry, however, believes that LSO had more than an arms-length relationship with Mizerák: the ministry filed a criminal complaint about the bear surveillance contract in December 2010, alleging fraud.


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