A LONDON trip with a €4,000 price tag, posh brandy or flowers from an up-market florist worth €9,900 are items not quite compatible with financial discipline at a department in charge of a notoriously underfunded sector. The findings of a recent Finance Ministry audit of the Education Ministry revealed 30 shortcomings of which 17 cases constituted a violation of working discipline, the Sme daily broke the story on August 6.
The finance department provided the audit results to Vladimír Crmoman of a civic initiative called ‘The government claims there are no funds, thus the teachers will help to find them’ who used the Freedom of Information Act to access the audit results. In the aftermath, a political ethics watchdog is calling for automatic penalties for those wasting public funds, and the Education Ministry insists it has already taken steps to eliminate problems.
Auditors focused on the years 2010-2012, a period involving management by three ministers: Ján Mikolaj, a nominee of the non-parliamentary Slovak National Party (SNS), Eugen Jurzyca of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Smer nominee Dušan Čaplovič, the current minister.
A trip by Čaplovič’s director of the office to the Paralympic Games in London costing €4,000 drew the attention of auditors, racking up business class travel costs worth €918 and €824 in accommodation costs. The flight ticket for her assistant cost €341 while taxpayers paid €960 for her accommodation, the TASR newswire reported.
The ministry, according to the auditors, wrote in its written comments that the goal of the trip was “necessary and standard for protocol and organisational issues”. Nevertheless, auditors said that the public funds spent on the working trip were uneconomical due to the high costs, TASR reported.
The purchase of €9,900 in flowers from the up-market Bratislava-based flower shop Orchidea – not counting VAT – raised similar concerns. That purchase already made headlines earlier this year, when Sme reported it. Ministry officials said that some of the flowers went to schools that teach flower arranging, but did not explain where gift bouquets worth €2,500 ended up, Sme reported in March.
“The Ministry of Education has already executed organisational and personnel changes and took measures to eliminate the causes, while also a system of internal control was created to avoid similar cases,” Michal Kaliňák, an Education Ministry spokesperson, told TASR.
The Education Ministry acted uneconomically when it purchased 36 bottles of exclusive brandy worth €70 each, according to Sme, which also reported that “in the case of wines worth several thousands of euros, the order was issued two weeks after supplying the goods without its specification”.
Then ex–minister Jurzyca bought ministry employees anti-stress balls for more than €570, according to the report published by the ministry, TASR reported.
The ministry, according to the auditors, has violated the financial discipline to the tune of €131,000 during the reconstruction of a parking lot and garage with the respective contract being concluded in 2011, when the ministry was led by Jurzyca. The ministry did not proceed in line with the conditions agreed in the contract, auditors said.
“People who carry responsibility for the wasting should be automatically penalised,” Pavol Lacko with the political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance (FPA) told The Slovak Spectator. “The ministry should establish a so-called damage committee and try to recover the wasted money.”
It is also important that systemic measures are adopted to prevent wasting public funds in the future, Lacko said, adding that “findings of the inspectors show that the internal controls failed at the Education Ministry, which should have traced the failures on its own”.
According to Lacko, doubts about waste of public funds at the ministry have been emerging regularly.
“Thus it is in the public interest as well as in the interest of the ministry that it actively publishes all the results of its controls,” said Lacko, adding that the ministry is funded from public resources and it should report to the public in cases of failure.
Yet, the ministry in its response stressed that the audit pertained to three years and three ministers and it was Čaplovič who personally ordered the audit, adding that “if the previous ministers Eugen Jurzyca and Ján Mikolaj in the past adopted similarly strict rules, the current audit would have had different results”.
Crmoman, the teacher who accessed the audit results according to Sme, was warned that if he abused the information on the results of the audit that the ministry would take legal action.
“I considered this and decided to publish the report everywhere possible,” Crmoman said, as quoted by Sme.
Radka Minarechová contributed to this story
12. Aug 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová