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Regional EU funds in jeopardy

TWO FACILITIES taking care of disabled people in Banská Bystrica Region face potential closure despite the fact that millions of euros have already been approved for their renovation from EU funds.

TWO FACILITIES taking care of disabled people in Banská Bystrica Region face potential closure despite the fact that millions of euros have already been approved for their renovation from EU funds.

The authorities of Banská Bystrica Region have clashed over the financing of the projects: the governor of the region, Marian Kotleba, announced he cannot sign the contracts to launch the two projects to deinstitutionalise two facilities of social services in the region, because the regional council did not approve money to co-finance the projects. With the EU financing of the projects, the region needs to cover 5 percent of the costs. The councillors, however, claim that the governor can proceed with the contracts and rely on the council to approve the money after the fact. The Office of the Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region (BBSK) has already had a subsidy of €4.5 million approved from the EU funds.

Kotleba addressed the issue at a press conference on October 10, where he insisted he could not sign the contracts. He argues that there are no finances in the regional budget to cover the co-financing of the projects, as the regional council moved the €200,000 that was meant for the project to the culture budget. If he signed the contracts, he would violate the law on budgetary rules of public administration, he claims.

Homes in need

The projects concern two facilities providing social services to disabled people in Lučenec and in Ladomerská Vieska. Through the projects, the facilities should be transformed into community social service centres, which would result in the reconstruction of 10 buildings and construction of two new ones where social services would be provided in smaller, family-style facilities, the SITA newswire reported. The project in Lučenec got €2.35 million approved from the EU funds, while the one in Ladomerská Vieska got €2.15 million in December 2013.

Kotleba, who has a background as a right-wing extremist and who is known for his eurosceptic views, however admitted to the press conference that he has got some reservations towards the projects too, namely the selection of the buildings to be included in the reconstruction.

“I have been through the objects with attention and none of you would select for your close ones placement in one of those small buildings rather than the big mansion,” said Kotleba, as quoted by SITA.

In Ladomerská Vieska, many rooms have wet walls and smell of mould, the Sme daily wrote. Indeed, the Regional Public Health Office admitted they might have to close the facility down due to their concerns about the health of clients, Sme reported.

Conflict with the council

The issue of the projects to be financed from EU funds has once again driven the regional councillors to an open confrontation with the governor.

The head of the Smer and KDH caucus Ľubica Laššáková accused Kotleba of misleading the public.
“I would propose him to make a selection procedure, to see when the first invoices arrive, and then we’ll see whether we’ve got or we haven’t got [the money for] 5 percent co-financing,” Laššáková said, as quoted by SITA, adding that in case of need, there is enough money in the budget. She said the councillors can make a change in the budget again, and she maintains that Kotleba would not violate any law if he signed the contracts.

Kotleba in turn blamed the councillors for not changing the budget as of yet, and for not even proposing any change that would enable Kotleba to sign the contracts, as stated in a statement published on the BBSK website on October 10. He accused the councillors of turning the whole issue into a campaign ahead of November’s municipal elections.

The funds need to be drawn from the EU by the end of October. The regional council requested an extraordinary session to be convened in order to move the money to the respective budgetary chapter. Kotleba however failed to answer the question whether he would sign the contract if the money was available for the co-financing of the projects.

Questions over audit

Meanwhile, Kotleba also has to deal with accusations that his office is marring a financial audit at the Office of BBSK.

The audit was ordered by the regional council on September 2, but when the auditors from the office of the region’s main auditor arrived to take the documentation they needed to carry out the audit, they were denied.

The audit is focusing on the legal relations and remuneration of the employees of BBSK.

Kotleba at the October 10 press conference argued that the office only had two days to prepare the documentation and that was not enough for the employees of the human resources office of BBSK.

BBSK spokesman Miroslav Belička said on October 9 that several employees of the office have requested that their personal documents not be provided to the main auditor, Michal Kňažek. They claim that Kňažek was registered within the files of the communist-era secret service ŠtB. The BBSK employees claim they fear their personal data could be abused in his hands.

The BBSK is now going to ask the Interior Ministry, the National Security Bureau, and the Office for the Protection of Personal Data what to do, Belička claimed.

Kňažek reacted saying that the law does not define a group of people on the grounds of being mentioned in the ŠtB files that would be excluded from processing personal data, the TASR newswire reported.

He also noted that the main auditor does not carry out the audit alone, but the employees of his office do the job.

“The auditors are obliged to maintain silence about facts they have learned during the audit and after it is finished,” Kňažek told TASR.

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