Thanks to dubious tenders and contract awards, the European Commission will be sucking back almost EUR 4 million that was allocated for the reconstruction of Bratislava Airport, meaning the EU co-funding will now be covered by Slovak taxpayers (state budget).
Following an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), it was found that certain expenses were not justified and that tenders had not been conducted properly. Some of the costs in question go back to the Mikulas Dzurinda government in 2005, but possibly the most dubious point is the awarding of a contract to the company Ikores under the previous government of Robert Fico.
Ikores received the contract to reconstruct the airport directly from the Ministry of Transport led by Lubomir Vazny (Smer-SD), without any public tender. Suspicions of crony practices were elevated by the fact that Vazny and Fico’s Smer-SD party received a EUR 200,000 donation from the owner of Ikores, Jozef Kopecky.
Former minister Vazny replaced the head of the airport before the contract was awarded, and in his defence he says he sacked the previous director as he was not running the airport in line with “my expectations”. Vazny, rather wisely, wants to examine the report from OLAF before making further comments.
After her meeting yesterday with European Commissioner for regional policy Johaness Hahn, Prime Minister Iveta Radicova pointed to the bad state of drawing EU funds and also to some of the inherited cases where funding has had to be returned to the European Commission.
Radicova put this down to excessive and complicated bureaucracy and wrong priorities. She pointed in case to the Commission’s refusal to cover the costs of the suspect ‘social companies’ set up by the former government, regarding which the Commission eventually retracted EUR 24 million in funding.
Radicova claims that these kinds of cases have made obtaining EU funding much more difficult for applicants, as the various ministries are trying to plug the holes and prevent future misuse of the funding. In the end, Slovakia drew a mere 5% of available funding for Operational Programmes last year.
Now the government is trying to simplify the whole process by applying measures to eliminate the many key obstacles to drawing the funds, said Radicova. The latest effort is something that both Commissioner Hahn and the EU appreciate. Radicova could not say yet which budget chapter would be used to cover the latest EUR 4 million shortfall in EU co-funding, but current transport minister Jan Figel is probably shaking most, as his chapter is already under huge strain.