Govt calls on STA supervisory board to dismiss director
Ljubljana, 18 March - The government has proposed for the STA supervisory board to dismiss Bojan Veselinovič as director of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), alleging violations in the fulfilment of the agency's legal obligations, which Veselinovič denies.
A press release issued after Thursday's session said the cabinet ascertained "a number of violations in the fulfilment of the STA's legal obligations in 2020 for which STA director Bojan Veselinovič is directly responsible".
"The STA director is also directly responsible for mobbing of employees," reads the release, adding that the government is proposing the supervisory board to immediately dismiss Veselinovič.
The STA works council and trade union said none of the employees had contacted relevant bodies over alleged mobbing.
The alleged irregularities follow from a report by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) which the government adopted today.
The government tasked the Interior Ministry to examine, based on the UKOM report, whether the alleged violations contained elements of suspected criminal acts prosecutable ex officio and to act accordingly.
The government also wants the ministry to examine accountability of the chairman and members of the STA supervisory board over the alleged damage to the STA and whether they acted against the companies act in their oversight duties.
In its instructions to the Interior Ministry the government invoked Article 4 of the organisation and work of the police act, which refers to police being directed by guidelines and instructions issued by the minister.
The government also called on the labour inspectorate to examine the agency and review its operations.
The STA is "the main national news wire service, incorporated through a special law and funded primarily by the taxpayers' money. Its operations in the sense of fulfilment of legislative provisions and professional, timely and unbiased informing of the public thus need to be beyond any doubt," reads the release.
"Once we have been officially notified of the government's decision, the STA supervisory board will study it and, as always, act in accordance with the valid legislation and the rules of procedure," the board chairman Mladen Terčelj wrote in response.
Veselinovič described the government's decision as a "new chapter in a series of attacks on the independent STA and an attempt to replace its leadership".
He repeated that in suspending the STA financing for a second time in half a year, the government was acting in contravention to the 7th coronavirus relief law that provided a clear legal basis for the financing of the STA public service.
Under the STA act, oversight of the agency's operations is performed by the supervisory board, which Veselinovič says has always been notified of all decisions and actions by the STA management.
He says the STA has always taken business decisions "in line with the law and for the benefit of the company" and has "consistently followed the principles of financial transparency and cost accounting rules on keeping commercial and public services separate".
The STA has been reporting to UKOM regularly on the use of funds it gets for the public service, says Veselinovič, adding that the "government, which under law has access to all business documents, has never requested those".
Veselinovič believes that, in cooperation with STA supervisors, all will be done "to stop systematic dismantling and smear campaign against the STA" as the agency is about to mark its 30th anniversary.
Under the STA act, the Republic of Slovenia is the agency's sole founder and shareholder with the government acting on its behalf.
"The founder's duty is to ensure institutional autonomy and editorial independence of the STA and appropriate financing to allow comprehensive and undisrupted implementation of public service based on the annual business plan of the STA," reads the act.
The act also provides for the STA to perform independently the service it was founded for and for the agency's financial independence. The director and the supervisory board act as the management and oversight bodies, respectively.
The director is appointed by the supervisory board from candidates who apply to a public call. The supervisory board may dismiss the director prematurely if they act against the law, rules and general provisions of the STA or fail to implement or act against the supervisory board's decisions, or if they cause substantial damage or disruption to the STA through their actions or the lack thereof.
The STA act also provides for annual audits to be carried out to ascertain whether the operations have been economical and correct, as well as internal audits. The audit reports are referred to the National Assembly. The supervisory board also reports to the legislature once a year.
In accordance with the act, the STA performs public service, i.e. the duties as set out in the act, and commercial services. The agency has not received any budget funds for public service as yet this year.
In recent years those funds accounted for about half of the agency's revenue.
UKOM has suspended financing of the STA's public service arguing the parties have not signed a contract for the year and alleging Veselinovič's failure to provide required documents, which Veselinovič says UKOM is not authorised to access.
After UKOM suspended financing last year, a provision was included in the 7th coronavirus relief package, passed at the end of 2020, saying budget funds should be provided to the STA for performing a public service for 2021 in line with the STA business plan, regardless of whether a contract with the founder has been signed.