UKOM proposes expansion of audit into STA public service
Ljubljana, 29 December - The Government Communications Office (UKOM) welcomed on Wednesday the decision of the Court of Audit to examine the STA's public service, but find it "very deficient". It proposes that the review cover the 2018-2021 period and not just the 2019-mid-2022 period, and check compliance with EU regulations on general economic interest.
UKOM argues in today's press release that the previous STA director, Bojan Veselinovič, with support from the supervisory board, opposed the implementation of EU regulation and a decree on the STA's public service when he launched a dispute at the Constitutional Court and demanded that the court stay the decree, a motion that was denied.
The government decree on the STA's public services entered into force in June. It sets down a new system for the calculation of the public service fee based on the actual amount of content the STA produces.
The STA is challenging the decree in court on the grounds that it circumvents the law governing the STA, which is above the regulation in the hierarchy of legal acts. The Administrative Court stayed the decree in July, but this decision was squashed by the Supreme Court in September. The court proceedings are still under way.
Igor Kadunc, who took over as STA director two months ago, said documents provided no evidence that the previous STA director or the supervisory board would oppose the implementation of EU regulation. He said that the court would rule on whether the opinion of STA lawyers that some provisions of the government decree were not in line with the law had been accurate.
"I hope nobody opposes to dispelling any doubts, because I believe that we all want the functioning of one of the most important institutions to be properly regulated and its financial and editorial independence secured," he said in a statement.
UKOM also says in the press release the STA did not follow the Slovenian accounting standards in separating the operations of the public service, market activities, business results and obligations to the providers of funds. "It is reasonable to conclude that the STA also failed to keep cost accounting records in accordance with the rules of prudent accounting," UKOM said.
According to the office, the STA has not been implementing the law governing the STA in line with EU regulations and has not been fulfilling its obligations regarding auditing its operation.
Kadunc said that whether the auditors who conducted audits into the STA's operations every year since 2011 had been wrong would be determined after the Court of Audit presented its findings.
But he stressed that every year, their work had been endorsed by the executive and legislative branches of power, as the STA's audit reports had been regularly reviewed by the parliamentary Commission for Oversight over Public Finance and the parliamentary Culture Committee as well as representatives of ministries.
It there had been any major irregularities, the government's legal service would have alerted UKOM when it was closing annual contracts with the STA, Kadunc said, stressing that the STA had definitely not misspent any of the funds it had received for public service. On the contrary, it has always allocated several thousand euros from its market activities for the public service, he said.
Kadunc also stressed that the STA's subscribers had always been content with the service, including in the 2021 turbulent year. There have virtually been no cancellations of contracts, he said. Moreover, over EUR 300,000 in donations in support of the agency have been collected, which Kadunc sees as a sign that the agency had passed the social responsibility test with flying colours.
The court issued the decision on the audit of the STA's operations between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2022 on 15 December. Since no objections have been filed, the decision became final on 24 December, the court told the STA.
This means the auditors will look into the performance of public service when the agency was financed according to the law, when financing was suspended for almost a year, and the present, when financing is based on a government decree.
But UKOM believes that the audit should examine at least the period between 2018 and 2021.
Kadunc said it was important that the audit would cover all three periods since auditors would look into the past and present models of financing.
UKOM head Uroš Urbanija commented on the matter on Twitter today, saying that the Court of Audit "should do a serious audit of the abuse of taxpayers' money at the STA". "What they have proposed after a year and a half since UKOM first called for an audit is a complete bluff," he wrote.