Minister in spotlight over laptops purchase
Digital Transformation Minister Emilija Stojmenova Duh has been facing questions for months over a €6.5 million purchase of 13,000 laptops to promote digital inclusion most of which are now sitting in a warehouse. Unhappy with her answers, the opposition is calling a vote of no confidence in the minister.
The news about the contentious deal was broken in October by the investigative news portal preiskovalno.si, which quoted IT experts in saying that the ministry had ordered laptops of average if not inferior quality that are unsuitable for any serious work.
The experts argued that the processors were outdated and graphic cards very basic. One of the terms of the open call was the price of each laptop cannot exceed €500, tax included.
Based on the call, the ministry signed the deal with four companies - Lamcom, Unistar, Gambit Trade, and Acord-92, each of which received €1.6 million for 3,250 laptops.
Questions about intended purpose
The opposition-controlled Public Finance Oversight Commission demanded answers from the government, arguing it was not clear whether the computers were technically suitable, what they would be used for and whether they were needed at all.
The allegations have been rejected by the ministry and Stojmenova Duh herself. They argue that the laptops are of adequate quality comparable or even higher to that of computers usually bought for public sector employees.
They said the computers were intended for those eligible to borrow them from a fund under the Promotion of Digital Inclusion Act, including recipients of care allowance and emergency welfare payments, low income recipients of child benefits, children with special needs, people with disabilities and pensioners with low pensions.
After the devastating August 2023 floods, the scheme was expanded to allow for the computers to be distributed among those affected.
Laptops waiting to be distributed
TV Slovenija has recently reported that only 39 laptops have so far been distributed to the beneficiaries, while the others are stored in a warehouse, for which the ministry is paying 2,500 a month.
The opposition Democrats (SDS) have filed a motion of no-confidence in the minister over the controversial purchase, accusing her of negligence, irresponsibility and non-transparency.
Presenting the motion on 24 January, SDS MP Tomaž Lisec said MPs had asked the minister for explanations, only to get misleading answers. One of the issues he raised was that a government regulation that was to bring the computer distribution scheme to life was yet to be adopted.
The other opposition party, New Slovenia (NSi) supports the motion with its deputy group leader Janez Cigler Kralj arguing it was clear at the sessions of the Public Finance Oversight Commission that the purchase was not made with due care and was opaque.
Minister confident in face of accusations
Rejecting the allegations, Stojmenova Duh said she was looking forward to the debate in parliament, which would also be an opportunity to show that the ministry worked well. She also welcomed a preliminary inquiry into the matter conducted by the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption.
She said the laptops were part of the ministry's priority to encourage digital inclusion, part of which is a computer fund where those eligible will be able to borrow computer equipment.
One of the options is that distribution to beneficiaries starts in April, before which legislative changes will be needed to narrow down the scope of 500,000 potential beneficiaries to those who need them most. The bill should be ready soon, she said.
She rejected the allegation of a lack of transparency, saying the tender was published on the public procurement portal. She also expressed surprise that she should be accused of irresponsible conduct by a party that had spent €29 million on digital vouchers.
In a scheme adopted by the previous, SDS-led government, the €150 vouchers were distributed to students from the last three grades of primary school, secondary school and university to purchase IT equipment. They were originally planned to be extended to people aged 55 or more who have completed digital literacy courses, but the plan was dropped by the current government following complications.
The minister's party, Freedom Movement, appears to be happy with her explanations and the two smaller coalition parties would not comment on the motion of no-confidence yet, saying they would have to read it first with the Left commenting it was obviously up to the minister to explain the situation.