Auditors find inefficiencies in handling of expressway project

Ljubljana – The Court of Audit has found in an audit of the Third Development Axis expressway project for the 2015-2020 period that the Infrastructure Ministry was inefficient in managing it, and that the Environment Ministry was partly inefficient in the spatial planning of the project, which has resulted in many delays.

In the report issued on Tuesday, the Court of Audit says that the Infrastructure Ministry did not plan the financial values of investments in time, and that the definitions of measures, financial values and time schedules were not based on verifiable data and that the actual situation had not been taken fully into account.

For this reason, it is not possible to assess whether the ministry had planned them to a sufficient extent, the court says, adding that the ministry should establish a system for planning, monitoring and supervision of the implementation of the national transport development documents.

The report notes that the ministry did not cooperate effectively with the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry in the drafting of the relevant national spatial plans, with some key decisions taking so long that certain procedures were on hold for several years – the Črnomelj-Vinica section stands out in this regard.

The Infrastructure Ministry has not made sure that the Infrastructure Agency properly plan its activities and ensure sufficient budget funds, which caused delays in the drafting of the national spatial plans. Coordination, monitoring and supervision of the activities of key stakeholders were also lacking.

The ministry has also failed to properly plan and supervise the procedure of drafting of key investment documents, and by the end of 2020 it had approved only two out of the planned nine investment programmes. It confirmed some documents in which the different variants were not elaborated in sufficient detail so that the best one could be reliably selected.

As the estimated cost of the entire Third Development Axis is EUR 4.2 billion or EUR 18.7 million per kilometre, the Court of Audit says that the “construction of individual sections is financially unfeasible, and some investments are feasible only if the indirect social benefits are taken into account.”

By the end of 2020, the ministry only approved investment documents for most of sections, for which it cannot be proven that the sources of financing have been ensured, while it did not take into account that obtaining further EU funds is less likely due to a low rate of internal economic return on investment.

The ministry did not specify other sources of funding, either, and it decided to carry on with certain investments despite the motorway company DARS noting that it could provide enough of its own funds or other long-term sources of financing.

DARS said that this would jeopardise its long-term financial stability, the report notes, adding that despite having relevant analyses at its disposal, the ministry failed to come up with scenarios for the sustainable operation of DARS and additional budgetary funds.

On the other hand, the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry failed to establish the planned coordinating bodies, and failed to plan the procedures for the drafting of the relevant national spatial plan as a coordinated whole, in line with the relevant strategic and implementing acts.

“Occasionally uncoordinated and slow action of certain internal organisational units and bodies within the ministry and the failure to take certain decisions have led to several months of delay in the drafting of the national spatial plans,” the auditors said.

The ministry has not carried out all measures to speed up the procedures ordered by the government, the report says, noting that in some cases the government had not encouraged the ministry to take measures to continue with spatial planning of some sections, which had resulted in work being stalled for several years.

The shortcomings in coordination have resulted in the procedures taking too long, with only two out of the eight national spatial plans for the project having been adopted in five years.

“We assess that these will not be ready by the deadlines set by the Infrastructure Ministry, and that the moment in which the Third Development Axis has actually been completed is being delayed,” the Court of Audit said.

It has demanded from the ministries to take remedial measures, some of which have been already taken during the audit procedure, and asked them to report back after being issued recommendations on how to improve the management of the project.