Delo: Draft audit report finds PPE purchases inefficient

Ljubljana – The Court of Audit has found the purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the spring wave of coronavirus were inefficient, according to a leaked draft report obtained by the newspaper Delo. The report does not name anyone in particular as especially problematic.

The report, which remains confidential until the audited institutions and individuals have given their comments, finds an efficient system to assess the needs for essential supplies had not been put in place, which led to the government being inefficient in acquiring the equipment, writes Delo.

Court of Audit president Tomaž Vesel has said that in looking into the efficiency of the purchases, the auditors took into consideration the fact that the purchases were conducted in a state of emergency.

One of the findings, according to Delo, is that the Janez Janša government found the stockpiles empty when it took over on 13 March and that the preceding Marjan Šarec government had not made the groundwork ready for emergency measures before leaving office.

“This is part of the reason why the assessment of the equipment requirements was not efficient,” reads the draft report as quoted by Delo.

The existing frameworks did not allow efficient conduct on the part of the audited parties in implementing assessment of the needed supplies as it had not been fully clear beforehand who was responsible to determine the types of requirements, who collected data on the stockpiles and who or how should have assessed the quantity of required types of equipment.

The auditors also found that it had not been fully clear in advance who should have determined the methodology to establish the needed quantities of additional equipment required.

“Therefore, some of the audited parties made assessment of the requirements without their tasks having been determined in advance and unambiguously and they carried out some procedures mostly in a disorganised, unsystematic and non-uniform fashion,” Delo quotes the report.

The report finds that, while the Health Ministry, in cooperation with the National Institute of Public Health efficiently and comprehensively monitored the spread of coronavirus, it failed to move right away to establish the state of the stockpiles and requirements for emergency supplies.

Moreover, the Agency for Commodity Reserves kept records of stockpiles by the value of stockpiles rather by the type and quantity of equipment, which would be the right course of action.

The agency rejected this today, saying it would ask the court for explanation. “The agency has set up a list of all signed contracts that was updated daily. Based on this list, the value of stockpiles and the quantity of equipment could be seen all the time.”

The agency said that the reason why contracts had been made before the actual needs for equipment had been established was simple. It was clear that protective equipment was not available in sufficient quantities and it was clear that it would be needed, it said. Contracts were made immediately so as not to lose time.

“The fact is that Covid-19 was an unknown disease and the situation was extremely critical. We did not have protective equipment, we didn’t know which equipment is urgently needed and in what quantities,” the agency said.

It added that certain irregularities had also been detected by the agency’s new management and that they had already been eliminated.

The assessment of requirements for PPE outside healthcare, made by the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration, was not coordinated as individual subjects were not reporting uniformly on their needs, the report finds.

The auditors find the role of the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology in the implementation of the purchases was not clear and the ministry provided support to the Agency for Commodity Reserves without proper authorisation and non-transparently.

The audited parties referred the bids submitted to various e-mail addresses between each other, but not all of them, which was why part of the bids were not taken into consideration.

In some cases decisions on who to award public contracts to were taken by an employee of the Agency for Commodity Reserves without having a valid authorisation from the agency’s director.

The Court of Audit also established that it was not the job of the national intelligence and security agency (SOVA) to check the credibility of the many bidders who wanted to make money with PPE deals.

Apart from the Agency for Commodity Reserves, the draft report names the government, Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration and the Ministry of Economic Development as well as the interdepartmental group that reviewed the bids as those being partly responsible for the purchases being inefficient.

Responding to the findings, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said it “has become perfectly clear by now that the allegations of massive corruption have been made up and are baseless”.

The minister, who faced an unsuccessful opposition-sponsored motion to oust him over the purchases, said he was glad the story was about to be cleared up and over with.

He said both the draft audit report and the report from the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption talked of a major systemic confusion and their recommendations would come useful in shaping a more efficient system going forward.

The opposition “badly abused this story out of their ambition to bring down the government”. He was happy the threats that the Court of Audit report would burden him personally and lead to the breakup of his Modern Centre Party (SMC) turned out to have been empty.

“The SMC remains a solid, stable factor in our society,” he said, calling on the focus to shift away from political games to action to tackle the health and economic crisis.

The audited parties now have time to respond to the findings. Court of Audit President Vesel expects a final report could be released in February.

Commenting on the revelations in Delo, Vesel told the STA that the Court of Audit had not sent the draft report to anyone but the audited parties, and assessed that the summary in the media was a “one-sided display of partial information.”

Vesel added that the court was rather unhappy that the draft had been allegedly leaked to the public. “This could happen only due to unprofessional and unfair violation of confidentiality under the Court of Audit act by the audited parties.

“I assure you that the Court of Audit has not given it to anyone and it will not,” he said, adding that today’s article in Delo could only harm the integrity of the audited parties, and not that of the Court of Audit.

Vesel said that meetings at which the parties would have the opportunity to explain themselves would be held soon, adding that the media had presented only “partial information that actually does not represent a summary or opinion in the draft.”