E-tolling contract in parliamentary spotlight

Ljubljana – The parliamentary Commission for Oversight of Public Finances debated Friday the selection of Slovakia’s Skytoll for an e-tolling system for cars. While the opposition alleged irregularities, motorway company DARS and the Infrastructure Ministry rejected any impropriety. The MPs asked the anti-graft commission to look into the tender.

The session came at the request of four centre-left opposition parties, which quoted media reports suggesting Skytoll does not have the required experience, and that DARS had changed the terms of the tender several times, including shifting the deadline so that Skytoll was able to reference a recent project.

DARS director Valentin Hajdinjak said that after the tender was published in September, the company had received 372 queries and motions to change the conditions, all of which were anonymous. An expert commission reviewed them and accepted the reasonable proposals, all with the aim of making the tender more competitive.

He rejected the accusation that the deadline had been extended to benefit Skytoll, noting that it was “a coincidence pure and simple” that the date coincided with the one-year operation of Skytoll’s system in Czechia, which meant Skytoll could use it as a reference project.

“The answer is a clear no,” he said about the opposition’s wondering whether the tender had been tailored to Skytoll.

Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec backed the DARS management and accused the opposition of bias. “I understand that it hurts. It hurts that the DARS management has not selected someone who is EUR 17 million more expensive. Perhaps it hurts because of the familial ties between one of the bidders and the ex-candidate for prime minister,” he said.

Vrtovec was referring to Marand, one of the unsuccessful bidders, whose director has recently married the daughter of Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec.

He said he trusted the DARS board that the procedure was completely transparent, noting that the opposition was using media reports to assess which bidder is appropriate. “This session is comprised of newspaper articles prepared by PR agencies,” he said.

The opposition said the onus was now on the government, with Robert Pavšič, an MP for the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), noting that by expressing trust in the DARS management, Vrtovec had “taken on full responsibility for any subsequent findings as to whether something was wrong with this tender”.

The coalition dismissed the opposition’s allegations. New Slovenia’s (NSi) Aleksander Reberšek said the aim of the session was to denigrate the government and suggested the non-selected bidders were trying to “contaminate the public” and pressure the National Review Commission, which decided in disputes concerning public tenders.

The parliamentary commission ended up adopting a resolution calling on the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption to investigate potential risks in the public tender. It also asked the Infrastructure Ministry to prepare a report on the tender in a month.

Skytoll offered to set up the system for EUR 15.7 million and its bid was the only one meeting the criteria. Two Slovenian-led consortia offered EUR 14 million and EUR 33.4 million, respectively, and they have both formally challenged Skytoll’s selection.