Skytoll e-tolling deal under scrutiny

Ljubljana – The parliamentary Public Finance Oversight Commission is to discuss the recent decision by the motorway company DARS to pick the Slovak company Skytoll to set up the country’s e-tolling system in the wake of reports that DARS tailored the tender for Skytoll. The decision will also be challenged by one of the rivals in the tender.

The session was demanded last week by the opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), a move to which Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec responded by saying that he had complete confidence that DARS management managed the tender transparently.

If it is found that the procedure had indeed been intransparent, Slovenia has relevant bodies to deal with it, the minister said, adding that the National Review Commission would inspect the matter, as Iskratel, one of the bidders, had already said it would challenged the decision.

Skytoll’s bid to set up the system for EUR 15.7 million excluding VAT, winning over Iskratel and its Hungarian partners ARH Informatics and Dataking, whose bid amounted to EUR 14.2 million excluding VAT, while the third bid, worth EUR 33.4 million, was submitted by a consortium of Marand, Telekom Slovenije, Pošta Slovenije and Kapsch.

A number of media outlets meanwhile reported of a number of suspected irregularities. The newspaper Delo said that Skytoll did not have the necessary experience to set up the e-tolling system and that DARS had changed the tender several times in order to make it better suited to Skytoll.

Among other things, DARS changed a reference requirement for an automatic licence plate recognition system of vehicles of up to 3.5 tonnes and allowed an additional reference for a tolling system of cargo vehicles, Delo reported.

Skytoll built cargo vehicles tolling systems in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with the latter operating since 1 December 2019, which Delo says is key to understanding why DARS extended the tender deadline from 4 November to 1 December 2020. By 4 November Skytoll’s system in Slovakia would not have been operating for 12 months, one of the requirements in the tender.

DARS has meanwhile rejected allegations of favouring one bidder over all the others, saying all changes were made in line with the law.

“The key technical requirements and the level of difficulty in references remained the same and all the changes were made to allow that as many potential bidders as possible take part. Only minor changes were made to the tender, all based on questions or initiatives various potential bidders made anonymously through the public tender portal,” DARS said.

The newspaper Dnevnik reported a while ago that the Slovakian review commission found the country’s system to be inefficient and non-economical. Skytoll reportedly kept half of the toll proceeds and the system was significantly more expensive than stated in Skytoll’s contract with the Slovakian motorway operator.

In a more recent report, Dnevnik also alleged that DARS’s deal with Skytoll was part of a political deal between Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša and the Czech millionaire Peter Kellner, whose group recently took over Pro Plus, the broadcaster of several TV channels in Slovenia.

The paper says that the e-tolling deal for Skyfall was allegedly made in exchange for Kellner selling Pro Plus to Hungarian buyers.

TV Slovenia meanwhile reported that the system Skyfall has set up elsewhere does not meet the requirements of the tender, because it uses additional equipment and not only cameras, as required in the tender.

In the wake of the reports, the opposition Left joined the SAB in demanding an emergency session of the Public Finance Oversight Commission. The Left deputy group head Luka Mesec believes the deal was likely political, also pointing to the fact that DARS CEO Valentin Hajdinjak used to serve as a vice-president of the New Slovenia (NSi), the same party Vrtovec belongs to.