STA financing suspended again

Ljubljana – The Government Communication Office (UKOM) has suspended the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) again, declining to pay it for the services provided as a public service in January on the ground that the parties have not yet signed a contract for the year.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, UKOM said it had met all its obligations to the STA under the agreement to perform the public service for 2020 on 27 January.

UKOM said that STA director Bojan Veselinovič had failed to submit the required documents, which it said he should have done under the agreement signed with UKOM under the previous director.

UKOM argues that with the last payment, any contractual relationship between UKOM and the STA has ended, so it “appears almost unbelievable that Veselinovič should issue an invoice for EUR 169,000 for the activities in January to UKOM”.

“UKOM has obviously no legal basis based on which it could pay invoices sent by companies it has no valid contractual relationship with”, which was why the payment had to be denied.

In response Veselinovič noted that a provision in the 7th coronavirus relief package, passed at the end of 2020, set forth that budget funds be provided to the STA for performing a public service for 2021 in line with the STA business plan, regardless of whether a contract with the founder has been signed or not.

Veselinovič called the development the launch of a new offensive against the STA, describing the excuse that there is no legal basis for the payment as “an outright eerie pretending of ignorance”.

UKOM said it was willing to prepare a new contract should Veselinovič recognise UKOM as a “representative of the founder”, adding that Veselinovič had expressed no interest for the contract to be signed.

UKOM refused to pay the monthly instalment for the public service provided by the STA for October and November, along with the payment of separate invoices for market-based services that the STA performs for state institutions.

Financing was suspended after the STA management declined to deliver all the documents and information UKOM requested, having assessed that delivery of some of the requested documents might compromise the agency’s editorial independence, while others could only be accessed by the government acting as the sole shareholder of the STA.

Among other things, UKOM demanded pay data for all agency employees, all contracts for the STA’s market services for several years, as well as explanations about the choice of interviewees and length of interviews.

After the National Assembly adopted a special amendment to the economic relief law stipulating that any overdue payments must be made within seven days after the entry into force of the act, UKOM turned to the European Commission with a query whether such financing of the STA was in compliance with state aid rules.

After the European commissioners for competition and values and transparency said the European Commission’s approval in this case was not required, the government on 14 January temporarily approved payments to the STA.