STA management, staff say govt conduct defeat of rule of law

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA).

Ljubljana – The STA management and staff have described the government’s failure to transfer overdue public service payments as required by the latest economic stimulus act as a defeat of the rule of law, convinced that the decision to seek European Commission input over state aid rules as a delaying tactic meant to financially exhaust the agency.

The government should secure undisturbed financing notwithstanding the solicitation of the European Commission’s decision. “This cannot be grounds for the interruption of financing and non-payment of work that has been performed since the act on the STA still applies,” reads a joint statement issued on Friday by the management, editorial board, workers’ council and in-house trade union.

The damage will be enormous “in particular if it turns out that the European Commission will not have remarks about the implementation of the act”. “And in any case, this cannot be an excuse for the non-payment of market services for the government administration.”

According to law, the STA is entitled to public funding for the performance of public service. The Government Communication Office (UKOM) has not settled overdue liabilities for October and November. There is also a separate agreement for commercial services that has likewise remained unpaid.

The STA remains without payment for 43 days despite providing the service. This could result in “cessation of STA public service and termination of the national press agency”, the statement reads. This would create a massive gap in media coverage and consequently undermine Slovenia’s democratic credentials.

“All things considered, this may be a good time to reflect on the political and social consequences of the fact that the government, which represents the executive in the country, does not respect laws or the will of the MPs of the parties which support it.”

After the UKOM suspended the monthly public service payment, the National Assembly passed late in December a special amendment to the economic stimulus law stipulating that any overdue payments must be made within seven days after the entry into force of the act. That deadline has expired.

The amendment also states that payments for the performance of public service in 2021 must be made on the basis of the agency’s adopted financial plan, regardless of whether a contract for the performance of public service is signed.

The UKOM said the legislative provision had made STA financing a direct and unconditional financial obligation in an amount “unilaterally determined by the STA in its financial plan”, raising the question of whether this is in compliance with EU state aid rules.