STA, 3 April 2019 - The head of the National Review Commission (Državne revizijske komisije – Dkom) Borut Smrdel resigned on Wednesday, citing pressure on the commission and the questioning of its integrity.
Resigning after the commission has continuously made headlines in connection to delayed infrastructure projects, Smrdel said he had naively believed that expertise and honesty would suffice for him to do a good job when he was appointed in 2012.
He said he had not been aware that "it is completely acceptable today to use targeted PR-campaigns to consistently try to influence the work and decisions of independent state bodies".
"That it is acceptable to systematically raise doubts about the professional attitude and integrity of these bodies' employees merely because individual decisions, irrespective of how well-founded they are, are not in line with the expectations, wishes or interests of the parties to the procedure or somebody else," Smrdel said.
Smrdel, who told the STA he would continue working at the commission after the resignation, argues he can no longer preform his job in a situation when institutions are being blamed for causing delays by exposing illegal actions.
Review procedures and public procurement in the country have been subject to criticism for years, in particular in connection to delays in major infrastructure projects.
The Review Commission already protested in December against the communication style of the stakeholders in individual tenders, arguing it undermined the commission's integrity.
The list of the most notorious cases includes the Škofja Loka bypass road and the introduction of the electronic toll system for motorways, which even involved calls for the commission to be abolished.
Things escalated recently as the national motorway company DARS repeatedly failed to secure a contractor for the Slovenian section of the second tube of the eight-kilometre Karavanke motorway tunnel with Austria.
The tunnel situation, which is now again in the hands of the National Review Commission, also got a political dimension in January through calls issued by the parliamentary Commission for Public Finance Oversight at the proposal of the opposition Democrats (SDS).
The parliamentary commission urged a reform of legislation governing public procurement reviews and called on the Corruption Prevention Commission to examine potential corruption risks and conflict of interest with individual members of the National Review Commission.
It moreover proposed the Court of Audit conduct a review of the consequences that the decisions of the Review Commission had on the costs of major projects involving public procurement in the past 10 years.
While the state executes around 6,400 large tenders each year, around 350 involve appeals with the Review Commission. The commission agrees with the appellants in 30-45% of the cases.
Responding to the resignation, Matej T. Vatovec of the opposition Left said that Smrdel's resignation letter was "worrying in what it reveals or what it at least wants to say between the lines".
"If the reason for the resignation is that he has stopped the Karavanke deal with the Turkish company, which has been proven to brutally stomp on workers' rights ... while having support here, this is inadmissible," he added.
Vatovec said that lobbyist pressure and other pressure on officials and representatives of the state should not be tolerated, adding that "all state bodies should face this and make a concrete analysis about what is going on."
Jani Möderndorfer of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) said that Smrdel should have remained at the post if he talked about professionalism. "Because, you know, resigning actually means admitting defeat, which is a shame."
Franc Jurša of the coalition Pensioner's Party (DeSUS) said that Smrdel's job was exposed to "a great deal of various interests and something has been probably going on". He called for a new head of the National Review Commission to be appointed as soon as possible.
Matjaž Han of the coalition Social Democrats (SD) said that Public Administration Minister Rudi Medved had presented proposals for a reform of public procurement.
"If the changes go to that direction, we will probably be able to avoid those companies which file appeals only for the sake of the appeal, and will be able to start implementing a project earlier," he added.