STA, 2 December 2020 - The STA supervisory board does not support the Government Communication Office's (UKOM) decision to suspend the funding of the STA's public service and rejects the claims about information concealment, chief supervisor Mladen Terčelj said in a statement on Wednesday. He also rejected claims about the STA's business being non-transparent.
Terčelj said that neither the supervisors nor the director had ever declined allowing lawful access to the agency's books and documents, yet no such request had come from the government as the shareholder of the agency.
Trčelj noted the STA supervisory board having carefully monitored the events leading to UKOM's decision to stop financing the STA.
Since UKOM set access to STA business information and documents as a condition to pay its bills, the supervisors took a decision on 4 November that the owner of the agency - the government - should turn to the STA director for the documents it wanted to obtain.
The decision is based on an STA law provision saying that shareholder rights are exercised by the government, Trčelj explained.
"So it is not true that the STA supervisory board decided that UKOM should turn to the director with a request to obtain the information," he stressed.
While UKOM says the STA has denied it access to the required information, Trčelj said "the government has so far not sent such a request to the seat of the company."
The supervisors are also acquainted with a memo STA director general Bojan Veselinovič sent on Monday to the government inquiring on the basis of which regulation UKOM was awarded the status of a beneficiary that could ask for access to the documents, information and databases it would like to obtain.
Terčelj said that since the law on the STA entered into force, in 2011, neither the STA management nor the supervisors had been informed about UKOM being granted such a status.
The chief supervisor also rejected the allegations about the agency's non-transparent operations.
He said the supervisors had insight into the agency's entire business at monthly, quarterly and annual levels.
What is more, the STA's annual report is annually audited by internal and external auditors and discussed by the lower and upper chambers of parliament.
The lower chamber also appoints the agency's supervisors, and has not had any remarks about the annual reports.
In order to resolve the deadlock, Terčelj thus urged the government to ensure UKOM pays the bills for the services the STA has provided in line with the 2020 contracts.
He said that to ensure its stability and to provide for the social security of its staff, the STA had been forced to launch procedures to protect its liquidity.
"UKOM can end the threat to the national news agency's public service only by settling its obligations stemming from its contracts with the STA."
Terčelj also said that the agency must be provided with adequate funds for public service for next year.
A separate view was presented by Radovan Cerjak, a member of the supervisory board appointed in September. He said that the supervisory board had not discussed the suspension of current STA financing and labelled Terčelj's statement "a solo action".
He blamed the deadlock on Veselinovič and his "completely unreasonable action" of not providing the required documents, so he believes it is up to him to resolve it.
The supervisor said the deadlock would be resolved only if Veselinovič "immediately provides the owner with all the required documents, instead of seeking support for his actions among part of politics".
UKOM director Uroš Urbanija also responded to Terčelj's statement, saying on Twitter: "Great, if they are not concealing the documents, than let them provide them."
He said proof of Terčelj laying is Veselinovič's publicly stating "that he won't give the documents", adding that as the chief supervisor he can be prosecuted for lies.
On Monday the government discussed UKOM's memo about its suspension of STA funding, which was prompted by what UKOM said was the agency's refusal to provide access to documents from which it could assess the STA's financial operations with a view to decide on funding for 2021.
STA director general Veselinovič denied such claims by explaining that UKOM's demands exceeded its legal and contractual powers. He said that under the STA law, only the government has this right.
He also explained that UKOM's demands were related to the area protected by editorial autonomy provisions and to the commercial segment of the STA's operations, for which UKOM as the guardian of the contract on the public service is not authorised.