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06 Nov 2020, 12:05 PM

STA, 5 November 2020 - The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption has detected multiple corruption risks concerning the purchases of personal protective equipment in spring as part of a focused review of these purchases. It will launch its own inquiries and inform the competent authorities of suspected wrongdoing that it not within its purview.

The findings will be forwarded to the National Review Commission, the Market Inspectorate, the Court of Audit, police, Financial Administration and the Agency for Medicines, Commission president Robert Šumi told the press on Thursday.

He did not specify the persons or authorities that individual cases of suspected wrongdoing refer to beyond saying that the Commission will launch its own inquiries targeting several persons, including public officials, as early as this month.

Following a series of media reports about suspected irregularities in the purchases of protective face masks and ventilators in the earliest stages of the epidemic, the Commission launched a focused preliminary inquiry into the matter.

Šumi said that the Commission realised how grave and demanding the situation was at the time, which demanded swift and effective action.

"We also realise that the purchasing of protective equipment was conducted in extraordinary circumstances, when the need to buy protective equipment to protect the citizens was the priority. Nevertheless, we emphasise that even in such circumstances it is necessary to act responsibly, transparently and with a high degree of integrity."

The watchdog detected risks in all phases of PPE procurement, pertaining to unclarity as to the role of individual stakeholders in the process.

As a result, it also detected specific risks throughout the process of a lack of traceability and transparency, unequal treatment of bidders and selected contractors and influence peddling by unauthorised persons.

Since this would be outside its remit, the watchdog has not passed its opinion on purchases through intermediaries, but it has detected issues regarding the role of the Agency for Commodity Reserves.

The watchdog's Katja Mihelič Sušnik noted a lack of clarity as to the role of individuals involved in the selection and purchasing. However, Šumi said the commission is yet to examine accountability of individual persons.

The commission can also initiate a process for the protection of witnesses, something requested by Ivan Gale, a former employee at the Agency for Commodity Reserves who came forward with allegations of wrongdoing in spring.

The watchdog will try, within the scope of its powers, to establish a causal link between Gale's alleged disclosure and his recent dismissal from the job at the agency, said Šumi, adding that Gale had been subject to close examination by the watchdog as well as a person involved in the processes under examination.

The watchdog has acquired information on alleged wrongdoing based on media reports, complaints and public disclosure.

The oversight has been running since May 2020, involving extensive documentation, interviews with various individuals and meetings with organisations.

Mihelič Sušnik said the watchdog had not had difficulties in acquiring documents; the investigation focused on purchases of protective face masks and in part on ventilators.

The commission has issued 15 recommendations to the key stakeholders in the purchasing procedures, pertaining to detailed defining of roles of individual players, the quantities of purchases and the required proofs and selection measures and criteria, among other things.

The commission sent its report today to the government, the Agency for Commodity Reserves, the ministries involved in the PPE procurement procedures, and the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration.

The report contains tables of all 61 contracts and three purchase orders and tables listing the revenue of chosen suppliers, while it does not include the values of orders and supplies, said Mihelič Sušnik.

26 Sep 2020, 13:34 PM

STA, 25 September 2020 - Ivan Gale, the man who came forward with accusations of flawed procurement of medical supplies during the first wave of coronavirus in Slovenia, is reportedly facing the threat of losing his job at the Agency for Commodity Reserves.

The public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported that Gale was summoned by the agency's director Tomi Rumpf for an interview before he is handed a dismissal notice on suspicion that he closed detrimental contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Another charge against him is inappropriate communication with the media.

The report said that the agency's former director Anton Zakrajšek and his deputy Alojz Černe, who signed most of the contracts for the acquisition of PPE, had also been summoned to explain themselves in the face of allegations of wrongdoing.

Gale has become one of the faces of Friday's anti-government protests after speaking out for TV Slovenia in April about allegedly contentious deals at the agency involving PPE and other medical supplies.

He filed criminal complaints against the agency's current director Rumpf and Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek in early August alleging wasteful use of public funds under a contract with Hmezad TMT for the supply of face masks.

Gale filed another criminal complaint against the minister in late August alleging at least EUR 1.2 million in damage to public funds as a result of a deal with the company Acron.

The Agency for Commodity Reserves said certain procedures were under way in line with applicable law and based on the findings of an audit of past activities.

It confirmed three employees were subject to these procedures, but these were "in no way connected with the public actions of individuals or the public disclosure of individual cases of purchases of medical and protective equipment."

Soon after Gale went public with his accusations some pointed out that it was in fact Gale who had signed multiple contentious contracts while he was standing in for Anton Zakrajšek.

Speaking for TV Slovenija, Gale said one of the allegations against him was that he forged an order form in April for logistic services which were performed and paid.

He said the accusations against him were unfounded and announced that he would seek recourse in court. "I have the feeling these are acts of revenge against me."

05 Jul 2020, 12:55 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 3 July 2020. All our stories about coronavirus and Slovenia are here

Mladina: Truth Behind PPE Scandal House Raids

STA, 3 July 202 - The left-wing magazine Mladina writes in the latest editorial that the reaction to the house raids in the investigation of ventilator procurement were so strong because the deal that is being investigated is not Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek's but rather of the ruling Democratic Party (SDS).

Under the headline SDS's Deal, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž writes that Počivalšek was not surprised when crime investigators called on him.

"He was ready, he knew they were coming, at least a day earlier he had been notified of their coming one way or another by Aleš Hojs, the outgoing interior minister, or Anton Travner, now former police commissioner, if not through intermediaries by someone higher up."

Repovž says that Hojs tried to cover up his forewarning to those involved by having the info aired by Nova24, "the party TV".

However, he also says that Hojs may have learnt about the timing of the house searches beforehand, he had "obviously not known for months about the ongoing investigation", which Repovž surmises based on the assumption that the police have collected enough evidence for search and detention warrants.

Repovž describes Počivalšek as an ambitious person who enjoys having privileges and power, something that he says Prime Minister Janez Janša recognised and humoured him by awarding him security guards and the title of deputy prime minister.

"He is not hiding that after the ministerial stint he would like to control the Slovenian tourism - adapting the law that would make that possible for him in plain sight (...) He would like to be a king of Slovenian tourism just like Zoran Janković passed as retail master until he was replaced by the first Janša government."

Repovž allows for the possibility that Počivalšek, who agreed with Janša that medical purchases would be conducted through intermediaries, did not know the point was to allow the intermediaries to make money.

"He may have been set up - just like under the first Janša government the procurement of Patria APCs was planted on Karl Erjavec, who likewise enjoyed immensely being defence minister and having the power, bragging about the purchase of that amazing equipment until it turned out Janša's closest aides struck the deal behind his back with the intention of obtaining commissions."

Judging by what those involved say, including the whistleblower Ivan Gale, Repovž says that Počivalšek soon realised what had been going on, considering he told Gale that the ventilators ordered through GenePlanet were "the SDS's deal".

Even though Počivalšek did not gain directly from the deal, Repovež notes that it is still crime if you made a deal possible knowing you would get some indirect benefit such as the government taking decisions to your benefit.

Repovž agrees that the subject of investigation is the SDS's deal, hence such a strong reaction from the SDS leader and PM Janša, his "ire with Hojs and Travner so immense he sacked them on the spot".

"Crime investigators have an easy job: they are dealing with people who do not find anything wrong or unusual about what they were doing, rather they believe that by gaining power that belongs to them as well. However, Počivalšek has the same problem."

Demokracija: People will not tolerate anarchists much longer

STA, 2 July 2020 - In its latest commentary headlined White Lives Matter, Too!, the right-wing weekly Demokracija says that not only in the US, but in Slovenia too, the self-proclaimed "anti-racists" have completely lost their compass, but adds that people will not be tolerating this for much longer.

"The well-known left-wing mafia of extremists has gone diabolically after the slogan of the Slovenian fashion magazine Gloss that says 'All Lives Matter' under a picture of black model Olivia Sang", the right-leaning weekly adds.

According to editor-in-chief Jože Biščak, this was enough for them to completely lose their minds. "This may mean that they will, just like they modified the freedom of expression, change the understanding of another human freedom, that is that a human life is untouchable."

All Lives Matter means exactly that - every life is important (including lives of white people), while the Black Lives Matter slogan puts black people in a privileged position, he adds.

Biščak notes that the latest cover of Demokracija features an adaptation of a scene from the video by African-American rapper XXXTentacion in which a black boy observes a white boy being hanged.

The artist faced only lenient criticism at the time, while the editor believes that Demokracija will be accused of racism.

"I get sick, my stomach turns every time I hear such accusations. It is all our fault, us conservatives and Christians from the right. We are good for the leftists only until we are cornered and we play the game of the second-rate ones while their orchestra plays.

"Once the music stops, they go berserk, they all of a sudden recognise only one law, the law of the street. The more rampaging and destruction, the better. And them hitting the streets, it is again our fault."

According to Biščak, it should be clear to anybody with the right mind that people from the left want to "turn the homeland into an infernal hole", but people will not tolerate this behaviour of "spoiled anarchists" for much longer.

All our posts in this series are here

02 Jul 2020, 13:19 PM

STA, 1 July - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek does not intend to step down following yesterday's house searches related to an investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the procurement of medical and personal protective equipment during the epidemic. He told the press today that he had Prime Minister Janez Janša's full support to carry on.

The Modern Centre Party (SMC) leader also said he was not indifferent to the probe, but had cooperated with the police investigators and had provided all the evidence. He expects them to do their work constructively and promptly.

The minister was not surprised by the investigation, saying it was a result of all the pressure, political manoeuvring and insinuations that has appeared in the public.

"I'm not going to apologise for the decisions I took during the epidemic to prevent the loss of lives, but will defend them everywhere and always."

Except for a tweet on Tuesday evening, this is Počivalšek's first statement after Tuesday's house searches. He denied reports he had been detained, saying he had merely been deprived of his liberty for the duration of the searches in line with standard procedure.

The minister insisted that the government had merely pursued the goal of securing enough equipment, which was vitally needed during the epidemic. Even though conditions were tough and a state of emergency reigned, all actions were legal and transparent, he said.

"We've been witnessing a persistent and political distorting of basic and objective data to an extent where our successful fight with the epidemic has been completely devalued before the Slovenian public," he said, arguing this might benefit some political groups but not the country.

Announcing full cooperation, Počivalšek said he took the investigation "seriously and above all with the awareness and understanding that the institutions in charge need to do their job".

The minister believes the agony around the procurement during the crisis will continue until all institutions present their findings. He added that presumption of innocence was a principle that seemed to be overlooked often in these times.

Počivalšek also said he had managed to talk with some SMC members after the police probe to establish there was even more determination now to move forward together.

He expressed regret Aleš Hojs resigned as interior minister because of the investigation, saying they had cooperated well in the government.

All our stories on the PPE scandal in Slovenia

01 Jul 2020, 13:38 PM

STA, 1 July 2020 - Representatives of police officers are very critical of Interior Minister Aleš Hojs for claiming that the police force was being run by the deep state as he resigned on Tuesday. They have dismissed the claims as inappropriate and insulting and called on the outgoing minister to apologise.

While accepting the resignation of Police Commissioner Anton Travner and resigning himself after an investigation had been launched into ventilator procurement, Hojs said that the police were serving the deep state.

Interior Minister, Police Commissioner Resign, Move Linked to Procurement Scandal

"It will be hard to convince me that this is not a political police force," said the minister, whose resignation letter also speaks of structures that are allegedly still linked to the Communist secret service UDBA and the Communist Party.

In its response, the Association of Criminal Police Officers called on Hojs yesterday to apologise for the uttered "insults and accusations" and "completely unproven constructs".

"As professionals, we are not interested in political developments and politicking, and we will not let ourselves be turned into a playground for political games," the association added.

Its president Slavko Koroš said that certain politicians had been attacking the police for a while, in particular criminal police and specific criminal police officers.

"The attacks, insults and accusations have gained new proportions with the statements by Minister Hojs as he listed the reasons for his resignation," he added.

According to Koroš, criminal police officers have never bothered dealing with the question who will be the interior minister and which party they will come from.

"The only wish is that we are able to investigate criminal acts lawfully and without political intrigue, regardless of the status of the suspects," he said in reference to Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek being temporarily detained yesterday.

The association also dismissed the claim about the structures linked to UDBA, saying that in 30 years of independent Slovenia, the police had been completely overhauled staff-wise.

The Police Trade Union (SPS), one of the two police trade unions, labelled on Wednesday Hojs's statements as inappropriate and insulting to all police employees.

"Police officers are not guided in their work by any obscure forces, but only out objectivity and search for material truth under the principles of the profession," it added.

Regardless of whether certain groups or individuals like it or not, police officers perform their duties without bias and fairly, and enjoy an exceptionally high reputation among citizens, the SPS added.

The Police Trade Union of Slovenia (PSS) already said yesterday that the statements were completely unfounded, and detrimental for all police employees. It expects that the outgoing minister will apologise.

This was echoed by the Association of Police Chiefs, which also noted that at the recent ceremony marking Police Day, Hojs had commended the work and sacrifice made by police officers, including criminal police.

The association added that it strongly condemned Hojs's statements and that it was deeply disappointed, asking the minister to apologise for the "unfounded allegations which are detrimental for all employees in the Slovenian police."

It said that the police had made much progress in recent years in professionalising employees, raising ethical standards and strengthening personal and organisational integrity.

Speaking of this are also public opinion polls, which suggest a high level of reputation. "Public opinion therefore does not confirm the subjective and, to a certain measure, insulting statements by the outgoing minister," the statement concludes.

30 Jun 2020, 18:49 PM

STA, 30 June 2020 - Opposition parties bar the SNS spoke on Tuesday of independent police work in the investigation into ventilator procurement and called on the government to take a cue from the resignation of Interior Minister Aleš Hojs. Coalition parties were mostly reserved, an exception being PM Janez Janša, who said it is time to end "selective justice".

Commenting on today's house searches conducted over suspected abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators and the resulting resignation of Hojs and Police Commissioner Anton Travner, former PM Marjan Šarec of the opposition LMŠ said the "entire government is ripe for resignation".

"Attempts to conceal things with attacks on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the entire police force show that the independence of the prosecution authorities is a thorn in the side of those in power," tweeted Šarec, who feels an early election is the only way forward.

Tanja Fajon of the SocDems, the second largest opposition party, said Slovenia was dealing with a crime of epic proportions that seems to go all the way to the top of the government instead of focusing on the major challenges ahead.

Fajon, who suspects the government "failed to prevent the house searches", argued the conspiracy theories being peddled are merely an attempt to divert attention. The government has no political and moral clout left, she added, calling on Janša to resign.

Luka Mesec of the Left said Hojs and Travner resigned "over regret they didn't manage to discipline the police to a point where there would be no more criminal police following their own conscience and professional ethics".

Mesec, who expects PM Janez Janša will now try to appoint somebody "who will do a better party job in the police force", added the government has already turned to its known strategy - "personal discreditation and attacks on criminal police officers, which is unheard off". The Left will protect the independence of the police and wants an early election, he said.

Alenka Bratušek of SAB said Hojs's resignation showed he "had a somewhat peculiar notion" about how the police force operated. While saying she was content the police were doing their job and not shying away from investigating government officials, Bratušek argued that such probes were too often only a show for the public.

She does feel that the time is ripe for Janša "to face the mirror" as well and assume responsibility for the opaque procurement of PPE during the crisis. Bratušek spoke of the possibility of an no-confidence motion in the entire government, mentioning DeSUS as a coalition party that could be won over to secure the needed absolute majority.

The only opposition party leader to echo Hojs's reasoning that the police's operation was politically motivated was Zmago Jelinčič of the National Party (SNS).

"Certain leading staff in the police force are politically appointed and undermine the police's professional work," he said, expressing surprise over Hojs's resignation and arguing he had expected "Hojs would start cleaning up at the police force".

Meanwhile, the coalition parties were mostly reserved in their reactions today so far, with the ruling Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi) initially refusing to comment.

SDS head and PM Janša responded later with a letter entitled Selective Justice, in which he said he would not comment on an ongoing procedure, but wanted to comment on the "double standards in the priority choices of the NBI, the prosecution, and the judiciary".

Janša wrote that it is "political sympathies and media pressure" that have been governing the choices of all three for some time as opposed to the scale of the crimes.

He said that no epilogue had been seen for other "hundreds of millions of euros" worth of crimes in the healthcare system, no house searches conducted related to a suspected EUR 1bn in money laundering for Iran at NLB bank, and no criminal complaints filed against the owners of several media outlets despite ample evidence of "harmful contracts and annexes through which these factories of rotten news are attached to taxpayers' money".

Janša argued that selective justice and the "general politicisation of a part of the repressive apparatus prevents a normal functioning of parliamentary democracy in the country".

"It is therefore our duty and it is high time that we secure a consistent honouring of the Constitution and laws and equal standards for everybody," Janša concludes.

Meanwhile, the Modern Centre Party (SMC), whose head and Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek is also being investigated, has not yet commented, while DeSUS head Aleksandra Pivec said she expected the investigation would be conducted in a fair and objective manner.

She urged the calming of political passions and also did not comment on Hojs's views. Asked how the developments will impact the coalition, she said things were still underway. "Once more will be known, I expect the coalition partners to also sit down, get familiar with the facts and then adopt decisions," she said.

All our stories on the PPE scandal can be found here

30 Jun 2020, 15:47 PM

STA, 30 June 2020 - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the press on Tuesday that he had tendered his resignation to PM Janez Janša and that Janša accepted it. Hojs, who suggested the investigation into ventilator procurement showed the police were serving the deep state, added he had accepted the resignation of Police Commissioner Anton Travner before that.

Hojs linked the resignation to the house searches conducted today by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at several locations, including with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek. Media have reported police suspect abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators.

Hojs said he had been informed that the sting operation was under way by Deputy Police Commissioner Jože Senica at around 8am this morning. An hour later he was informed that Počivalšek, a protected person, had been deprived of his liberty for the duration of the house search.

Hojs believes that today's developments are politically motivated, that the procedures are political, which is why he accepts "political responsibility, as this responsibility rests with the minister". Thus he offered his resignation to the prime minister, who has already accepted it.

"As a minister I never interfered in the work of the police in the sense of whom and why to investigate. My position was always that order needs to be introduced for everybody in this country, meaning that all crimes need to be investigated," Hojs said, while defending his decision to have internal oversight conducted at the NBI.

He added that it was impossible to ignore that there were scores of shelved procedures at the prosecution and at courts and that he "cannot accept that the directing of the police is not done so much by the police commissioner or anybody else who should be doing it, meaning the entire structure within the police".

Instead, argued Hojs, the police force is directed "by the weekly Mladina, by prosecutors who have proven in the past to mostly lead procedure against politically inappropriate persons - meaning against the right".

According to Hojs, they have but one goal - "to discredit the ministers, the prime minster and achieve the much desired collapse of this coalition and preservation of all privileges that they have been afforded all these years by the centre-left coalition, the SocDems always being a part of it".

"It will be hard to convince me that this is not a political police force, change my view that the police are serving the deep state and not the citizens," said Hojs, whose resignation letter speaks of structures that are allegedly still linked to the Communist secret service UDBA and the Communist Party.

Hojs wrote that "despite that change at the top of the police force and staffing changes carried out so far by the police commissioner, I assess that the UDBA-Party-based structure of the decisive segment of the police force, in concert with the prosecution and judiciary of the same origin, is still so deeply anchored in the system as to prevent me from effectively depoliticising and changing the police force".

Security expert Miroslav Žaberl expressed concern over this statement, saying it suggested that the changes made to the police force by Hojs were political and not based on professional criteria.

The reasons Hojs gave for his resignation show he believes that the force must be rearranged in a way to make it "ours". But the police are in the service of the people and not of political parties, Žaberl said.

The police are independent in their work and no politician can affect police procedure, said Žaberl, adding that the interior minister could not be informed in advance of specific police activities.

The Police Trade Union of Slovenia (PSS) also reacted to Hojs's claims, calling them "unfounded and completely without ground". Since they are damaging to all police officers, the PSS expects an apology from the outgoing minister, the union said.

Responding to the Hojs's and Travner's resignations, Janša thanked them in a tweet for professional and dedicated work they had done in providing safety and preserving health, adding that not everybody at the Interior Ministry "had the same goal".

Hojs, who will continue running the ministry until parliament is officially notified of his resignation, was one of the more exposed ministers after the Janša government took over in March.

He was a proponent of strict lockdown restrictions, who openly criticised the public's behaviour, made headlines in the face of prompt replacements at the top of key positions in the police force, as well as with calls that police take tougher action against the protesters who have been protesting against the government each Friday for over months.

Another story involving Hojs was the Interior Ministry's decision to override a ban on a concert by Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perković Thompson. This earned him an ouster motion by the opposition, which will not be processed now.

The 58-year-old started his political career as a member of Christian democratic parties, last of New Slovenia (NSi), which expelled him in 2016 amid claims he was hurting the party's reputation. Hojs, who served as defence minister in the 2012/13 Janša government, ran on the ticket of Janša's Democrats (SDS) in 2018. He was the director of the Nova24TV media outlet before becoming minister in March.

30 Jun 2020, 15:44 PM

STA, 30 June 2020 - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is reportedly conducting house searches at 11 locations today over suspected abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators. According to the news portal nezenzurirano.si, police have also visited the Economy Ministry and are investigating the EUR 8.8 million deal with Geneplanet.

The suspects reportedly include Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and his senior aide Andreja Potočnik who was involved operationally in talks with the suppliers of medical and protective equipment.

Police are said to have also visited the Commodity Reserves Agency, which organised the procurement and one of whose senior employees, Ivan Gale, went public in April to speak about heavy political meddling. Gale highlighted Počivalšek and the favouring of Geneplanet, a Slovenian intermediary, in the purchasing of ventilators.

The suspects are reportedly suspected of abuse of office that resulted in grave damage to public finances, an offence that carries a prison sentence of one to eight years.

The criminal instigation, led by the specialised state prosecution, was launched two months ago, after a TV Slovenija Tarča current affairs show that featured Gale and an audio recording of Minister Počivalšek demanding that the Commodity Reserves Agency execute an advance payment to Geneplanet.

The Commodity Reserves Agency wrote that NBI officers visited the agency today and conducted an interview with its former head Anton Zakrajšek and the signatory of the contract with Geneplanet, Alojz Černe.

"The agency has consistently been cooperating constructively with all bodies investigating its past deals," the press release says.

The investigation prompted today the resignation of both Police Commissioner Anton Travner and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs. The latter suggested the operation showed the police were serving the deep state and not the citizens.

While Počivalšek, who is the head of the junior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), survived a no-confidence motion in parliament over opaque PPE and ventilator purchases earlier this month, a criminal complaint was also filed against him last week by the editorial board of the weekly Mladina.

The 220 Siriusmed R30 ventilators ordered through Geneplanet, a deal which Gale said had been described by Počivalšek at a meeting as a deal for the senior coalition Democrats (SDS), have been one of the central coronavirus procurement stories.

Critics have warned that the ventilators provided by Geneplanet had been picked even though an expert evaluation group had expressed reservations about them and put them at the very bottom of a list of ventilators deemed appropriate.

While critics also claimed they were outdated, pricey, and mostly delivered without essential additional equipment, the government has defended the purchase by pointing to the circumstances on markets and scarce access to ventilators in what had been the peak of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March.

The contract with Geneplanet was changed after the story broke and as the epidemiological situation improved, so the company ended up delivering 110 ventilators while also buying 20 back. According to the business newspaper Finance, the final price tag was EUR 3.6 million.

14 May 2020, 21:37 PM

STA, 14 May 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša dismissed allegations of government misconduct in the purchasing of protective personal equipment as he argued in parliament on Thursday that quick action saved dozens of lives after the government was faced with empty stockpiles of protective gear when it took office a day after the epidemic was declared.

Purchasing of protective equipment and critical medical supplies was conducted in line with legislation that allows short procedures in an epidemic, Janša said as he delivered the opening address in a parliamentary debate on a government report on PPE purchases.

But being aware of the risks, the government made sure all contracts were made public and it urged the Court of Audit to conduct a review of the procedures, with the coalition itself proposing a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.

Critics have accused the government of making the wrong choice by opting to secure equipment through intermediaries rather than directly from suppliers, but Janša dismissed the criticism.

He said providers initially demanded advance payments for the equipment and since these demands escalated the decision was made to try to purchase the equipment without advance payment.

He said many other countries opted to pay suppliers in advance but received either gear without the proper certificates or did not receive the orders at all.

"I don't know of a single European country where this did not happen. I talked to many colleagues. All had these same problems. I think Slovenia lost by far the least, if anything," he stressed.

Indeed, he said even the recent EU delivery of 30,000 surgical face masks was problematic and illustrated the general problems with supplies, as Slovenia was just today told that the equipment did not have proper certificates and should not be distributed to users.

Slovenia has so far paid about EUR 30 million for the supplies. "Everything that had been paid has also been delivered."

The government has also been criticised for picking untested intermediaries for the supplies, but Janša suggested the scandal erupted because existing suppliers, who had high margins, did not get in on the game.

Indeed, he said "those in charge who are now referred to as whistleblowers" had before that signed contracts with high margins with old suppliers, a reference to the deputy head of the Commodities Reserves Agency Ivan Gale, who accused senior officials of exerting undue pressure on the agency in the course of the purchasing.

"And now attention is of course being deflected. But every contract can be individually examined, there is no problem about that."

Janša said the events would now mean that Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek would "probably have to attend various commissions of inquiry for three years after the epidemic ends" to explain the purchasing.

"But this was a time when lives were at stake and what he did during that time, together with many colleagues ... saved dozens of lives."

The coalition parties echoed Janša's views, including Počivalšek's Modern Centre Party (SMC), which argued it had been warning former PM Marjan Šarec while still in his government that he was reacting too slowly.

The coalition shares the view that a good job had been done in unprecedented circumstances, that the responsible authorities should be allowed to do their work and that the finger-pointing should stop.

The opposition parties however did not hold back in their statements, with words like "theft", "crime" and "war profiteering" being used time and time again.

Former PM Šarec, who said the government report was not worth the paper it was printed on, rejected the accusations levelled against him, noting borders and schools had been closed, large events banned and visits to elderly homes prohibited already under his watch.

The opposition parties demand that the PPE purchases be investigate throughput, with Miha Kordiš of the Left for instance accusing Economy Minister Zdravko Polivalšek of lying when saying no advance payments were being made.

Kordiš also argued other countries had used their diplomatic network for the procurement, while Slovenia refused to do so. "You will pay back the commissions with interest," he said.

The session ended with a 50:0 vote confirming the government's report on PPE procurement, which pointed the finger at the previous government while mostly praising the current one. The vote was however boycotted by four opposition parties, which said it should not have been allowed procedurally.

All our stories on this can be found here

07 May 2020, 08:22 AM

STA, 6 May 2020 - A government report on PPE purchases, released on Wednesday, says all procurement was executed in line with protocol and amid difficult circumstances that were aggravated by the failure of former PM Marjan Šarec to react sooner. The report says all the ordered ventilators had expert backing.

Announced by PM Janez Janša after the 24 April whistleblower accusations about heavy political meddling, the report provides insight over 80-plus pages into the stock of personal protective equipment before the epidemic and the current situation, stressing the PPE available on 16 March did not suffice for even a single day of the assessed needs at the time.

Accusing Šarec of omission of duties that could qualify as misfeasance in office, the report says "the most contentious decision was not to order quarantine for potentially infected individuals returning from Italy as a hotspot, and that the border with Italy was not closed in time or controlled with health checks".

It says that the little equipment that had been ordered under Šarec had been ordered at higher average prices than under the current Janez Janša government, even though the latter had to buy at one point irrespective of the prices.

While the World Health Organisation already warned on 3 March that PPE prices and supply times were rising drastically, the Šarec government did not call on the Health Ministry to start buying until 11 March, the reports says.

Šarec responded by tweeting: "Manipulative, misleading and unworthy of the paper it is printed on. Nothing about corruption and war profiteering."

Meanwhile, elaborating on the procurement procedures, the reports says that procurement was centralised under the Commodities and Reserves Agency on 14 March, one day after the Janša government took over.

Given the agency's lack of staff and experience with such situations as well as Covid-19 cases there, the government formed on 24 March an inter-ministerial taskforce to receive, examine and evaluate bids for PPE supply. The group received 2,069 e-mails until 14 April, examining 1,081 of them.

Another coordination group was formed by the Economy Ministry on 25 March, but its members are said to have only "forwarded proposals to the Commodity Reserves Agency and coordinated activities for a quick supply of protective equipment".

"All final decisions were taken by the Commodity Reserves Agency," the report says, while explaining that the agency's deputy head Ivan Gale - who later spoke publicly about pressure by a number of influential individuals, in particular Economy Ministry Zdravko Počivalšek - had also been part of the coordination group.

Zooming into the period of the media-scrutinised orders of over 300 ventilators, the report says that the agency "signed between 16 and 24 March 21 contracts with PPE suppliers and 4 contracts with ventilator suppliers, with the Economy Ministry not being involved in negotiations and the signing of individual contracts".

"In this period the Economy Ministry got more actively involved only in the purchase of ventilators, urgently needed by hospitals to save lives," the report says, while adding the ministry did not have any decision-making powers here and that its approval needed for each contract only checked compliance with a five-year state programme for commodity reserves.

As for the choice of ventilators ordered in this period, the report says the numbers had been based on assessed potential future needs at the time and provides charts with ventilator offers, including expected supply times, and orders.

The much discussed 220 Siriusmed R30 ventilators ordered on 18 March through Geneplanet for EUR 8 million are listed among ventilators approved by experts. The reports says they got the "approval of Dr. Podbregar from the Celje General Hospital", while "the remaining three bids were approved by Dr. Noč, Dr. Gradišek and Dr. Knafelj from UKC Ljubljana".

Meanwhile, the report defends the decision to use intermediaries in the PPE purchases, saying the state could not afford to shoulder the high risks that were involved and have indeed been experienced in many countries.

It argues in favour of some much criticised domestically produced masks, including a batch made from material normally used for kitchen towels, and their high prices, saying each producer got the nod from UKC Ljubljana and that it was misleading to compare production costs at the time to current prices.

As for future steps, the report says that sufficient supplies for the short term have been secured by 10 April. The Commodity Reserves Agency, whose centralised procurement of PPE will end on 1 June, now has more space to negotiate on prices.

The government is proposing that the Court of Audit review the agency's activities in the first four months of the year and also look at all the purchases, renting and maintenance of ventilators in all Slovenian hospitals in the past five years.

It announced it would secure EUR 1 million for the start of ventilator production in Slovenia and another million for the production of FFP2 and FFP3 masks.

All our stories on the PPE scandal in Slovenia are here

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