Devastating audit findings in the Justice Fund. The findings of the Supreme Audit Office
According to the Supreme Audit Office, Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro gave out hundreds of millions of zlotys from the Justice Fund wastefully, inexpediently and without control. ‘He did not react to conflicts of interest and corruption mechanisms,’ the auditors found.
The Supreme Audit Office (NIK) announced the results of the audit of the Justice Fund, which Zbigniew Ziobro manages. This is one of the most-awaited and politically heated audits conducted by the Supreme Audit Office in recent years in Poland. The Supreme Audit Office President Marian Banaś has spoken about it publicly several times, emphasizing its importance.
It arises from the auditors’ findings that:
- Although the Justice Fund was primarily supposed to help victims of crime, Ziobro’s people give out the money from it for virtually any objective. According to the Supreme Audit Office, this is in conflict with the principle that specific-purpose state funds should fulfil specific tasks of the state.
- Ziobro’s ministry ‘failed to ensure that all potential beneficiaries have equal, transparent access to public funds based on substantive assessment criteria.’ Decisions on co-financing organizations and public finance sector entities ‘were made in a discretionary manner’. Despite the law, they were not publicized.
- The Ministry ‘abused the special, so-called non-tender procedure of granting co-financing’ to entities from the public finance sector. And it changed the results of tenders for co-financing from the Justice Fund ‘in a discretionary and non-transparent manner.’
- Consequently, tasks were entrusted to ‘unprepared entities, which did not have the potential to implement them effectively’, even though ‘appropriately prepared contractors with many years of experience’ were applying to perform them.
- Some organizations taking part in the programme of building assistance networks for crime victims ‘only built their human resources and organizational potential while performing the contracts.’ In the Opolskie Voivodship, this resulted in a ‘significant deterioration’ of the situation of victims.
- Projects have been financed with the Justice Fund that the ministry described as ‘scientific-research’ but ‘did not meet the standards accepted for research projects’ – they involved ‘the production of a large number of thematically incoherent works (constituting e.g. an analysis of random Internet content and fantasy literature)’. The ministry could not specify why they arose and how they were used.
- When launching individual programmes, the Ministry did not consult specialized organizations and public institutions on their sense and scope, but ordered analyses ‘created in the so-called “hand in hand” formula, namely largely according to the ministry’s suggestions’.
- The Justice Fund’s financial plans were prepared unreliably, while understated costs were presented in the reports. Many grants were awarded in breach of the Public Finance Act. The ministry also regularly breached a provision of this Act, according to which it should settle grant contracts within 30 days.
- Although Ziobro’s ministry spent over PLN 350 million per year from the Justice Fund, it had not set up mechanisms for controlling spending. It did not react to ‘systemic problems in the management of the Fund’s resources, such as conflicts of interest and corruption mechanisms, which are commonplace in assistance to victims of crime and the implementation of the so-called scientific and research projects’.
- Ziobro’s ministry ‘withdrew from the originally planned activities having a real impact on the situation of the victims of crime and counteracting the causes of crime,’ such as building friendly questioning rooms for children.
- Meanwhile, activities that were supposed to inform the public about the possibility of benefiting from assistance from the Justice Fund, actually served to ‘promote the activities and concepts of the Minister of Justice in such areas as, for instance, Poland’s relations with European Union institutions and the reform of the justice system’.
The problem: hundreds of millions of zlotys
The auditors who audited the activities of the Justice Fund questioned the spending of millions of zlotys. According to them, Minister Ziobro:
- gave out PLN 63,435,000 inexpediently and wastefully within the framework of the so-called counteracting the causes of crime – problems were found in the case of 13 out of 16 contracts audited in this category;
- transferred PLN 59,506,000 to unprepared entities, ‘even though appropriately prepared contractors with many years of experience were applying for the performance of the same tasks.’ In one case, the commissioning of assistance to victims of crime to an organization which had no experience of this led to a ‘direct threat to the life and health of some beneficiaries of assistance from the Sliesian Voivodship’. This probably applies to the case of the Ex Bono Foundation, which concealed the state of health of children at a holiday camp which it organized;
- assigned PLN 140,803,000 to Voluntary Fire Brigades, but the equipment for them was distributed in a ‘discretionary manner’ and without any connection ‘with the data on the number of road accidents in the area of activity of the individual Voluntary Fire Brigades’;
- spent PLN 35,204,000 on equipment for medical institutions, although this was ‘allocated to arbitrarily selected entities, without consulting the bodies responsible for health matters, which would have enabled the most pressing equipment needs, as well as the number and type of medical institutions most in need of support, to be determined’;
- PLN 37,240,000 was allocated to the construction and furnishing of the Budzik Clinic, a specialist centre for treating adults, with particular emphasis on coma patients – although this task was not related to the objectives of the Justice Fund (Minister Ziobro explained that people in comas are often victims of crime, but, according to the Supreme Audit Office, there is no data on the number of victims of crime who are in a state of coma).
Among the questioned expenses, the Supreme Audit Office mentioned grants to:
- Fundacja Wyszehradzka [the Visegrad Foundation] – PLN 1.36 million;
- Fundacja Życie [the Life Foundation] – PLN 6 million;
- Fundacja Mamy i Taty [the Mum and Dad Foundation] – PLN 1.5 million
- and Fundacja Czyste Serca [the Pure Hearts Foundation] – almost PLN 1 million.
According to the Supreme Audit Office, the money went to ‘finance a broad range of logically unrelated activities including: the organization of a conference on, among others, the prospects for cooperation of the Visegrad Group countries; managerial education of local groups of activists and officials; the promotion of worldview issues (especially the institution of marriage and the family); educational and upbringing activities in the area of problems of adolescence.’
The Supreme Audit Office also questions the purpose of a PLN 1.3 million grant to the Strażnik Pamięci [Guardian of Remembrance] Foundation (headed by Paweł Lisicki, editor-in-chief of the right-wing weekly, ‘Do Rzeczy’). According to the auditors, the money was assigned for counteracting crimes ‘which were not even mentioned in court statistics because of their incidental nature’. This is probably about the project ‘Counteracting crimes against freedom of conscience committed under the influence of LGBT ideology’.
The programmes and publications produced within their framework did not serve to educate potential beneficiaries, but to promote the activities and ideas of the Minister of Justice in such areas as, for example, Poland’s relations with European Union institutions or the reform of the justice system.’The Office’s auditors also questioned a significant amount of spending on the promotion of the Justice Fund in the media. As the report reads, ‘the subject of these activities extended significantly beyond building the “brand” and the recognition of the Fund. In the case of four out of the 12 contracts encompassed by the audit,
Ziobro’s Justice Fund
The Justice Fund has existed since 2012 as a special purpose fund, primarily to help victims of crime. It currently has a budget of several hundred million zlotys a year. The fund has become a piggy bank under Minister Ziobro, enabling the Solidarna Polska party’s community to pursue its political agenda. A stream of public money has been flowing to foundations and associations that are friendly with Ziobro’s associates (‘the Ziobrists’).
This has now been confirmed by another audit of the Supreme Audit Office. According to the chamber’s report, Ziobro’s ministry has handed out hundreds of millions of zlotys from public funds without any control, plan or justification. Ziobro has turned a fund that was supposed to help victims of crime into a fund for freely financing anything he deemed appropriate.
As Rzeczpospolita newspaper wrote, Ziobro – who had to respond to the audit before it was published – rejected it in whole. In response, the Office rejected 100 pages of the minister’s objections.
Two days later Jakub Banaś, son and social advisor to the president of the Supreme Audit Office, was detained by the Central Anticorruption Bureau, and the prosecutor’s office applied to the Sejm to lift Marian Banaś’s immunity so that charges could be brought against him for submitting untrue asset declarations. The president of the Supreme Audit Office made the assurance at a specially convened conference that this would not stop the Office from publishing the report on the Fund.
Millions for Voluntary Fire Brigades, millions for hospitals
According to the Supreme Audit Office, the gateway for financing virtually any selected tasks from the Justice Fund was opened by the amendment of the law and Minister Ziobro’s regulation of 2017, which significantly increased the objectives for which grants from the Justice Fund could be awarded. ‘This created the possibility of financing an unlimited category of activities with its resources, referring even to a marginal extent to the Fund’s unspecified objectives,’ reads the Office’s report.
As the Supreme Audit Office points out, such dilution of specific tasks and freedom in spending means that the Justice Fund has actually stopped being a special purpose fund.
The Office also concluded that the preparation of all eight programmes under which the minister awarded grants from the fund was unreliable.
‘They did not present specific problems that the Holder intended to solve, or a reliable diagnosis of the situation and the needs of the beneficiaries in the areas of the planned allocation of the Fund’s resources,’ reads the report.
The Supreme Audit Office emphasizes that Minister Ziobro ‘did not use the support of specialized public bodies and non-governmental organizations, even though he did not have data enabling the optimal planning of tasks’. Instead, he ‘adopted the practice of ordering external analyses, which were created in the so-called “hand in hand” formula, namely largely according to the suggestions of the Ministry of Justice’.
The result was that – according to the Supreme Audit Office – decisions on what the money would be spent on were made in an unreliable manner by the justice ministry, as it ‘did not have objective data confirming the legitimacy, scale and desired form of its spending’.
This was the case when subsidising Volunteer Fire Brigades, to which the fund allocated PLN 140,803,000, and medical centres (PLN 35,204,000). ‘By coincidence’ subsidies for firemen and hospitals find their way to the electoral constituencies of Solidarna Polska politicians, precisely during election campaigns. Meanwhile, in front of the cameras, the candidates hand huge cardboard cheques to the recipients, boasting that they have ‘won’ or ‘obtained’ money for their region from the ministry.
A perfect example was the June election campaign in Rzeszów, where Deputy Minister of Justice and Solidarna Polska MP Marcin Warchoł was running for the office of mayor. According to our calculations, since June 2019, Warchoł provided almost PLN 4.7 million to institutions in Rzeszów and its outskirts, of which PLN 2.35 million was provided during the election campaign.
Discrepancies and errors in evaluating proposals
According to the Supreme Audit Office, the system of verifying proposals from foundations and associations that applied for grants from the Justice Fund was also considered defective.
According to the report, the tender commissions appointed by the minister for assessing the proposals contained people ‘without adequate qualifications and professional experience’ who did not have ‘any guidelines, assessment criteria or databases enabling a reliable assessment of the proposals’. Almost half of the assessment sheets examined contained significant discrepancies and errors that could have affected the award or refusal of grants.
The Supreme Audit Office also draws attention to the minister’s manual deletion of eight proposals recommended for co-financing by tender commissions, including two, which, according to the tender commission, deserved the highest scores.
According to the Office, the minister also failed to react ‘to systemic problems in the management of the Fund’s resources, such as conflicts of interest and corruption mechanisms’. The auditors considered such mechanisms to be, among other things, ‘the delegation of the Ministry’s employees to perform tasks in events financed by the fund’s grants’ and ‘the entrustment of supervision over the fund to the director of an organizational unit subordinated to the Minister, which itself was a beneficiary of Justice Fund resources of a significant scale’.
This is about Marcin Romanowski, Deputy Minister of Justice, who supervises the Justice Fund on behalf of Ziobro. Until 2019, Romanowski was the director of the Justice Institute – financed by the Justice Fund.
Translated by Roman Wojtasz
This is a condensed version of an article published in Polish at OKO.press on 4 August 2021.