Victims without help. Millions from Ziobro’s fund to fly-by-night organizations
Competitive bids for providing assistance to victims of crime are being won by organisations with no experience, but with political connections with Zbigniew Ziobro and PiS. The losers are organisations that have been helping victims for years. Victims are also losing – they have no one to turn to for help.
The text was originally published in Polish at OKO.press on the 29th of March 2019.
Assistance to victims of crime is one of the main tasks of the Justice Fund, which is managed by the Ministry of Justice. Victims of domestic violence are those most often assisted.
This year, the Ministry reformed this part of the Fund. It boasts that the changes will lead to a network of 60 regional centres and 337 local help points being established nationwide. The system is to operate from April 2019.
The decision which organisations are to provide assistance – i.e. where the millions of zlotys from the Justice Fund (JF) will go – is made by bid commissions appointed by Minister Ziobro.
The NGOs that have won or will win this year will have their funding secured for a long period – the ministry has announced bids for three years (2019-2021), not for a single year as previously. In addition, the winners will be able to significantly increase their administrative costs (compared to what the Ministry of Justice has previously agreed to).
The problem, as it turns out, is that the bids are being lost by organisations that have been providing assistance to crime victims for a number of years. And it is likely that some of them will have to cease their operations.
The winners, however, are organisations without any experience in helping victims of crime, but which are personally connected with Zbigniew Ziobro’s Solidarna Polska party and PiS.
Money for new organizations
Łódź. Here, three organizations took part in the bid process for helping crime victims. The winner the Patria Et Lex Association from Kutno.
Registered at the beginning of 2018, the association has not yet performed a single public task. Now it has won a competition in which it has been awarded a total of PLN 4,137,000 (for the years 2019-2021).
This is the maximum value of the grant for this region – the precise amount of money that organizations receive is determined by an agreement between them and the Ministry. With this money, Patria Et Lex is supposed to create a district aid centre in Łódź and five smaller local centres in surrounding towns.
On the association’s website, in the section titled “Our roots”, we read that it has been created “to provide free assistance to people in difficulty, in particular victims of crime, witnesses and their loved ones”.
It’s difficult to avoid the impression that Patria Et Lex was actually “made to order” for the Justice Fund competition.
Why did this organisation win the competition? “If you look at the people who are in the association, you’ll probably come to the same conclusions as I did,” goes the enigmatic response by the employee of another NGO.
All the MP’s men
So, we’re looking. Of the seven people involved with the association from its beginning, three are associates of Tadeusz Woźniak, an MP from Kutno and one of the leaders of Solidarna Polska (the party led by Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro):
- Robert Baryła – a member of Solidarna Polska, until 12 February 2019 in the association’s audit committee, for many years the director of Woźniak’s parliamentary office. A councillor in the Łódź Assembly from PiS lists in the years 2014-2018, he unsuccessfully stood in the last elections. However, he was appointed to the Voivodeship Board
- Adrian Zieliński – former vice-president, now member of the association’s audit committee, an employee of Woźniak’s parliamentary office
- Jolanta Pietrusiak – formerly treasurer, now a member of the association’s audit committee, an employee of Woźniak’s parliamentary office. Councillor of Law and Justice in Kutno County.
The president of Patria Et Lex is Leszek Olesiński, the head of a real estate company and member of the “Gazeta Polska” Club.
According to our information, delays in the establishment of assistance centres by Patria Et Lex led to a complaint being filed with the Ministry of Justice.
A few days ago, we sent questions to the association, about such topics as the current stage of the project and experience in helping victims of crime. We also asked for a comment on the personal connections with Solidarna Polska.
“Yes, we got an e-mail. You know, there are more important things to do here. We respond to correspondence in the order we receive it,” we were told by the woman who answered the phone at the association. We continue waiting for answers.
Please go someplace else
“So we’re clear, I’m 100 percent ‘PiS.’ But this is too much,” says Irena (name changed on request) from Opole.
She was the victim of an accident. She needed legal and psychological assistance. On TV, she saw a spot about the Justice Fund. She looked into it: as it turned out, in Opole such help has been offered by the centre run by the Ex Bono foundation since February. This came as a surprise – her work made her familiar with organisations in Opole, and she also recalled that in her city another NGO had been providing such assistance for a number of years.
She went to the address given, and it turned out that it was a small, closed community centre. At the official address of the Ex Bono foundation she found an apartment in a block of flats. She knocked, ranged the bell. She heard someone from behind the door, but nobody opened it. Eventually, she managed to get in touch by phone, but the person who answered her call told her to go to another city. Eventually, Irena had to hire a lawyer and pay out of her own pocked.
From thousands to millions
The Ex Bono foundation has been listed in the National Court Register since January 2018. Since that time, it has carried out one task commissioned by the local government: “Enhancing the safety of young people online.” The vale of the grant was less than PLN 4,000. It also applied for PLN 5,000 in funding for the “Cards for Insurgents” project, but did not receive a grant.
Now it has won two competitive bids held by the Justice Fund.
It will receive PLN 5 million for the creation of an assistance centre in Opole and 11 local points in nearby towns, and almost PLN 4 million for a district centre in Tychy and four local points.
The first half of Ex Bono’s statute reads like something made-to-order for the Justice Fund.
Other NGOs point out that the Ministry has set stringent requirements as regards the preparation of the tender. They had to provide, among other things, the addresses of the premises where they would create assistance points and specialists to be employed – by name.
According to our information, Ex Bono was urgently hunting for employees a month ago, just after winning the competition. Two independent sources claim that people who took advantage of the foundation’s job offer boasted earnings of PLN 6,000.
Recently, the centre in Opole (at a different address than the one in Irena’s story) was placed on an updated list of MS help points. In Tychy, the address where the centre should be located, there is only a legal aid point. There are also not many local points on the map in smaller towns in the regions which were included in the competition.
The vice-president of Ex Bono is Natalia Julia Obrocka, for three years an assistant to Prof. Jerzy Żyżyński, a PiS MP from Opole, and since 2016 a member of the Monetary Policy Council.
A few days ago, we asked the foundation via e-mail questions about issues such as their experience, completed projects and the current stage of project implementation. “I forwarded your question to the coordinator. He didn’t answer? I’m sorry, we’re in such a hurry to get everything going. I’ll pass the questions on again,” we were assured by the person who answered the phone at the centre in Tychy. So far, Ex Bono has yet to respond.
Grants for whom?
Foundations and associations that have been helping victims of crime for years are ringing the alarm that in many cities competitions for grants from the Justice Fund have been won by fly-by-night organisations. They have been established recently, nobody has ever heard of them, they have no experience, no premises, no specialists. Nevertheless, they have won several million zlotys in funding to help victims for the next three years.
Employees of experienced NGOs that lost Justice Fund competitive bids emphasize that it takes years to create an efficient local aid network.
“We have been helping victims for 10 years, and receiving grants from the fund for several years. During this time we have developed contacts with the police, courts and social workers. We have developed standard procedures, we cooperate with the municipality. We have trained specialists. Not every psychologist or lawyer can handle it when a rape victim comes to him and then the abuser runs in holding an axe looking for her,” says an employee of one of the organizations.
So the NGOs protest, but quietly. They are afraid that if they criticize MS, they will not win any more competitions in the future, or they will be audited.
“Recently, one of the organizations appealed against the Ministry’s decision. It demanded to see the contest documentation. In response, they were informed that an audit of the accounts for previous years had been initiated,” says the head of one foundation.
He lost the competition, had to lay off 80 percent of his employees, and is sending his current charges wherever he can. He is counting on grants from the local government for his organization to survive. “I feel most sorry for the specialists. I spent years building up an excellent team of lawyers and psychologists. Now the team has split up, everyone wants to earn a living, and we no longer have money for most of their salaries,” he explains.
“I know that we didn’t lose because we weren’t good enough. The points in the competitions don’t matter,” says an employee of another experienced organization that has long helped victims and lost a bid competition.
In many towns and cities, points receiving funds from the Justice Fund are the only places where victims of crime can apply for free legal, psychological and financial assistance.
Ziobro remains silent
There’s no way of knowing how committees evaluate individual projects and what contracts they sign with organisations to which they award money. When in August 2018 OKO.press asked the Ministry of Justice about other Justice Fund competitions, Ziobro’s ministry replied laconically: “We do not disclose contracts, bids or competition documentation or settlements – because of GDPR and commercial secrecy.”
The questions about the competitions discussed in this text have not yet been answered.
Victims with nowhere to turn
The Ministry boasts that the new programme will “reform the existing system of assistance to crime victims, their loved ones and witnesses”.
There are many changes:
- The Ministry wants to build a support network consisting of 60 regional centres and 337 local points;
- Each of the winning organisations will offer aid for three years (2019-2021); previously, projects were run on an annual basis;
- Organisations will be able to spend 25% of the value of the grant on administrative costs (previously the maximum was 15%). And, importantly, these funds will not be in any way accounted for by the Ministry. It even encourages organizations to transfer them to their private accounts.
Ziobro announced completion of all work on the new aid scheme would take place by the end of the first quarter of 2019. According to the competition announcements, the selected centres are to begin offering assistance as early as 1 February 2019. Meanwhile, many are still pending.
The deadline for the resolution of several competitions has been postponed and the results will be announced by 4 April. This is the case in such places as Krakow, Kielce, Skierniewice and Leszno.
In other cities, such as Wroclaw and Sanok, there is no information at all when competitions will be decided.