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Slovenian government agency challenged over suspicious razor wire contract

Slovenia’s Agency for Commodity Reserves may have violated the country’s laws when it purchased razor wire in November 2015, Transparency International Slovenia said today. In a complaint submitted to the relevant district state prosecutor, the watchdog asks the authorities to look into the procurement process that followed the government’s decision to install a fence across Slovenia’s southern border with Croatia to block the arrival of refugees.

Information relating to the contract had been kept secret from the public until last month, when the Supreme Court ruled in Transparency International Slovenia’s favour and upheld the watchdog’s right to public information.

“It took close to three years to get our hands on these documents,” said Alma Sedlar, Chair of Transparency International Slovenia. “The administrative court deliberated for almost two years, undermining the fundamental principle of the public’s right to information as well as Slovenia’s Information Commissioner Act, which states that freedom of information request appeals should be treated as a priority in court.”

“It is unacceptable that it took this long to receive a public document. Such practices undermine civil society’s efforts and diminish the power of public information to hold decision-makers accountable,” Sedlar argued.

Back in 2015, as the European migration crisis was unfolding, several European countries installed razor-wire fences across their borders, including Slovenia. The tendering for the wire was done by Slovenia’s Agency for Commodity Reserves.

The deal quickly came under scrutiny as the media questioned the suitability of the company selected for the job: it did not employ any staff and had a relatively small revenue. Suspicions arose around the fact that the selected provider shared an address with the political party with most seats in government at the time.

Publicly available data and information given in the contracts provided sufficient grounds for Transparency International Slovenia to report its concerns to the district prosecutor’s office. In February 2016, the organisation requested tender documents. The Agency for Commodity Reserves rejected the watchdog’s request several times, despite decisions from the Information Commissioner and the administrative court ruling that the Agency must supply the documents. Transparency International Slovenia scored a decisive win on the case when the Supreme Court rejected the Agency’s appeal in January.

Transparency is key to eliminating corruption in public procurement. A comprehensive reform of freedom of information systems is needed to allow civil society timely and uninterrupted access to public procurement data. Watchdogs and media must be able to pose questions and promptly receive answers. Transparency International Slovenia hopes that accountability on this case, even if delayed, will help advance the much-needed reform.

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Sebastijan Peterka
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