A reliable official with no political ambitions – that’s how several newspapers labeled the new prime minister, Jan Fischer. But the six years of his leadership at the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) were not without problems.
The Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) repeatedly discovered flaws in the office management with annual budget exceeding one billion crowns. The flaws were mainly associated with public financing activities and non-transparent tenders.
Fischer became the office’ head in 2003. The financial inspections in 2004 and 2005 found out that the office distributed orders worth CZK 46 million without calling a tender as requested by the law.
“The office repeatedly signed an agreement on the cleanup and security service without addressing the required minimum of three companies participating in a bid,” the 2006 NKÚ report said.
Moving the institution to new facilities, which required the costs of CZK 4 million, was also a deal that was only “granted”. ČSÚ argued the moving had to be done fast. But the inspectors said that the statistical office must have known about the moving when the new facility was being built.
The NKÚ handed its critical remarks regarding Fischer’s office management to the government.
“We didn’t get fined. We introduced measures that were satisfying for the government,” Fischer’s spokesman, Roman Prorok, told HN last Thursday.
But the problematic orders worth CZK 46 million, was it the cleanup or the moving, could not be done again the way that would comply with the law. Therefore, the office pledged to do it a different way next time.
Another thing the audit office found problematic was a construction of a new building for statisticians, which Fischer took over from his predecessor while the construction was already underway.
The 11-storey building could have been CZK 110 million cheaper, according to NKÚ. The statistical office paid more than CZK 829 million for it.
The auditors said that a number of times the construction company Skanska used materials different from what had been planned.
For example, they replaced granite with cheaper cembonite boards; copper with less expensive titanium-zinc material; most stairways are not made of natural stone, as it was planned, but of less costly terrazzo.
None of that affected the total building costs, the auditors’ report said, although Fischer took over the building from Skanska without complaints.
He didn’t even mind that the completed building did not correspond to the limits required by the statisticians.
So now instead of 12,000 square metres of office space, the offices at Skalka are short of 2,000 square metres, “and that includes the garage keeper’s office and the dining area”, the auditor’s report said.
“It’s not true the construction of our facility was overpriced,” Fischer said. He had to discuss the issue with then Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek.
Fischer’s name is associated with another problematic case, which the statistical office had to deal with between 2006 and 2008. Last year, an out-of-court settlement was reached with Mária Dvořáková, a former analyst of ČSÚ’s office in Olomouc.
Dvořáková was dismissed for redundancy reasons after she had refused to publish faulty figures of one of her subordinates, Vladimír Kupčík.
“Jan Fischer was forcing me to not check the data and publish them,” the analyst then commented on the case.
Jiří Rolenc, who went to school with Kupčík and who was Fischer’s direct subordinate, allegedly threatened with dismissal.
In an out-of-court settlement, Dvořáková received compensation of some CZK 200,000, which was paid by the office, an institution financed from public funds. “I don’t consider it additional costs. She got what she would have been paid in salary if she had retained the job,” said Prorok.