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STA urges govt to restore financing

Ljubljana, 28 December - The management of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) has appealed to Prime Minister Janez Janša and members of his government to support the call by the agency's staff and supervisory board for the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to restore the financing of the public service provided by the STA.

Ljubljana
The entrance to the STA offices in Tivolska Street.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA
File photo

In a press release on Monday, the STA management says that after failing to pay the STA the fee for public service for October, UKOM now also rejected the claim for the fee for November as well as refused to pay for the services provided by the STA for the government administration for October and November.

It notes that UKOM had been regularly meeting its liabilities towards the STA until October, but stopped since then even though the regulatory framework has not changed in the meantime.

"Through arbitrary suspension of financing of the public service, UKOM has overstepped its powers under law and contract," the release reads, adding that such a view had been upheld by the government legislation service as well as by a legal opinion commissioned by the STA.

The STA continues to perform the public service as set out by the relevant law, thus honouring its commitments despite the suspension of financing, while the government has not yet taken its position on the matter, despite several appeals, notes the release.

UKOM continues to make the monthly payments conditional on the handover of certain documents, despite failing to cite the legal basis or provide a suitable authorisation to access those documents, the management says.

Repeating its readiness to provide requested information to the owner in accordance with valid legislation, the management notes that it follows from a freedom of information request response to a coalition MP that the government as the STA shareholder has never authorised UKOM to act on its behalf.

The STA management also notes that the parliamentary Culture Committee urged the government on 14 December to meet within three days its obligations and pay the STA for its services and thus ensure the agency's continued stability. UKOM has not honoured the committee's resolution and has even announced it will not pay any more invoices to STA this year.

This is why the STA management expects the government to restore financing of the STA for 2020 and to sign the annual agreement to pay the STA for public service in 2021, since as the sole STA shareholder, it has an obligation to ensure comprehensive and undisrupted performance of the STA public service based on the annual business plan.

The STA supervisory board adopted the 2021 business plan and sent it to the government on 21 December.

The management wonders how long the government would allow such a situation to continue. "Allowing such a situation calls all members of the government to responsibility to put in their word and do all within their remit for regular financing of the STA's activities to be resumed," reads the release.

Modern Centre Party (SMC) leader and Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek meanwhile said that the matter had to be resolved before the end of the year. He is to propose to the government a decree "giving clear powers and instructions" to UKOM.

"The government must resolve this urgently, that is before the end of the year because the STA is a very important institution and its work must not be in jeopardy. It is a matter of special urgency to make sure its employees ... get paid."

Another member of the cabinet, Education Minister Simona Kustec, also a member of the SMC, also expressed the wish that "this unnecessary conflict" being fought on the backs of STA employees be resolved as soon as possible.

Speaker Igor Zorčič, also a member of the coalition SMC, said he would actively advocate for the resolution of this issue as soon as possible. His office said that more is to be known tomorrow, but would not go into details.

Zorčič also told the STA that he supported the efforts of STA employees and expected the government to heed the decisions of the parliamentary Culture Committee to provide sustainable funding for the STA as soon as possible.

However, both Prime Minister Janša and UKOM boss Uroš Urbanija said on Twitter that UKOM would insist on the STA providing the disputed documents to UKOM before paying its liabilities.

Janša said that "calls to illegal action to the benefit of the agency's director, who is in blatant violation of the contract and jeopardises the social situation of employees, are mocking the rule of law".

STA director Bojan Veselinovič denied allegations that he had called for illegal action, instead he was the one being forced to act illegally by "a series of letters from UKOM director". He believes that UKOM's actions are making a mockery of the rule of law.

He also said he never claimed that UKOM did not have the power to sign the contract on behalf of the government. "I did raise the issue, however, that UKOM does not have the power of shareholder to access the documents and the data it wants to see because it signed the contract."

Janša claimed in his response that if STA management believed UKOM did not have the power to sign the annual public service contract it should not have signed it.

Veselinovič said that Urbanija "violates not only contractual obligations toward the STA but also forces the government, which is required by law to ensure funding of the agency's public service, to violate the law".

The coalition New Slovenia (NSi) echoed a similar position to Janša's, saying that the work performed must be paid and that the payment must be made as soon as the STA forwards the requested documents to UKOM. The party believes that the issue could be resolved between UKOM and the STA.

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© STA, 2020