The break from the trend of successfully obtaining European Union funds, which started by the previous government, has had its consequences. The Golob government is losing millions of European Union funding on construction projects in Slovenian hospitals, even though it is supposed to be prioritising improvements in the healthcare sector. Thus, other sources of funding will have to be found for more construction investments, on account of the government’s assessment that investments in hospitals cannot be finished on time with European money.
In the second half of July, doctors and the general public of the Štajerska region were upset by the news that the state would forgo 40 million EU funds for a new infectious diseases clinic in Maribor and redirect them to the Faculty of Medicine in Ljubljana. When the project in the Štajerska capital was withdrawn from the Recovery and Resilience Plan, the Ministry of Health reassured the public that it did not need to worry, as it would all be financed from the state budget. While Nina Gorišek Miksić, deputy head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions in the Maribor University Medical Centre, stressed, according to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), that they had been involved in the design of the new clinic all along and that everything was on schedule, the local authorities warned that the reliability of the funds from the state coffers and the European budget were by no means equivalent. For this reason, there was concern that the project might not happen at all, even though the need to build an infectious diseases clinic was great –in order to ensure quality, sufficient and decent care for patients.
“As part of the Recovery Plan, we foresaw significant funding to strengthen the public healthcare system, both for the infectious diseases clinics in Ljubljana and Maribor, as well as for the Faculty of Medicine in Ljubljana, and a number of other investments. There was no reason for the Infectious Diseases Clinic in Maribor to be removed from the Plan, as it was still in the revised draft Recovery Plan in March of this year. Now they are saying that this happened because the previous minister worked too slowly, which is not true,” Zvone Černač, former Minister of Cohesion and Regional Development and MP from the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS), recently explained about the current government’s excuses, pointing out that they have two and a half years of time to implement this. “There is no reason why this facility could not have been built in time,” he stressed, adding that it was only a question of operational incompetence of the team currently working on the issue. As is well known, the head of the Office for Control, Quality and Investment in Healthcare, Ales Šabeder, who was recently dismissed, has been responsible for construction investments for the last 12 months.
The previous Janez Janša government negotiated 1.78 billion euros in grants and 705 million euros in loans under the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism. According to MP Černač, this money is now “sitting there” because the current government simply does not know how to collect it. Governments led by the left have always had a hard time using this negotiated money. “When we took office in 2020, the implementation of the financial perspective ending in 2020 was at just over 30 percent. We then took the appropriate measures to accelerate the uptake of funds. When we left last year, this uptake was somewhere close to 80 percent,” he explained, adding that the current government has completely failed in their Recovery and Resilience Plan. This is because this is not about classic “cohesion”, but also about adopting some measures, implementing reforms.
If implemented, the projects would receive over 70 million euros in EU funding
The withdrawal of the construction of a new infectious disease clinic in Maribor from the Recovery and Resilience Plan does not seem to be the only investment project that will need to find other sources of funding. According to the media outlet N1, four projects (improving the energy performance of seven buildings of the Ljubljana University Medical Centre – UKC, energy renovation of the main UKC Ljubljana building, energy renovation of the Nova Gorica General Hospital, and the nursing hospital in UKC Maribor) that were included in the 2014-2020 financial perspective under the previous government will be left without EU millions. In the case of the project for the redevelopment of the building of the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the Ljubljana University Medical Centre, the government has decided to reduce the amount of EU co-financing from 5.1 million euros to 1.2 million euros. All these projects, worth 86.7 million euros, could have received over €0 million euros of EU money.
Last August, we reported on the call by now-former Minister of Health, Danijel Bešič Loredan, for the resignation of Jože Golobič from the post of director of the country’s largest healthcare institution – the Ljubljana University Medical Centre. In addition to the financial loss, Loredan blamed him for missing deadlines on the energy renovation, and then the insider content of an email emerged revealing that it was the Ministry of Health that had stopped the energy renovation project. In his response to the accusations, Golobič explained, among other things, that since the Golob government took office, the ministry had not responded to any requests for a meeting to coordinate the progress of the project. In fact, a representative of the ministry, which is also the investor, had not been present at the weekly coordination meetings for six weeks.
The renovation for the improvement of the energy performance of the main building of the Ljubljana University Medical Centre, for which we were supposed to receive almost 50 million euros from the EU, started in January this year instead of in 2021. At the same time, according to N1, Šabeder and Marko Jug, who is currently in charge of the country’s largest hospital, said that the energy renovation could not be carried out as planned because it would make it too difficult to provide healthcare services. Instead of first vacating one half and then the other half of the building, the work was divided into phases. The Ministry of Health estimated that the energy renovation of the seven old buildings of the Ljubljana University Medical Centre could not be completed by the end of the year due to the complexity of the project and the procedures for selecting the contractor. In the case of the renovation of the Occupational and Health building in UKC Ljubljana, the government concluded that it would not make sense to put laboratories there, so Slovenia will only receive 1.2 million euros for its renovation, instead of 5 million euros. In the case of the energy renovation of the hospital in Šempeter pri Gorici and the refurbishment of the nursing clinic in UKC Maribor, the selection of the contractors itself was complicated. While the hospital in Šempeter pri Gorici did not receive a sufficiently low bid, in the case of the Maribor clinic, a company was selected that did not even meet the conditions required in the tender.
Although the government claims that the European money spent on the botched projects is not actually lost and should instead be spent on the purchase of medical equipment (41.7 million euros) and the construction of the logistics centre of the National Institute of Public Health in Ljubljana’s BTC (4.9 million euros), the fact is that in this case, too, there is still a loss of 23.5 million euros in EU funds, which would have been spent here if all of the aforementioned projects had been implemented.