Nova24TV English

Slovenian News In ENGLISH

Ministries Have Trouble With Granting The Status Of An NGO In The Public Interest. Is Public Money Being Handed Out Without Proper Control?

The Court of Audit recently revised the effectiveness of granting the status of a non-governmental organisation in the public interest in the fields of environmental protection, nature conservation, social security, NGO development and sport. It found weaknesses in the process itself, as well as in its implementation. The Court believes that the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning; the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, and the Ministry of Public Administration have been partially effective, while the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport has been ineffective in granting this status to NGOs. Such findings reinforce the belief of many that public money in our country is being handed out without any serious control.

At the end of 2021, according to the Centre for Information, Cooperation and Development of Non-Governmental Organisations (CNVOS), there were 26,466 NGOs in the country, 5,995 of which had the status of an NGO in the public interest. “All NGOs received a total of 508 million euros in public funds in 2021, of which one-fifth were payments to personal assistance providers under the Personal Assistance Act,” the Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia revealed.

The Non-Governmental Organisations Act, which came into force in 2018, has contributed to the introduction of a common concept and conditions defining NGOs. NGOs are thus defined as legal entities governed by private law and established in the Republic of Slovenia. They are non-profit, and as such, are not dependent on other entities, but may be organised in the form of foundations, associations and institutions. When the activities of NGOs are of general benefit, i.e., when they contribute to the achievement of objectives of interest to local communities or the state, we are dealing with NGOs in the public interest. The conditions for obtaining the status of a public-interest NGO have also been harmonised under the aforementioned law. It is the competent ministries that grant the public interest status to an NGO.

The Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia points out that the right to receive one percent of income tax from taxpayers is of crucial importance for many NGOs. “In 2021, the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia paid out 20 million euros to all beneficiaries of income tax donations,” they revealed, noting that although the entire amount was not earmarked for NGOs in the public interest, representative trade unions, school foundations, political parties, registered churches and other religious communities are also eligible for the money. However, NGOs with a public interest status can also obtain funding by participating in public tenders, where the status awarded gives them an additional number of points.

Every two years, the fulfilment of their obligations is verified

Any organisation that is granted the status of an NGO in the public interest is expected to report to the competent ministry every two years on its achievements, activities carried out, use of funds, and information on its future programme. Failure to comply with these obligations is grounds for withdrawal of the previously granted status. As the Court pointed out, it is up to the ministries to examine the documentation submitted, and they are also expected to consult official records to see for themselves whether the obligations have been met (for example, tax compliance). The only organisations exempt from the obligation to report on their work biennially are the ones operating in the public interest on the basis of another law (humanitarian organisations, fire brigades). However, the ministry still needs to verify ex officio every two years whether the conditions for obtaining the status continue to be met.

Not all procedures carried out were generally documented

When the Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia revised the effectiveness of the granting of the status of an NGO in the public interest in the fields of environmental protection, nature conservation, social security, development of NGOs and sport in the period from 2019 to 2021, it found that “in the procedures for granting the status and verifying the fulfilment of the obligations (biennial reporting), the ministries did not as a rule document all the procedures carried out and thus did not demonstrate that they had verified that all the conditions and criteria for granting or maintaining the status had been met.” The NGOs were also not always asked to provide the missing documentation. “Despite the inconsistencies in the implementation of the procedures, in most cases, this did not affect the granting or withdrawal of the status in question,” they stated.

The Court sees the lack of adequate IT support and staff shortages in the ministries as the reasons for the inconsistent implementation of due processes. On average, only one official in a given ministry was involved in the procedures for granting the said status and verifying compliance with obligations. The field of sport, with over 1700 NGOs with public interest status, is one where the staffing problem is especially evident. “Given the fact that they are dominated by sports associations operating at the local level, it would be reasonable to consider the transfer of certain competencies from the ministries to local authorities in future amendments to the legal framework,” the Court said.

More efficient handling would contribute to the shortening and simplifying of procedures

According to the Court, ministries could contribute to simplifying and shortening their own procedures by acting more efficiently. They could do this by publishing a list of the necessary supporting documents on a website and by fully disclosing the obligations that are relevant for the maintenance of the status granted, which would also be included in the explanation of the decisions granting the public interest status. Some weaknesses in the legal framework were also identified, which further complicated the work across ministries. Organisations that had been granted public interest status before the Non-Governmental Organisations Act’s entry into force in 2018 had a transitional period during which they had to comply with all the requirements if they wished to maintain their status. In this case, the large number of NGOs involved added to the burden. The two-year reporting period is not, in their view, properly regulated, as “NGOs that have been granted status in different areas are obliged to report to the Ministry on a different timetable for each area, depending on when they were granted the status in each area”. However, they consider it inappropriate that “immediately after the withdrawal of the status, the NGO can reapply for the status with the same ministry or in the same field”.

The Court of Audit made several recommendations to the ministries, and requested the Ministry of Public Administration, in cooperation with other ministries, to carry out activities to identify shortcomings in the implementation of the 2018 Non-Governmental Organisations Act and measures to address them.

As millions are being spent on the development of NGOs in the post-flood period, while money for the reconstruction is being taken out of the pockets of taxpayers, many people are particularly sensitive when they learn that in the past, NGO procedures did not run as they should have, because it is hard to believe that now everything is running as it should.

Share on social media