The SAO’s annual report for the past year was released on Monday. I will come back to it in particular and the reactions to it in more detail in a moment, but before that I want to ask a more general question: are you satisfied with the way in which the various ministries themselves are reacting to conclusions of the SAO?
I think those reactions have improved tremendously over the past eight years. If we remember before the period of the Sobotka government, for example, the discussion was formal. The Rusnok government has put in place a procedure for comments on our audit findings, including the corrective measures proposed by ministers, which the government then approves. There is really a discussion about what we have written, what the person inspected thinks about it, and then there is the discussion of the government.
I could cite other examples, such is my timeless in the field of highway construction prices. Here you can see how the situation is developing: at the moment we do not have the risk of detecting the fact that the motorways are fundamentally overvalued, but we have the problem that the preparation for this implementation takes too long. It means that we have solved one problem and are focusing on the other. I guess this problem will be fixed in some time.
But back to that question: yes, I think every government I can remember for this period is dealing with these audit findings and trying to respond to them.
I’m sorry I’m also asking because it often works for media readers, listeners or viewers such that you make a finding on Monday the department in question will issue their press release in the morning in which they question or at minus minimize your conclusions, writes that these are just administrative trifles. Then your opinion and the other will appear in the media, and in fact it will appear on another topic in a week or two. Do you ever feel useless or frustrated?
No I do not have. Now that Minister Havlíček has said that we are focusing on marketing, perhaps we should focus on following the conclusion of the audit: that the publication and the first battle we encounter does not end there and that improvements often occur.
But I wanted to add something a little different and perhaps more serious. When we point out that highways are too expensive, we would need individual departments to see if they build something similar to the highway – it could just be a bridge over a stream or ‘a dirt road – and see if the data, which we present there, can’t be used if the criticized activities that we see can’t be improved in those other areas as well. There is a much greater reserve for action between the ministries: that it does not seek to generalize this knowledge, to make a synthesis of the individual analysis with other activities. I think there is still a reservation.
As I said before, the SAO’s annual report for the past year was released on Monday. This is quite critical, especially for the rate of public debt. But you also criticize, for example, the shortcomings of the financial management of the state, the cost and the slowness of the electronic state, or, for example, the way in which the state spends money in the social field. When I start with the state indebtedness, you claimed, among other things, that almost 90% of the annual increase in state spending was not related to the covid pandemic.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlíček of the YES movement opposed the program on Tuesday. He called it, as you quoted it, after all, like your marketing ploy, saying you can measure a percentage of your total spend, but not that increase. Also according to him it is not correct to calculate only the direct expenses, he added that covid was the reason for the increase in the salaries of paramedics, firefighters, police officers, that covid was also associated to an increase in premium payments for state policyholders.
With all these caveats, are you really behind what you wrote in the annual report that 90% of the year-on-year increase in government spending was unrelated to the pandemic?
First of all, we took this statement from a document from the Ministry of Finance, which is called Cash Performance and where exactly this statement is quoted.
So the author of this statement is a ministry under the direction of Mrs. Schiller? I understood well ?
You understand this correctly. It must therefore be underlined. But I don’t like these fights, pulling out a sentence and now building on it a questioning of the activities of another institution, that’s not what it’s about. We have written a much more important sentence elsewhere in this annual report. It is also highlighted in black and in capital letters.
We said that with the huge increase in current expenditure according to the approved budget for 2021, their mandatory and quasi-mandatory share should reach 99% of total budget revenue. This means that what we collect from these taxes, we only collect the mandatory and quasi-mandatory parts.
Of course, it was in the budget, it turned out a little different, but that’s the problem. And this statement, which the ex-minister uses and tries to prove something about it, is only a reaction to the fact that they claimed that they needed the increase precisely because it is covid, that there is the biggest crisis, etc.
Yes, we have experienced a great covid crisis, but other crises have arisen: inflation, war, energy crisis. We are simply living in times of crisis, and our public finances are in the state that I have quoted, which means that we have to pay most of what we choose for compulsory and quasi-compulsory expenditure, and we have no no more insurance for these crises. We need to reverse that. This is the key message we wanted to say.