During eight years, the Ministry of Agriculture spent CZK 1,400 million on training and consultancy services without defining their objectives
PRESS RELEASE on Audit No. 15/09 – August 1, 2016
The Supreme Audit Office (SAO) scrutinized the Ministry of Agriculture and funds used for training and consultancy services in the field of agriculture. Auditors focused on subsidies provided from the Rural Development Programme (RDP) as well as on funds form the national budget, which were transferred to non-governmental non-profit organizations. Auditors scrutinized 77 projects with the total subsidies exceeding CZK 60 million. At beneficiaries, auditors focused on 13 individual projects, which were supported with CZK 9 million in total. It was revealed that the Ministry distributed subsidies in the amount of CZK 1,400 to consultancy and training projects without pre-setting any objectives.
Within the frame of the three audited areas, most errors were revealed with subsidies provided to non-profit organizations. Before 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture’s departments took decisions on the distribution of these subsidies at their own discretion and without setting any common rules. The Ministry was not able to explain details of the project selection process. In 2013, the Ministry defined some rules for the selection process, but only a brief and general information about the project and its total costs were enough for the reception of grants. On the basis of such generally worded applications, it was not possible for the Ministry to assess whether the selected projects were meaningful and actually deserved the subsidies.
The Ministry of Agriculture failed to set limits for expenditure claims from the grant beneficiaries. As a result, the granted projects differed a lot. For example, the costs per one participant of children’s educational programs varied significantly. The costs of one child’s participation in the project entitled “Experience the woods by all senses” made only CZK 30, and only CZK 40 with the project entitled “Living agriculture”, while in case of the festival “A year in the village” the costs made CZK 1,400. This two-day festival with total expenditures of CZK 972,000 was attended by some 1,000 visitors and consisted of a learning trail for kids, a historical village, and workshop ateliers. The same amount would have been sufficient to welcome 54,000 participants in case of the project that aimed at experiencing the woods.
Errors were revealed with the utilised national funds as well. The Ministry of Agriculture uses funds from the State budget to cover operational costs of regional information centres, which are supposed to provide the information about the agriculture and rural development for free. The centres are usually situated in a rented office and the consultations are provided by e-mails or SMS messages. However, only a few consultations were provided during the audited period. From 2010 to 2012, the information centre of the Central Bohemian Region only provided 35 face-to-face consultations, 92 e-mail consultations, and 59 phone consultations. The price of one consultation was CZK 11,000 in 2010 and CZK 4,500 in 2011 and 2012. The total amount of national funds used for the operation of information centres exceeded CZK 45 million in the period 2007–2014. The SAO concluded that these information centres were not useful as their function could have been fulfilled by other existing institutions.
The utilised EU funds directed to training and consultancy in agriculture turned out the best, in spite the auditors found some minor errors. The Ministry of Agriculture selected projects according to formal criteria instead of evaluating the projects’ quality or assessing whether they make any real sense. Before 2013, the Ministry had not set maximum limits of remunerations to tutors and speakers. In 2013, the limit was set to CZK 5,000 per an hour and in 2014, the limit was decreased to CZK 2,000 per an hour.
The SAO concluded that it is necessary that the Ministry of Agriculture sets priorities for its grants. The Ministry needs to be clear, which training and consultancy activities should be supported and adapt the selection processes to comply with the revised criteria. The evaluation should not be based only on the numbers of participants but it is essential to verify whether the projects have any effects, for instance by conducting researches into the attained knowledge or the participants’ opinions. Such attitudes can ensure that public funds are spent in the most cost effective and meaningful ways.
Supreme Audit Office