Head of Czech spending watchdog NKÚ dethroned by court ruling

A court ruling has ended the controversial reign of the Supreme Audit Office head who refused checks on its own books

HOT TOP|Politics & Policy
Kateřina Menzelová | 20.02.2012
NKÚ boss František Dohnal (left) in court, fighting for his job

The head of the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) František Dohnal was been forced to step down from his position on Monday after Prague’s Municipal Court confirmed an earlier judgment of Prague 7 district court which had pronounced Dohnal guilty of trying to block audits of his own institution. The finding means the end of the road of one of the country’s top public officials.

The district court already last summer condemned Dohnal to a conditional eight months in prison, suspended for 18 months, after being found guilty of abusing his public office. No appeal against today’s confirmatory verdict is possible.

Dohnal has been under the media spotlight for more than three years. The attempt to thwart an audit of his office was just one of the scandals which undermined trust in an institution which was supposed to set an example to all others in the public sector, and frequently tried to do so in scathing reports about inefficiencies and mismanagement.

In the Spring of 2009 the NKÚ’s own governing body adopted a resolution condemning Dohnal’s housekeeping in the same manner that the financial watchdog so often attacked the activities of institutions under its normal supervision.

Evasive economies

It highlighted the fact that a reduction a cut in the NKÚ’s local offices from 19 to 10 brought not savings at all. Instead, rental costs soared largely as a result of staff being shifted from government own office to privately-owned premises where charges had to be paid. Artworks were also purchased, having nothing to do with the NKÚ’s core activity, at a cost of several million crowns.

Average spending per official were also twice the norm of other public officials in spite of the fact that the number of those employed in carrying out audits fell. The governing body also highlighted the fact that extra budgetary spending took place that had not been approved by it.

More damaging personally to Dohnal were the revelations about his luxury flat rented at public expense and the three cars put at his disposal and also funded by the taxpayer which came with the top job.

The NKÚ’s highly personal hand on the management of the institution was typified by his determination to stamp the office’s log on almost anything that moved in its offices ranging from pencils, chocolates, sugar, cups and plates. It seemed all more appropriate to an international airline building its image than the national audit office examining the bottom line.

Chalk and cheese

Dohnal’s whole concept of managing the audit office contrasted strongly with the Spartan methods of his predecessor, Lubomír Voleník, who refused to buy furniture for his offices until it was clear that the existing material had served their time to the full. For him the audit office had to serve as a real example of good housekeeping for other institutions to follow.

Dohnal’s reaction to criticism was forthright. He refused to acknowledge the criticism and promised to get even with those attacking him. He even launched criminal proceedings against five members of parliament who were on the governing body after they voiced their criticisms publicly.

That attack broadened to the entire lower house of parliament when in early 2011 he demanded a court ruling that would have prevented it looking over the NKÚ’s own auditing. Dohnal presented the battle as a political over principles, a line bought by some media, when all the lower house asking for was the right to look over the accounting office’s own spending due to the misgivings about it that had been raised.

In one telling episode at the end of 2009, Dohnal refused to allow the lawmakers access to the NKÚ headquarters or its documents and demanded in front of the assembled cameras, that they quit the premises. He later described the checks as unconstitutional but nevertheless still paid a Kč 50,000 imposed by the lawmakers.

The politicians against tried to press Dohnal to accept checks on the NKÚ following lower house elections in 2010. After his repeated refusal, criminal proceedings were launched in March last year. With that, the writing was on the wall. 

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