Head of Polish state audit office holds press conference with far


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Jul 01, 2023

Head of Polish state audit office holds press conference with far

Jul 27, 2023 | Law, Politics The head of Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (NIK), the state body responsible for monitoring government spending, today held a press conference outside its headquarters with

Jul 27, 2023 | Law, Politics

The head of Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (NIK), the state body responsible for monitoring government spending, today held a press conference outside its headquarters with the main leader of the country’s largest far-right group, which has recently been surging in the polls ahead of this year’s elections.

The pair called for the defence of NIK’s independence and expansion of its powers. The chief auditor, Marian Banaś, handed proposed legislation to achieve that to Sławomir Mentzen, one of the leaders of Confederation (Konfederacja).

Banaś – who until 2019 was a member of the government but is now one of its leading opponents – has faced questions over whether today’s event with Confederation – as well as his son’s recent announcement that he will stand as an election candidate for the party – compromises NIK’s independence.

Konfederacja popiera niezależność NIK i poszerzenie kompetencji NIK. pic.twitter.com/51XVxvIU3e

— Konfederacja (@KONFEDERACJA_) July 27, 2023

“There is an urgent need to amend the law on NIK,” said Banaś, quoted by Gazeta Wyborcza, which noted that bot he and Mentzen refused to answer any questions from the journalists who had been invited to attend.

“Confederation is the only political force so far that has declared its full support for the independence of the Supreme Audit Office and the strengthening of its powers as a constitutional body guarding the public purse, looking into every government, regardless of which views it represents,” he added.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Banaś said that Mentzen represents a “serious political force” but also expressed hope that “other political parties and political forces will support the Supreme Audit Office, because it is currently the only body that defends the rule of law and democracy in this country”.

There are "serious problems with the rule of law" in Poland, state auditor @marian_banas tells us in an exclusive interview.

We asked about his office's findings of unlawful activity by the government and the accusations of corruption he is himself facing https://t.co/NhbFkAtkrD

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 5, 2022

Banaś served as a member of the current Law and Justice (PiS) administration from 2017-19, including a period as finance minister. However, after being made head of NIK in 2019, it emerged that he was under investigation by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and accused of having links to a criminal group.

He has always denied those accusations, which he claims are politically motivated, and has not been found guilty of any crime. However, the government put pressure on him to stand down, but Banaś refused.

Subsequently, NIK has produced a series of audits and other reports criticising various aspects of government spending. In some cases, it has issued demands for prosecution over alleged illegal activity, including by government ministers and the prime minister himself.

Meanwhile, Banaś’s son, Jakub, has also been investigated by the CBA over alleged financial irregularities. Last week, it was revealed that Jakub will stand this year as an election candidate for Confederation. He and Mentzen held a press conference to announce the decision outside NIK’s headquarters.

Poland's state auditor has notified prosecutors of suspected crimes by four government ministers, including the PM.

The claims relate to last year's abandoned presidential election, which officials tried to organise before relevant legislation was passed https://t.co/Q5WHxYsOKw

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 26, 2021

Ahead of today’s press conference by Marian Banaś, the NIK president was asked by broadcaster TVN24 whether his and his institution’s independence was being undermined by these links with Confederation.

“I don’t see anything inappropriate here,” he replied, referring to his own actions. He said he “does not support any party” but is happy to “receive support to strengthen NIK’s independence from anyone who will provide it.”

Regarding his son, he said that Jakub “is an adult” and “outside all issues relating to NIK”. TVN pointed out that Jakub holds the position of “social advisor” to NIK, but Banaś senior argued that this role doesn’t involve access to audits.

Współprzewodniczący #Konfederacji @SlawomirMentzen: Wszędzie tam, gdzie pojawiają się publiczne pieniądze, gdzie pojawia się publiczny majątek, pojawia się olbrzymia pokusa nadużyć, kradzieży oraz różnego rodzaju innych niedopuszczalnych sytuacji. Jedyną metodą, żeby z tym… pic.twitter.com/m4huReYUXd

— Konfederacja (@KONFEDERACJA_) July 27, 2023

Mentzen, speaking today alongside Banaś senior today, declared that “NIK is the only state institution not taken over by PiS” and his party would seek to “defend NIK’s independence and support the extension of its powers”. He expressed hope that other opposition parties would support the proposed law.

Banaś, in particular, wants NIK to have stronger powers to audit state-owned companies. Earlier this year, NIK announced that it was seeking charges against Poland’s largest company, state energy giant Orlen, after the firm refused attempts by NIK to audit it.

The chief auditor also said that the government has been hiding the true size of Poland’s debt. This year, for the first time in Poland’s democratic history, NIK refused to issue a positive opinion on the government’s implementation of the state budget.

However, in response to today’s announcement, a senior lawmaker from The Left (Lewica), the second-largest opposition party, pointed out that they submitted a bill to expand NIK’s powers in April this year. Wiesław Szczepański noted that Banaś had not appeared at their press conference to announce it.

Lewica w kwietniu złożyła projekt o uprawnieniach prokuratorskich dla NIK.

Czy prezes Banaś wystąpił wtedy na konferencji prasowej Lewicy?#Konfederacja #Mentzen pic.twitter.com/gztIgwBI88

— Agata Szczęśniak (@szczesniak__a) July 27, 2023

Confederation – an alliance of nationalists and right-wing libertarians – is the smallest of the main groupings in Poland’s parliament, with only 9 MPs. However, since Mentzen became one of its leaders last year, it has surged to third place in the polls with average support of over 14%.

The party has achieved that success after shifting its focus away from nationalist rhetoric on migration and the war in Ukraine and instead emphasising its free-market policies. It presents itself as the only genuine alternative to the PiS and the mainstream centrist and left-wing opposition.

Should Confederation’s support in the polls convert into a similar share of the vote at this autumn’s elections, it is likely that the far-right group could hold the balance of power in deciding who, if anyone, can form a government.

One third of young Poles plan to vote for the far right at this year's election, more than for any other political group, a study of voters aged 18-21 shows.

It also found that 80% say they are "frustrated with the current political situation in Poland" https://t.co/azU0sQwXbD

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 25, 2023

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Main image credit: Konfederacja/Twitter

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.