Nature conservation for more than 6 billion: a number of mistakes, targets with no chance of being met or the Ministry failed to register the pre-emptive right to buy land

Press release on audit No 22/09 – 24 April 2023

The SAO audited how the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) and the Agency for Nature and Landscape Protection (ANLP) managed State and European Union funds intended for nature and landscape conservation and care between 2019 and 2021. The MoE spent a total of CZK 5.15 billion from the Operational Programme Environment 2014–2020 (OPEn) until the end of 2021, and spent another almost one billion (CZK 0.93 billion) from the state budget in the years under review. The SAO revealed a number of errors: some indicators that serve to assess the level of achievement of the objectives of the MoE and OPEn programmes will not be met; for the national Landscape Care Programme (LCP), the MoE did not set any criteria for its evaluation and did not monitor the benefits of the funds spent; The MoE did not submit a single application for registration of the State’s pre-emptive right in the Land Register, as a result of which transfers of land valuable in terms of nature are carried out without a preferential offer of land purchase to the State. The audit also showed errors in public procurement. The SAO assessed some shortcomings as indicating a breach of the budgetary discipline.

The objectives of the MoE programmes and the Operational Programme Environment 2014-2020 will not be fully met. The assessment of the level of fulfilment of the objectives of the OPEn is used, among other things, by the so-called output indicators, which the MoE has set itself. Of the seven indicators, four will not be met. Three of them showed fulfilment below 10% of the target value at the end of 2021. Thus, for example, the number of measures envisaged to reduce non-native species, measures to promote species and habitats, and measures to prevent, minimise and remedy the damage caused by specially protected species will not be fulfilled. For the national programme “Aid for the Restoration of Natural Landscape Functions — from 2019”, six out of eight target values, i.e. 75% of the monitored indicators, will not be met.

Another finding of the SAO’s auditors is that the MoE did not submit any application to register the State’s pre-emptive right in the Land Register, thereby not proceeding according to the Nature and Landscape Protection Act. As a result of such conduct, the transfer of land valuable in terms of nature was carried out without a preferential offer of land purchase to the State. This was highlighted by the SAO during its audit in 2018.

In the audited period of 2019–2021, the MoE received seven offers for the purchase of land located in national nature reserves or monuments as part of the State's pre-emptive right. For three of these offers, the MoE did not comply with the 60-day statutory deadline for the State to express its interest although it had an interest in buying the land. As a result, the State did not buy some land in sites valuable in terms of nature. For one offer, the seller finally concluded the purchase agreement with the ANLP even after the expiry of the 60-day period.

Although the Landscape Care Programme is the most financially important non-investment national subsidy programme in the field of landscape care, the MoE did not set any criteria for its evaluation. It did not monitor the benefits of the funds provided and therefore could not evaluate whether the aid amounting to CZK 759 million contributed to the improvement of the state of nature and landscapes.

For some beneficiaries, the SAO audit revealed weaknesses in the fulfilment of the conditions of the subsidy provided or in the awarding public contracts. E.g. the ANLP breached the principles of transparency and non-discrimination when it limited the range of possible providers to one specific provider by directly awarding the public contract. On the basis of the contract for work, the ANLP paid a total of CZK 470 thousand to this directly selected provider in 2019 and subsequently it paid the same provider CZK 2,3 million in 2020. The SAO assessed this conduct as indicating a breach of budgetary discipline.

There is no fundamental improvement in the state of European important natural sites or species in the European Union. The loss of protected species and habitats cannot be stopped despite partial successes. The European Commission estimates that failure to meet the headline target “EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020” causes annual losses to the EU economy of EUR 50 billion. Also, in the Czech Republic, there is a decrease in biodiversity (biological diversity) and the associated deterioration of the functioning of ecosystems, sensitivity to climate change and the danger of introducing non-native species are increasing.

Communication Department
Supreme Audit Office

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