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Poland – Open warfare between president of supreme audit institution and Morawiecki government

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Poland – The conflict between the President of the Polish Supreme Audit Office (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli, NIK) – Poland’s highest audit institution – and the Morawiecki government continues to escalate, now with a request for a waiver of Marian Banaś’s immunity. “This is a very difficult situation for our side”, admitted PiS MEP Ryszard Czarniecki in late July. “Marian Banaś was one of us, he held important positions in the state administration. This conflict is not helping us. ”

To obtain the lifting of the NIK president’s immunity, an absolute majority in the Sejm is required, i.e. 231 votes. The PiS group, which includes MPs from the PiS and the three other small parties making up the United Right coalition, has 232 seats, but it is not clear whether it can count on the support of all its coalition members on this vote. The opposition will vote overwhelmingly against lifting immunity because, as the conservative weekly Do Rzeczy noted in its July 19 issue, Banaś is the most effective opponent of the government at the moment. Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Platform (PO), even calls the NIK president a crown witness who should be given political protection.

Marian Banaś was deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Finance during PiS governments in 2005–2007 and 2015–19, Director of Customs, and Director of the new National Tax Administration (Krajowa Administracja Skarbowa, KAS) from 2017 to 2019, at the head of which he successfully oversaw the unification of tax and customs services that contributed to a significant improvement in the collection rate of taxes and especially VAT; he even served for a few months as finance minister in 2019 before being appointed head of the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) by decision of the Sejm in the same year. He is also a karate coach and black belt in his spare time.

Shortly after his appointment as head of NIK, he found himself the target of an investigation by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) regarding his asset declarations. He then refused to bow to calls for his resignation from his own camp, protesting his innocence and claiming that the investigation was politically motivated. Since then, NIK, which he heads, has multiplied its audits and reports highly critical of the policies carried out by the Morawiecki government.

In May 2021, it published a report, presented at a press conference, highlighting the illegality of certain decisions taken, including by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself, to hold an all-postal vote in the presidential election in May 2020 (the election was eventually postponed and held in a traditional manner). In so doing, it questioned the legality of the budgetary expenditure incurred for that purpose, which is estimated at 70 million zlotys (approximately 15 million euros).

On Wednesday 4 August, NIK presented at a press conference its new report on the “Justice Fund”, normally intended to compensate victims of crimes. NIK reports numerous irregularities in the way money allocated to the fund is spent, and has called on the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) to monitor “in particular the corruption-generating mechanisms uncovered”. The draft NIK report was the subject of a detailed response by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who rejected its content in full in a 100-page document. NIK, in turn, rejected all the reservations expressed by the justice minister, who, as prosecutor general, was behind the request to lift the immunity of the NIK president.

At the same time, prosecutors are investigating allegations of tax evasion by Marian Banaś’s son, who was briefly arrested on 23 July at the airport on his return from holiday, in the presence of his family, before being presented with the charges against him and then released.

In an interview with TVN24 television after his release, Jakub Banaś, who is also Marian Banaś’s “social adviser” at NIK, explained that his father’s appointment as head of the Polish audit institution was a personal decision by PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński against the advice of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński.

Reacting to his son’s arrest and indictment, Marian Banaś promised that it would have no impact on the work of NIK and noted that the arrest came a day after the presentation of the audit institution’s highly critical report on the implementation of the 2020 budget.

Marian Banaś and NIK are also very active on Twitter, with messages that are sometimes surprisingly political in nature, resembling those of an opposition party. At the beginning of July, the institution, whose sole objective is normally to control the proper use of public funds, even organised a conference on “Transparency of public finances as a basis for the reconstruction of the economy after the pandemic”. At the NIK-sponsored conference, the Morawiecki government was once again harshly criticised, particularly for its propensity to create special funds to hide part of the budget deficit.

Should we then see the president of the Polish Supreme Audit Office as an incorruptible, totally independent official or as a gross casting error? If the accusations of fraudulent asset declarations against him were fabricated, one wonders what interest PiS had in building a case against the man it had just appointed to head this institution, even before he had had time to demonstrate his excessive independence. Conversely, if this is a major casting error, it would not be a first for Jarosław Kaczyński, who is something of a specialist in the field.

Appointed by the Sejm for six years, the NIK president cannot easily be removed from office before the end of his term, and the institution has a full schedule of audits which remain to be conducted this year. On a personal note, Marian Banaś has announced that he is writing a book about the behind-the-scenes work he did in the PiS governments in 2005–07 and 2015–19. Things could be heating up!