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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

PFR. Reimbursable subsidies. “We have been deceived and wronged”

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The Polish Development Fund calls on companies to return the funds they received under anti-crisis shields, but does not reveal the reasons because… they are secret. – The state applies the principle of presumption of guilt of the entrepreneur instead of the principle of presumption of honesty – says Adam Abramowicz, spokesman for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

End of April. The Polish chain of Esotiq & Henderson stores is being asked to return PLN 3.5 million that the company received under the anti-crisis shield.

Beginning of May. Prymus, a company dealing in the distribution of chemical raw materials, receives information about the need to return the funds. The amount is the same – PLN 3.5 million.

These are listed companies, but they were not the only ones who were asked to return the money. The owners of the Diuna family hotel company are to pay back PLN 2 million. – We were deceived and wronged by PFR – says Jakub Lubomski, the owner. – We are doing well, paying back the subsidy will not mean that we will have to close the company. But what should smaller entrepreneurs say? For many it will be a matter of being or not being, he adds.

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PFR informs that the implementation of aid programs is being verified. He announces that he will apply for a refund or explanations of up to PLN 6,000 in total. enterprises, including 2 thousand after a negative recommendation from the services (including CBA).

No justification

During the pandemic, the state-owned company Polski Fundusz Rozwoju launched support for companies in the form of so-called anti-crisis shields. Subsidies were largely non-refundable if companies managed to stay on the market and did not lay off people. – Let me remind you what situation we were in then. The economy was closed, it was necessary to act quickly to save companies from closing and their employees from layoffs – says Bartosz Marczuk, vice-president of PFR, in an interview with the tvn24.pl business editorial team.

Entrepreneurs feel helpless, especially since the calls do not provide any justification for PFR's decisions.

– The company only refers to the subsidy agreement or the regulations. We handle over a dozen such cases, comments Kilian Fugas from Innteo Legal. – We are approached by various entrepreneurs, both from small and large companies. The need to return funds may significantly affect the future of these companies, he notes.

Adam Abramowicz on extending aid for companiesTVN24

Companies also turn to Adam Abramowicz, spokesman for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, for help. – During the pandemic, when this money was granted, there were hundreds of such cases, now we are again observing a significant increase in the issue of repayment – he says.

He adds that entrepreneurs are shocked that PFR does not indicate a specific basis for the decision – It only refers to: “reasonable suspicion of abuse” – explains the spokesman. – Entrepreneurs receiving such letters without indicating specific violations and without any explanations cannot in any way comment on these allegations, since they do not know them and they are general. It should be noted that PFR applies the principle of suspicion or presumption of the entrepreneur's guilt instead of the principle of presumption of entrepreneurs' honesty, which is expressly indicated in the Entrepreneurs' Law.

Bartosz Marczuk responds that PFR cannot provide information because… it is secret.

– I understand that demands for payment due to “risk of abuse” may sound enigmatic – admits the vice-president of the PFR management board. – However, let us remember that the services are involved in the case and the reasons may be clarified. We have no mandate to evaluate their recommendations.

Recipes written on the knee

What does the situation of entrepreneurs look like in practice?

– The pandemic was the most difficult period in the thirty-year history of our company. We had cancellations worth several million zlotys, we were devastated. We did everything we could not to fire people. There were various ideas, for example regarding the division of the company. Fortunately, this did not happen – explains Jakub Lubomski from Diuna. The company was founded in 1993 by his parents, Anna and Robert. As they emphasize, they built it from scratch. Currently, it is a large enterprise – 7 hotels and 2,300 beds.

To receive money from the anti-crisis shield, it was necessary to prove a 30% drop in revenues. The company presented documents and received support. At the same time, it conducted advance sales for the next season.

– This is standard in this industry, we pay taxes on the advance payment, but it is not income – explains Lubomski. – We even consulted it with PFR by calling their hotline. We found a similar interpretation on their website. However, later sales and advances were lumped together. After some time, we received notice that our revenue decline was lower and we were not entitled to the money.

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In Lubomski's opinion, the problem was a big mess in the regulations. – There was an impression that the recipes were prepared on the knee – he says.

Adam Abramowicz also draws attention to this. – The regulations were changed many times during the allocation of funds. Entrepreneurs had no support in the stability and predictability of regulations and the ability to adapt to the changes introduced, he says.

The Lubomskis were ready to talk to officials, prepared documents, and wanted to contact PFR representatives with contractors. It turned out that the other side was not willing to talk.

– We are disregarded by the state. Our company has been operating for years and we have an impeccable reputation. We will return the money if necessary, but we demand clarification on this matter. We approach this honorably, emphasizes Lubomski.

PFR: it's only a small percentage

According to Bartosz Marczuk, the Polish system of supporting companies during the pandemic was one of the best in the world. – We achieved the shields exceptionally well, also thanks to cooperation with the private sector, primarily with banks and the National Clearing House – he argues.

He adds that a total of 355,000 people took advantage of Shield 1.0 and 2.0. companies. – Polish entrepreneurs are generally honest, but in such a large number of companies questionable situations may occur – says Marczuk. – However, we are talking about a very small percentage here. Just look at the scale of our activities. We have asked or will ask approximately 6,000 people for a refund (part or all of the funds) or for explanations. companies, i.e. approximately 2% of all beneficiaries.

As he explains, the first calls came from PFR in 2020. They concerned currency exchange offices and bailiffs who applied for subsidies, even though, according to the regulations, they do not run businesses. At the same time, an anti-embezzlement team was also established. What did he do? – Analysis of cases that deviate from the norm – says Marczuk.

– From the beginning, we also cooperated with the National Tax Administration and services, headed by the CBA – he explains. – In the fall of 2023, we started sending requests for the return of surpluses or all financial support as a result of the analyzes of the anti-embezzlement team. There were several thousand of them, and we are still continuing this process. Many entrepreneurs give away money. There is also the second part of the summonses, it concerns approximately 2,000. companies to which we have reported or will report after a negative recommendation from the services.

But the process of seeking recommendations from the services was also not without errors. Adam Abramowicz mentions this: – It turned out that, for example, in the service database the company appeared in red. After the intervention of the SME Ombudsman, its status changed to green, he says. – In such situations, there was a lack of transparency and justification for such actions – he adds.

The authority of the state is at stake

After the change of government, it was announced that PFR would be subject to an audit. For now, however, the Fund is still managed by people appointed by the previous government. Paweł Borys, current head of PFR and collaborator Mateusz Morawiecki, although he left the company in April, the current management board still includes people associated with the United Right. For example, Bartosz Marczuk was deputy minister of labor in Beata Szydło's government.

Marczuk emphasizes, however, that PFR's actions have nothing to do with the change of government. – In fact, the seriousness of the state is at stake – he says. – We could be worried if PFR had not introduced anti-embezzlement policies from the very beginning. In addition, the company was thoroughly checked for over a year by the Supreme Audit Office, which examined the method of implementing the shields and found no shortcomings in principle.

“In principle” is an understatement on the part of the deputy head of PFR. According to the Supreme Audit Office, aid under the shields was poorly designed and without supervision and control. “The regulations that raise significant concerns include the unacceptable, because not provided for in the Act on the System of Development Institutions, transfer of competences and powers by the government to the Polish Development Fund regarding the rules for granting assistance, which allowed PFR to specify them in detail at its own discretion. On this basis, for example, the company refused to grant entrepreneurs support or to cancel it without giving a reason,” the Supreme Audit Office said, adding at the same time information about the preparation of a notification to the prosecutor's office regarding the activities of the president of the Polish Development Fund.

Read also: The Sejm committee did not accept the Supreme Audit Office's report on aid for companies during the pandemic >>>

Bartosz Marczuk in an interview with tvn24.pl argues that companies that have received letters regarding subsidies are not at a loss – among other things, there is the possibility of returning the money in installments. – If they do not return the money, we will go to court and the court will assess the validity of our claims – he adds.

– I advise entrepreneurs to thoroughly analyze the case and consult it with a lawyer – sums up attorney Kilian Fugas. What if they receive a lawsuit from PFR? – In this situation, the burden of proving that the company has not fulfilled the contract rests with PFR. In my opinion, such actions by institutions may undermine trust in the state, he concludes.

Author:Natalia Szostak

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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