On 3 January of this year, on the news programme Odmevi, journalist of the Slovenian broadcaster Televizija Slovenija Slavko Bobovnik hosted Peter Jenko, Deputy Director General of the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia (FURS), and Branko Meha, President of the Chamber of Craft and Small Business of Slovenia, who told viewers that the introduction of fiscal cash registers had positively influenced the increase in the Slovenian budget since the proceeds from the cash registers supposedly amounted to €75 million. This is exactly the amount that the state had calculated before the actual implementation on 1 January last year, but the official data from the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia about the VAT that was collected in the first eleven months of 2016 compared to the same period of the previous year show a different picture; only €19.4 million VAT more was collected. It was not even considered on Televizija Slovenija that perhaps FURS only tried to hide the damage which the government had caused by implementing fiscal cash registers, among other things forcing 4,119 Slovenian companies to close down. And when the Twitter user TOML pointed out to Bobovnik that viewers had been mislead, the journalist decided to settle the score with him on the news programme Dnevnik. The broadcaster RTV Slovenija did not even consider admitting their mistake, studying the data, and apologising to their viewers.
The difference in the collection of VAT, which in 2016 (until December) was only higher by €19.4 million, represents the real picture of the income of the state from fiscal cash registers, which has also been confirmed by some well-known Slovenian economists, so it is justified for the public to wonder how the Financial Administration calculated that the implementation of fiscal cash registers had been a positive economic measure that allegedly increased the Slovenian budget by €75 million. According to publicly available information, in January of last year numerous companies closed down. There were 4,119 such companies, which is 2,275 more than in December 2015. The sharp increase coincides with the implementation of fiscal cash registers since many small craftspeople decided to close their business due to the high costs or, in the worst case, move their craft to the informal sector.
The data for December 2016 is not available yet as the final data on consumption in the GDP structure for 2016 will not be known before the submission of annual accounts (end of February), but based on the already published data, the income from VAT from January to November 2016 had increased by €19.4 million, which is around €1.7 million a month. December might see an increase since sales are higher than usual during the holiday season, but the additional VAT income should still be no more than a quarter of the calculated monthly average. In other words, there is no realistic possibility for the final annual account of the collected VAT to amount to more than €22 million. This is still €53 million less than was calculated by FURS.
This is precisely what the ‘twitterer’ TOML pointed out to Televizija Slovenija and the long-time host of Odmevi Slavko Bobovnik, namely that they had lied to the Slovenian public and blindly believed the data which was provided by the guests in the studio without checking the data themselves. At RTV they apparently did not consider the discrepancy controversial, but they did object to TOML’s tweet, so they decided to settle the score with him publicly in the news programme, which was for a few days hosted by Slavko Bobovnik himself. One of the daily topics of Dnevnik on 14 January at 19:00 was also connected to social networks and the limits of the freedom of speech. In the studio, Bobovnik hosted the former Information Commissioner Nataša Pirc Musar and displayed to viewers TOML’s post as an example of a false and offensive tweet on the internet.
Bobovnik asked Pirc Musar what can be done in such a situation, and when the latter uncompromisingly answered that it is first and foremost necessary to ascertain who is actually in the right, since it is possible for the studio guest to have lied, the RTV journalist immediately rejected it. According to Bobovnik, FURS is simply correct, so the data does not have to be verified in his opinion. Musar assured him that there is little that can be done against such posts on Twitter and advised Bobovnik, if TOML is wrong, to answer the user with arguments and a link to the website of the Ministry of Finance, writing in a calm tone ‘excuse me’ and ‘you are wrong’.
Slavko Bobovnik apparently interpreted Pirc Musar’s words in his own way and instead of verifying the data on the website preferred to get into a war of words with ‘TOML’. The latter was shocked due to the public allegations on the national television news programme that he is lying and again send publicly available information and a link to the official documentation to Bobovnik, but even after that the people at Televizija Slovenija failed to take a step back. But Bobovnik went even further since he called upon the expertise of two tax advisers (the first one was Simič & partnerji, the identity of the other was not revealed) and also asked his guest from FURS Peter Jenko for an additional opinion, receiving a veritable mess of conflicting answers.
RTV could not be bothered to do the calculations
At FURS they are apparently trying to explain their calculations with the fact that the proceeds from the fiscal cash registers can also be affected by taxes in other areas like income tax, contributions, and corporate tax, but most respected economists with whom we have spoken believe that the net effect of fiscal cash registers is precisely in the difference of the collected VAT before and after. Some extra money could flow into the treasury from excise duties, among other things also from cigarettes, spirits, and beer, but not nearly enough to cover the discrepancy of the calculations by FURS. ‘If I’m being honest, I have no idea how FURS obtained such calculations,’ confirmed former Slovenian Economic Minister Matej Lahovnik.
Televizija Slovenija could not be bothered to calculate publicly available information. As he has repeatedly stated on his Twitter profile, Slavko Bobovnik trusts the people from FURS and tax advisers who do the calculations instead of him and his colleagues, and he has arrogantly dismissed TOML and his data, saying that TOML will have to ‘spend a term studying mathematics and a term studying etiquette’ before he dares to argue with him again.
Based on the conversation with Pirc Musar on Dnevnik, we have gotten the impression that Slavko Bobovnik does not believe Twitter posts too much, especially if they doubt the credibility of the journalism at Televizija Slovenije. However, Bobovnik seems to have an easier time believing anonymous Twitter users, like the user hiding behind a picture of the former Yugoslav dictator Marshal Tito who has indicated that TOML is the vulcaniser Tomaž Bitenc. In virtually all subsequent tweets exchanged by Bobovnik and TOML, the long-time RTV journalist addresses TOML as ‘Mr Bitenc’ and ‘Mr Tomaž’. Our verified sources tell us that TOML is not Tomaž Bitenc and that it is was an internet hoax. But apparently Slavko Bobovnik prefers to put his efforts into researching the identity of someone who disagrees with him than researching the controversial data which were presented to the Slovenian public in his programme by the gentlemen from FURS.