The Prague Innovation Institute was founded at the beginning of 2020 with the aim of supporting the development of innovation in the capital. “Our main role is to connect education, public space and business in Prague. We are the only center of its kind in the Czech Republic that focuses on the development of education,” the organization describes its mission on the website.
Similar organizations operate in other regions of the Czech Republic, the most famous example being the South Moravian Innovation Center founded in 2003.
For the entire two years of operation, Pii was dependent on subsidies from the European Union, the management of the organization long-term sought stable funding in the form of operating subsidies from the Prague municipality. From the EU, the Prague Innovation Institute received over 70 million crowns for specific projects, which, however, are not intended for just one calendar year, this is a cumulative amount.
However, after two years of operation, it appears that the organization had problems with transparent functioning and compliance with public procurement laws. These findings are based on two audits commissioned by the capital’s management and available to E15. It is the conclusions of the audits that politicians and people close to Pii refer to as the official reason for the end of Kartouse as director.
“Yes, I was informed of his resignation, but he has not yet done so. It is theoretically possible that this will change. According to my information, however, he is planning to resign,” confirmed the chairman of Pii’s board Jaroslav Denemark, who was nominated TOP 09. Kartous also confirmed his resignation. He will be temporarily replaced by Tomáš Lapáček, who until now managed the Prague Smart Accelerator project.
One of the sources close to the organization, who did not wish to be named, but whose identity is known to the editors, said that the end of Kartouse could also be due to his work as head of the Czech Elves and his activism. Kartous has long appeared in the media as an expert in the fight against disinformation. These activities should have been a “thorn in the side” of some, especially opposition representatives. The problem was allegedly also that he was not willing to make concessions and did not conduct a diplomatic dialogue with municipal politicians.
“They behaved like drunken sailors, they did not respect almost any rules regarding the awarding of public contracts, they did not behave with the care of a proper householder when spending public funds,” criticizes, for example, representative Jakub Stárek (ODS), who was a member of the organization’s supervisory board until June.
However, he left the company after the supervisory board voted that director Kartous should quit his position, but the board of directors, which has the power to dismiss him, did not do so. “The board of directors did not have another candidate to lead Pii at that time, and therefore decided to entrust Bohumil Kartous to resolve the comments of the audit report,” explained Denemark.
In the June vote of the supervisory board on the dismissal of Kartouse, five members of the board voted for, only one was against. People sit in the council at the suggestion of political parties, the opposition and coalitions are represented in it.
However, two months later, in the last days, the main political forces agreed that Kartous should end. According to two anonymous sources, his end was conditioned on the allocation of an operating subsidy for Pii. If the current head of the organization had not resigned, the city would not have provided the amount of around ten million needed for the stable operation of the institute. This was also confirmed by Vít Šimral, councilor for education, sports, science and business support, under whose responsibility Pii falls. “The coalition’s approval of the operating subsidy is conditional on the resignation of Mr. Kartous,” he said.
According to the contacted politicians from the administrative and supervisory board, Kartous should end mainly due to the non-transparent functioning of the institute. “The problem was, for example, in the publication of contracts, in public contracts, but also in such formal matters as the way of presenting proposals to the administrative and supervisory board or the preparation of materials for city meetings,” explained Denemark.
This is also confirmed by Jan Decker, who serves on the supervisory board at the suggestion of the KDU-ČSL. “If the manager was in charge, the audit would have turned out differently. There were management errors, and quite a few, as it was a broad audit. It wasn’t about one issue,” Decker said.
Pii’s management denies wrongdoing. “The comments were settled on the basis of the audit requirements and most of the shortcomings have already been corrected. Neither Pia nor Prague were harmed in connection with these shortcomings,” said spokeswoman Šárka Mrázová. Kartous did not want to comment on his resignation now.
Šimral praised the solution by Kartousa and the management of Pii. “The doubts have already been resolved, or measures have been taken to prevent it from happening again,” he said. According to him, in the case of audits that drew attention to irregularities, this is nothing unusual in the state sphere. “If we look at the audits of other public administration organizations or for example the SAO, similar audit findings are not exceptional,” he said. He expressed his thanks to the outgoing director in his answers to the E15 newspaper.
Even Denemark appreciated Kartous’ work. “In the state in which he took over, he managed to get a large number of projects off the ground, without him Pii wouldn’t have lasted even a few more months, he definitely managed to get an experienced team there. Unfortunately, the director had no experience with the functioning of municipal institutions and it was no longer sustainable,” Denemark described.
However, most of the politicians interviewed agreed that despite the improved functioning, shortcomings remained. “We constantly pointed out a lot of things, a lot of people were annoyed by it, and that’s why they left. At the end of Mr. Kartous, it only came to a head. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s going this way,” Decker regrets.
The opposition representative Ondřej Prokop (ANO) takes a much more critical view of Pii’s activities, who blames the problems in the functioning of the organization on the pirate councilor Šimral, under whose supervision Pii falls. “The fundamental problem is the pirated mismanagement of the organization from the municipality and specifically the managing councilor Šimral. The pirates in the management of Pii clearly show the difference between transparency in shouts on social networks and the real mumbling of the functioning of an organization paid for by our taxes,” Prokop wrote to the E15 newspaper.
Councilor Šimral responded to Prokop’s criticism by listing the numbers related to Pii. “The Prague Innovation Institute has grown from an organization with a basic investment of one million CZK and one 12 million CZK European project with 10 employees to an organization with a budget of 180 million CZK, financed by 85 percent from European funds, in just 2 and a half years. with 40 employees or suppliers,” Šimral described.
The future of the Prague Innovation Institute is so uncertain, but all relevant political parties in Prague count on its existence for the future. It is not very likely that it would be cancelled, but there will definitely be a review of its functioning, as individual parties have rough ideas about where the organization should go.
Big changes await Prague in the coming years