The Financial Times Deutschland on Friday reported that auditors from the Bundesrechnungshof were particularly critical of one of Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer's top civil servants, who they said approved the expenses against the advice of his legal advisor.
The accounting office said the official could be legally liable for the costs for the Helgoland conference and two others in Berlin taking place in 2007 and 2010. The expenses reportedly amounted to taxpayers footing a six figure bill.
The ministry said that it will make a comment when the final report about the incident has been concluded. A spokesman noted that new rules instituted in September require frugal budgets for business trips, which are supposed to be close to the office.
The office's criticism follows a series of events in which the lines between the ministry and trade unions have become less clear, the paper wrote. In the last few years there were reports in which union representatives billed the ministry for additional training classes, which turned out not to be classes but actually meetings that were either used for union work or for entertainment.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), called in 2008 while he was interior minister for more restrictive practices when picking up the tab for educational programmes.
The accounting office was particularly critical about a meeting of the personal board of a maritime division of the ministry in northern Germany. At the beginning of last year, that office took a trip to Helgoland, Germany's only North Sea island. The three-day trip included flying in regional directors and bringing 35 other participants via ship. “This served no legally authorized purpose” the auditors wrote.
The underwriting of two public union conferences for the Verdi trade union was also sharply criticized. Although the topics for a February 2010 conference were supposed to include reform, restructuring and personnel reduction in the transportation administration, an internal report from Verdi showed that information about the right to strike for personnel offices was an “important part” of the conference.
The accounting office said the conferences had no educational value and should not have been paid for. That means the personnel board should not have requested time off for the events and should not have asked for their expenses to be paid. The costs for the two conferences came to about €25,000 in seminar fees as well as €27,000 for hotel and expenses. Transportation costs and days lost on the job came on top of that.
The federal auditors also said the Transportation Ministry likely illegally participated in a training session in October 2010 of the Federal Police's special unit, the GSG9. The Federal Office of Maritime Traffic and Water Surveying chartered its own ferry for the exercise organized by the Interior Ministry, auditors said.