Competition “Family first” - millions of unjustified subsidies

The report to the Prosecutor's Office is related to possible criminal activity allegedly committed by two ministry officials who – according to NIK - acted to the detriment of public interest. In May 2021, the then deputy director of the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Demography chaired a competition committee providing opinions on projects filed in the competition “Family first”, including an offer of the Republican Foundation, where he was previously employed. Although there was a conflict of interests, the Office deputy director continued working in the committee.

Also, reports concerning the competition “Family first” were filed to the Commissioner for Public Finance Discipline. They were related to the former deputy director of the Office and the Government Plenipotentiary for Demography who failed to establish what part of the subsidy should be returned to the budget by four NGOs and did not demand that the money be reimbursed. According to NIK that was about PLN 80 thousand. In case of two NGOs, NIK also filed reports on the breach of public finance discipline. The fourth report is related to the former deputy director of the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Demography who failed to settle on time final reports on the execution of 32 of 38 agreements signed with NGOs for subsidies totalling over PLN 8 million.

Having audited the 1st open competition “Family first” for 2020, NIK negatively evaluates its preparation, execution, as well as supervision and settlement of projects. According to NIK the Minister of Family and Social Policy did not make sure that subsidies granted to selected NGOs in a proper, economic and effective way. The Ministry did not analyse the effectiveness of its initiatives, although it earmarked PLN 8.7 million for those analyses. NIK stands in a position that the short project duration did not allow planning consistent, effective or regular activities.

Out of 700 offers made in two competitions, the ministry committees selected only 71 offers, without providing any justification. The committees also could lower the subsidy amount requested by NGOs, without any explanation.

NIK has noted that in 2020 nearly half of subsidies granted as part of the competition (PLN 4.2 million) and nearly 26% in 2021 (PLN 2.2 million) was received by NGOs related to 10 of 28 members of the Family Council operating in the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. The Council did not provide any opinions on requests filed in the 1st competition, though.

The NIK audit also showed that some organisations used part of subsidies to finance their current activity. That was possible thanks to the 1st competition regulations.

Besides, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy did not have to justify why it agreed for one organisation to earmark 25% of the subsidy to cover administrative costs and another – only 10%.

Following the completion of projects the Ministry approved final reports which included non-eligible expenses (not recognised in original offers). Out of PLN 6 million received by 10 NGOs audited by NIK, non-eligible expenses accepted by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs totalled nearly PLN 550 thousand.

NIK stands in a position that its audit findings imply that the adequacy and significance of projects financed as part of the competition “Family first” are questionable.

Corruptive competition criteria

Since 2000, the birth rate in Poland has been lower than the death rate which does not guarantee simple generation substitutability. The projects executed as part of the open competition “Family first” were supposed to boost the total fertility rate thanks to information and education activities and training programmes addressed to selected institutions, local communities related to the families and the public opinion in a broad sense.

In three rounds of the 1st competition PLN 8.7 million was earmarked for the projects execution. In both competitions it was over PLN 17 million.  

It was assumed that the financing will cover projects which:

  • consider lasting marriage of woman and man as social good, and are focused on its development,
  • aim at supporting marriages as the best care and education environment for children and they prepare couples to manage difficulties and conflicts in family life,
  • are focused on supporting young people in setting up families and not postponing decisions to be mother or father, while preparing them to new life and social roles,
  • are focused on creating a particularly friendly environment for large families.

The competitions announced in 2020-2021 sparked large interest of non-governmental organisations. Nearly 700 offers were placed altogether. However, only about 10% of them were qualified for financing.

The NIK audit indicated that the offers were placed on forms which did not require providing information on the target group, intended results and the organisation’s past experiences related to the competition subject.

The projects filed in both competitions were assessed by 4 committees. Each of the committee members reviewed from 5 to 33 requests per day, having from 2 to 7 working days to do it. According to NIK such a big number of offers per one reviewer and the short review date show that the projects verification could be unreliable.

In some cases requests were declined, although the projects received 51 points required for subsidy. In the first round of the competition for 2020, of 9 NGOs which received 51 points from the committee only 2 received  the subsidy. NIK stands in a position that the committee’s works were unreliable and it clearly points out that subsidies were granted on a discretionary basis.

According to NIK the fact that the offers were assessed on a discretionary basis and that the Minister of Family and Social Policy failed to establish principles to avoid conflicts of interest could give rise to corruptive mechanisms.

The competitions’ regulations were developed in a peculiar way. In line with those regulations if a completed project did not achieve the competition goal, the ministry was free to decide if the project manager had to return the subsidy or not, and if so – in what part.

Completed projects

The subsidies granted in the 1st competition “Family first” audited by NIK were chiefly earmarked for the publication of press articles, making of reportages, films and TV spots about family issues and for the organisation of training programmes supporting family relations, development of websites on that subject as well as enhancement of social and professional competencies for sole parents or parents from large families.

The Mum and Dad Foundation prepared 100 expert press articles on family issues and a production of five 12-minute TV programmes and five trailers dealing with family issues. The organisation spent about PLN 323 thousand on these purposes.

The Institute for Natural Family Planning by prof. J. Rötzer, MD created a spot advertising natural methods , developed a website, prepared a package for social media promoting knowledge on fertility, including webinars with experts, mini animated series as well as e-courses for couples who want to conceive a child in a natural way, for infertile couples and the ones who want to put off having a child without any harm to their health. The Institute also prepared an e-book on procreation health. Those measures cost about PLN 245 thousand.

NIK audited 24 projects. The irregularities included a failure to inform the Ministry of Family and Social Policy about shifts in projects’ cost estimates, improper description of accounting vouchers or earmarking funds for costs not covered by subsidies. For instance, the subsidies were used to buy office furniture, a vacuum cleaner, a drone or a photo camera. However, no irregularities were detected with regard to the use of a subsidy against its purpose, its unauthorised receipt or receipt of an excess amount of a subsidy. Besides, the Ministry failed to recover those funds, also from the associations and foundations which were not given consent to make shifts in the projects’ cost estimates, but they did anyway.

Unmeasurable effects

The Ministry of Family and Social Policy did not develop any indicators to measure the effectiveness or durability of projects completed as part of the 1st competition “Family first”.

The audit conducted by NIK in 10 NGOs showed that seven of them fully completed the subsidised projects and three others only in part.

Besides, the durability of measures taken by NGOs as part of the competition is questionable. An example is the multimedia pro-family internet platform developed by the Foundation “I know and I can”. After the project financing from the competition funds came to an end, the platform no longer existed.

According to the competition participants, the term of projects was too short (from 1 to 3.5 months) which did not support their effectiveness.


Minister of Family and Social Policy

The audit findings indicate that some measures and decisions are necessary to structure the existing procedures of selecting and financing projects as part of the competition, as well as to make sure that the subsidy funds are used effectively. The recommendations were related to:

  • establishing the principles of financing projects to make sure the applicants are truly interested in the costs, the course and the results of the projects;
  • adjusting the composition and rights of the competition committees;
  • reviewing offers in line with the law and preparing justifications by the committee members for individual criteria set out in the competition regulations;
  • analysing effectiveness and durability of effects of the competition editions completed to date;
  • defining result indicators for the primary objective and specific objectives in subsequent editions of the competition;
  • extending the term of projects by NGOs;
  • auditing adequacy of public spending and measures taken as part of the competition;
  • recovering from offerers funds which were used against their purpose, received unduly or in an excessive amount.


In case of projects subsidised from public funds the following measures should be taken:

  • executing projects in line with contractual provisions and regulations on public spending, and precisely specifying planned costs in offers related to competitions organised with the use of public funds; 
  • executing project activities based on regulations on public spending in terms of qualifying cost categories in expenditure execution reports;
  • taking actions to properly document activities which confirm spending.

Article informations

Najwyższa Izba Kontroli
Date of creation:
17 October 2022 11:29
Date of publication:
17 October 2022 11:29
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
17 October 2022 11:29
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
family-shaped paper cut-out being held by four pairs of hands (of adults and children) © Adobe Stock

Read content once again