NCBR – billions spent with no effect for innovations

NIK has found numerous irregularities, both in the process of preparing and organising the call for grant applications in the competition Fast Track - Digital Innovations and at the project selection stage. NCBR did not adhere to the competition by-law or its own internal regulations. As a result, a project - which should be rejected immediately due to exceeding the limit of EUR 20 million - was qualified for co-financing. The irregularities identified in the audit also confirm the presence of corruption risks in NCBR. The huge scale of irregularities and an enormous problem related to the reliability of the EU funds spending made the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigate the issue (OLAF and NIK cooperate on a regular basis). NIK has stressed that the audit results are even more alarming as in the coming years NCBR will participate in spending about PLN 36 billion as part of the programme called European Funds for the Modern Economy which is a successor of the Smart Development Programme.

The National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) is an executive agency which has spent approx. PLN 70 billion to support research and development works in Polish companies in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, the efficiency of spending such a huge amount cannot be confirmed. In the latest European Innovation Scoreboard, Poland is ranked in the 24th place among the EU countries, as an emerging innovator. We are far behind the countries referred to as innovation leaders: Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Finland. Problems include low R+D spending of Polish companies, public procurement which insufficiently support technology development and entrepreneurship education.

European Innovation Scoreboard - performance of EU Member States' innovation systems between 2016 and 2023

NCBR organised and carried out the competition Fast Track – Digital Innovations (October-November 2022) to support industrial research and experimental development works. They were supposed to help develop innovative and implementable solutions in business activity related to cybersecurity, industry digitisation and digital creation technologies. The competition was addressed to business consortia as well as research and industry consortia.

The Supreme Audit Office, as part of the audit: “Organisation and allocation of funds as part of the competition Fast Track – Digital Innovations carried out by the National Centre for Research and Development” looked into two main aspects related to that competition: compliance with the regulations of the call for applications prepared by NCBR and accuracy of applying criteria and principles in selecting projects for co-financing.

Key audit findings

All in all, 434 project applications for grants of over PLN 3 billion were submitted as part of the competition. 390 project were evaluated in terms of their content and finally 117 projects were recommended for co-financing of over PLN 801 million. In February 2023, the media reported alleged irregularities in extending grants to two companies. As a result, subsidies for all companies from the ranking list were suspended.

From March to April 2023, the Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy carried out an ad hoc audit of the competition accuracy – the verification covered all of 117 projects, which were positively evaluated by NCBR in the competition. As a consequence, NCBR was obliged to remove 17 projects from the ranking list. Besides, two applicants withdrew from signing the grant agreement and thus no recommendations were made.

NIK also pointed out that NCBR did not address the audit results of the Managing Authority in terms of re-evaluation of 25 applications placed on the ranking list as selected for co-financing, where in case of 12 applications the evaluation made by NCBR-appointed experts was questioned.

There is a risk that compensation will be paid to 12 applicants who submitted to NCBR projects of the total co-financing value of PLN 125.3 million. After an audit of the Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy, review of protests and the appeal procedure, 102 projects of the total grant amount of nearly PLN 543 million were recommended for co-financing.

NIK identified a range of irregularities and problems in the process of preparing and organising the competition. The most critical ones include:

  • it was not specified how applicants should calculate the requested grant amount;
  • there was no transparency in the process of selecting experts at the stage of setting up expert panels;
  • there were breaches of the Implementation Act and guidelines related to the project selection mode.

The competition by-law was changed twice. In the first case the change was about extending the call for the project grant applications. Extending the call was justified by potentially high risk of the generator breakdown due to a very high interest in the competition.

The communication about extending the call for applications in the competition was published on NCBR webpage on 4 November 2022 at 15:38. Between 16:01 and 23:59 that day (in the period of extending the time for submitting applications), 47 more project grant applications were filed. In the second case the change of the competition by-law, effective from 22 December 2022, was related to the allocation increase from PLN 645 million to over PLN 811 million. The abovementioned changes to the competition by-law were not communicated individually to each applicant.

As regards the call for applications and selection of projects for co-financing, NIK identified a breach of principles set out in the Implementation Act. E.g. the NCBR Director illegally sent emails to independent experts with recommendations on the project evaluation. He wanted them to be more liberal in evaluating one element of the project budget, i.e. remuneration for researchers implementing projects.

NIK made an analysis of two selected projects with the highest recommended grant amount that were placed on the ranking list of December 2022. In case of the first application (no. 0233/22) NIK auditors found that the experts panel improperly evaluated one of the project evaluation criteria, i.e. the project budget. The project was evaluated positively although the grant amount of nearly PLN 123 million exceeded the statutory limit of EUR 20 million (approx. PLN 90 million after conversion). In the long run the grant agreement was not signed. After an audit of the Managing Authority the project was removed from the list of projects recommended for co-financing. In the second application (no. 0423/22) the grant amount was nearly PLN 55 million. In December 2022, NCBR informed the company that the project was selected for co-financing. Then, after the Ministry’s audit, as part of which the application was subject to re-evaluation, NCBR was removed from the ranking list.

As a result of the audit conducted in NCBR, NIK identified a range of risks and breaches in the way the Minister of Funds and Regional Policy exercised supervision and appointed the NCBR management board. Among other things they were related to the following issues:

  • no ownership supervision unit was created with regard to the Ministry taking over the supervision of NCBR in August 2022;
  • works were pending in NCBR on changing the law which were to eliminate or minimise the role of external experts in reviewing grant applications (e.g. by substituting them with NCBR employees – internal experts);
  • NCBR Director signed contracts of mandate and expert agreements with nine persons, without the knowledge of the Minister supervising NCBR. The remuneration granted to those persons ranged from PLN 10 to 24 thousand per month;
  • tens of persons occupying key positions were dismissed;
  • politicians had an informal impact on NCBR activity;
  • in the competition for the NCBR Director, the candidate recommended by the competition committee was not appointed and then the Director’s responsibilities were assigned to an employee of the Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy;
  • the candidate recommended by the competition commission for the position of NCBR Director, after he withdrew from candidacy for NCBR Director, was given the position of President of NCBR+ Sp. z o.o., which may imply corruption risks;
  • provisions of the Act on NCBR were evaded in terms of assigning responsibilities of NCBR Director for 6-month periods.  


In the light of the irregularities identified in the audit NIK has made the following recommendations:  

  • obligatory principles of documenting the selection of experts should be implemented with regard to the selection procedures for experts evaluating grant applications;
  • competition results should be published each time in line with effective regulations;
  • the process of verifying grant applications should be undertaken by employees of organisational units responsible for carrying out the competition;
  • measures should be taken to ensure compliance with the principles referred to in the Implementation Act;
  • mechanisms should be introduced to make sure grant applications are verified in terms of compliance with the effective financing limits;
  • efforts should be taken to ensure timely review of grant applications and making of the process documentation.

NIK is working on de lege ferenda proposals to change the provisions of law: Act on the National Centre for Research and Development of 2010 and the Act of 2004 on Procedural Issues Concerning State Aid.  

NIK will file reports to the prosecutor’s office about possible act of corruption and exceeding powers by public officials. In the context of irregularities in the EU funds spending by the National Centre for Research and Development, NIK will also notify OLAF and the European Commission. NIK stands in a position that a parliamentary investigation committee needs to be appointed to address the irregularities.

Article informations

Date of creation:
16 November 2023 09:29
Date of publication:
16 November 2023 09:29
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
16 November 2023 09:29
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Photo collage: logo of the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) and an exploding light bulb © NCBR (logo), Adobe Stock (light bulb)

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