Final Report: TalTech's investigation committee did not detect any fraud at the R. Nurkse Department
The committee formed to investigate the incident that took place at R. Nurkse Department of Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) established violation of the university's regulations. The committee did not find any evidence of fraud.
At the meeting held at the Rector’s Office on 7 October to discuss the final report, the following decisions were made:
- to review the project management procedures at the university and make the necessary adjustments with an aim to ensure smooth project management in compliance with the applicable rules;
- to contribute further to strengthening of the support system for project management at the university. This entails additional training and counselling of project managers and members of research groups as well as preparation of supplementary guidelines;
- to deploy a comprehensive university-wide project management software application.
„Violation of the project management procedures is reprehensible. In order to ensure reliability of the researchers, the established rules must be adhered to alongside with achievement of good research results,“ chairman of the investigation committee Renno Veinthal said. „However, we did not find any evidence of a criminal offence and the committee reached the conclusion that the allegations of fraud made in the article in newspaper Postimees of 22 August are unfounded,“ he said.
The investigation committee also asked for clarification from the consortium lead partner, who said that the research team from Tallinn University of Technology fully fulfilled the commitments undertaken.
Main conclusions of the investigation committee:
- Errors have been made in declaring the direct and indirect costs of the project. As a result, the direct costs line shows the costs that should have been recognised as indirect costs;
- Internal communication within the Department was inadequate – the roles of the members of the project team were not made sufficiently clear and there was no common understanding of the composition and tasks of the research team;
- The members of the OGI project team have failed to sufficiently document their activities in the project. Some of the publications lacked appropriate reference to the project;
- The timesheets signed by part-time employees covered only part of the first period of the project. The timesheets of most of the employees regarding the second period of the project were not signed.
The investigation committee found no evidence in support of the allegations made in Postimees
Within the period of one month the committee assessed the veracity of the allegations made in Postimees, questioned all the researchers involved in the OGI project who were pointed out in the article, examined all the evidence, analysed the rules of the European Commission and the financial reports and deliverables that TalTech submitted to the European Commission.
The article in Postimees assessed the persons' contribution by focusing primarily on one aspect of implementation of the project's action plan - preparation of the deliverables. „A contribution to a project is not solely preparation of deliverables, but above all implementation of the work plan,“ Veinthal said.
Veinthal assured that the evidence provided by the researchers proves their direct or indirect contribution to the project. He explained that an essential part of the OGI project was creating a theoretical base for the project, development (incl. creating a synergy with other consortia based on OGI results), dissemination (incl. preparation and publishing of publications) and supervision of the research group.
The investigation committee drew attention to the conflict between the timesheets filled out with hourly accuracy and the specificity of academic activity. A situation, where the academic staff can record the maximum of 40 h a week and only on working days is not in concordance with the actual development and creative practices,„ Veinthal said. He pointed out that the working hours and the breakdown of hours between the project work and other work indicated in the timesheet should be interpreted as describing the proportion of different kind of tasks. This approach is supported also by the explanatory memorandum of the Regulation of the Government of the Republic „Conditions and procedure for considering expenditures reimbursed from 2014-2020 structural assistance to be eligible, for payment of support and making financial corrections“.
On 23 August, the TalTech Rector gave an order to form an internal investigation committee at the university, the aim of which was to assess the veracity of the allegations made in the article in newspaper Postimees of 22 August and to present proposals for further management decisions.