BULGARIA RETURNS CHANGE FROM EU MONEY FOR EDUCATION
The money allocated by the European Commission (EC) had not been optimally absorbed when realizing the activities under the Youth programme, Audit Office experts established. The audit found that in the 2001-2004 period Bulgaria deposited membership fees for participation in the initiative totalling EUR2,951,194 and in the same time received only 49.44% of that amount, or EUR1,129,643.The Youth programme is financed by the EC and is intended to encourage cooperation between young people with the aim of obtaining additional knowledge and skills. It includes projects outside of the official forms of education - exchange of youths between Bulgarian and foreign NGOs, participation of Bulgarians aged 18-25 as volunteers in EU member countries, etc. The funds are also earmarked for initiatives of the young people, connected with the struggle against racism and the studying of European cultural heritage. The data about the number of projects under which financing from the EC has been received is also indicative about the activity of the youth department at the former ministry of youth and sports (already an agency) which is in charge of implementing the programme. The reports show that 958 proposals were submitted to the ex ministry, 537 of which were approved by the experts of the youth department. The EC, on its part, approved 463 projects, closed contracts for 461 of them, and about one third of the filed offers - 373 - received real financing.The drafting and implementation of projects were impeded by the small administrative capacity of the youth department at the former ministry. Auditors claim that the problem arises from the constant turnover of personnel and structural changes within the department. This will probably continue in the future as well, as the statute of the department has not been decided yet. For the time being it has been transferred to the Ministry of Education. The biggest hindrances to the optimal absorption of money are connected with the excessive bureaucracy in some of the procedures, the Audit Office claims. An additional problem is the difference of requirements, stipulated by the Bulgarian and the European legislation. Poor coordination between departments in the former ministry of youth and sports and the chaos in processing the documents brings more negatives. All that results in a delay when signing the contracts and non-fulfilment of the terms, set by the EC which donates the funds, inspections show. Audit Office experts specify that the department's employees show enviable professionalism when detecting attempts at financial violations by persons whose projects have been approved. Nevertheless, multiple violations, connected with submission of invalid documents for expenditures have been found. There are cases when invoices for goods and services which are not connected with the subject of the approved project have been cashed. Experts in the former ministry of youth and sports have not honoured the accepted rules for approving the expenditures. In practice, it turns out that the 28 regional experts working under the programme in the whole country and appointed by the ex ministry's youth directorate, have not done their job either. According to the requirements of the EC, they are obliged to check the fulfilment of 10% of all approved and financed proposals. Principally, they should be informed about the current projects and not admit violations. That is not the situation, the Audit Office claims. Although one of the youth department's obligations was to organize seminars and working meetings in order to discuss current jumbles, problems do exist. Auditors have reported that the management of the youth department has not undertaken sufficiently efficient measures for collecting the overdue receivables, amounting to BGN336,139. The debts were accrued due to non-submitted (in due time) accounting documents for the absorption of money and it should be returned according to EC rules. The director of the youth department has made an attempt to launch a procedure for restoring the money by court. In the same time, however, the inspectors have not found information that the debtors have been notified by letters, reminding them they should submit detailed financial reports. The reason for this mess is that there is not an officer in the youth department, directly engaged with the financial accounts of the projects, as well as the absence of an expert with a diploma in law, to see to the observation of Bulgarian and European regulations. Inspections have established that the necessary documents for reporting fulfilled activity are missing in a great part of of individual projects' dossiers.Audit Office experts have moved six recommendations to the director of the youth department. One of them is to periodically organize explanatory campaigns about the opportunities for financing youth initiatives. The funds under the Socrates programme and its components - Erasmus, Comenius, and Grundtvig - have been considerably better absorbed. The average percentage of absorbed funds vs the amount allocated by the EC is 83.46%, Audit Office inspections show. The programmes envision establishment of partnerships between schools from various European countries through their participation in a joint project, exchange of lecturers and students. Projects connected with European cooperation between institutions, offering opportunities for educating adults, are financed, too. The realization of these initiatives is coordinated by the Socrates National Agency and the Centre for Development of Human Resources. The good work of experts in these two organizations has contributed to the increase of the number of participants in the various activities. Still, according to auditors, the amount of unabsorbed funds that have to be returned to the EC is considerable. The impossibility for the complete utilization of allocated finances is foremost due to the inaccurate planning of various activities and the lack of information on the part of lecturers and students about the possibilities which the programmes offer them. In order to overcome these flaws, incentives for universities to participate in the initiatives are projected. It turns out that many of the higher schools of education presently refrain from taking part in them due to the clumsy administrative procedures. Another obstacle is that the universities do not have sufficient funds in order to co-finance individual projects. A permanent mechanism for state assistance financing is meant to be established in the future. according to expectations, the absorption of EC funds will exceed 90% then.