CUSTOMS CELEBRATE THEIR 125TH ANNIVERSARY
Which are the State's symbols? Politicians would reply: the national assembly, the government and the president. The military would probably retort: the army. And financiers would have equal right to say: the central bank and the customs. But the correct answer is probably: all of them. One way or the other, one of the first decrees, issued after the Liberation by prince Alexander I Batenberg (appointed to head the Principality of Bulgaria in 1879), are for the establishment of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB), the Customs, and the customs check-points. After the central bank celebrated its 125th anniversary, welcoming the European banking elite, now it's the Customs Agency turn to mark its 125th birthday. On July 7 (the date when Alexander I Batenberg issued his decree) the Customs Agency Director Assen Assenov will entertain at the Boyana Residence his colleagues from Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Poland and France. Michel Danet, Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation, will be an honorary guest at the reception. The reasons for setting up the Customs in 1879 were to protect the interests of the Principality. The decree stipulated customs duties for the import of foreign goods and and duty-free import of goods from Eastern Romalia and Macedonia. The then finance ministry issued also special customs statutes, regulating legislatively all aspects of the activities of customs, and setting rules for import, export and transit, as well as sanctions for smuggling. Working hours of these institutions were also defined (from sunrise till sunset), as well as data that should be included in the customs declaration and the fines for incorrect declaration. Excise duties on tobacco products were projected, too. Awards were stipulated for police officers and private persons, who assisted in detaining contraband goods and smugglers, and dismissals awaited customs officers who failed to perform their duties. It is curious that the initial structure of the customs remained almost unchanged until ... 1998.The first Bulgarian Customs Act was passed on December 3, 1884. It was moved by the then finance minister Petko Karavelov. A novelty was a special part on goods, transported by railroads, and the sealed waggons for transit goods. MPs, on their part, insisted for round-the-clock working hours for customs officers. The next legislative act regulating the customs' activities was passed in 1906. It imposed considerably higher requirements for the qualification of candidates for customs' employees. A disciplinary council was set up with the finance ministry, entrusted to consider proposal for dismissals of customs officers and it was the only authority that could make a final decision. In the period following World War II the customs were entitled to protect the State's monopoly for effceting exports and imports. Some of the customs' functions were undertaken by the so-called foreign-trade units, others - by various ministries. In 1960 a law on customs was passed under which they were subordinated to the ministry of foreign trade, without whose permission the customs could only allow import of parts intended for the Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ), for vessels and aircraft. In the beginning of the 1990s the transition from a planned to a market economy resulted in a many-fold increase of trade exchange and traffic through Bulgarian borders. This is also a period of the wildest smuggling games, which are often being played with a blessing from the ruling class. In 2001 the Government of the NMSII assumed power, promising a radical reform in customs. The controversial contract with the British consultants Crown Agents was signed with that target in view. No matter how gorgeous the celebrations are, they would hardly change the public opinion about the institution that accounts for about 50% of the revenues to the Treasury. Bulgarian customs will continue to be regarded as state-run institutions for private favours and will be provoking political tension and attempts to be controlled. Nevertheless, everybody in one way or another connected with them will drink to their future on July 7.