NEW RECRUITMENTS TO THE COUNCIL ON REFORM AT CUSTOMS OFFICES
TWO BRITISH EXPERTS WILL BE ASSISTING MORRIS CAMPBELL IN CONSULTING SERVICESThe British experts Peter Pigdon and Jim Williams - employees of the consulting company Crown Agents - will be working together with the Chairman of the Council on Reform at Customs Offices Morris Campbell, the BANKER weekly learned. On November 29, 2001 the Finance Minister Milen Velchev and Crown Agents' Director of Orders and Consulting Services David Philips signed a 3-year contract for consulting the Bulgarian Customs Administration against the tidy sum of GBP8,132,000. Under one of the contract's clauses, a Council of consultants (headed by a 5-member Board of Directors) is to be established with the Customs Agency. So far only the name of its Chairman Morris Campbell (a former officer of the British intelligence service) was known.A total of 37 foreign experts in customs offices' activities will arrive in Bulgaria to provide consultancy services. According to well-informed sources, Peter Pigdon will occupy the position of a Director on Enforcement of Laws and is probably one of the 5 members of the Council on Reforms BoD. And his colleague Jim Williams has been presented to employees of the Customs Agency as a Director on Organizational and Managerial Matters.Crown Agents began attracting teams of experts that shall be working in Bulgaria, Finance Minister Milen Velchev announced in end-2001, answering a question of the BANKER weekly about the future activities of the Council on Reforms.They will be mainly employees of the European customs administrations, who will have to settle their labour legal relations with their respective governments before assuming duties at Crown Agents, Mr. Velchev explained.However, the Ministry of Finance refused to officially specify if Peter Pigdon and Jim Williams were selected as foreign consultants. The silence regarding the new recruitments to the Council on Reform at Customs Offices affirms the already created impression of the deal's secrecy. The choice of Crown Agents as consultants was veiled in mystery from the very beginning. It has been in the mouths since October 25, 2001 when it was announced that the Finance Minister Milen Velchev had been authorized by the Government to sign a contract with the British consulting company. Despite the considerable sum to be paid from the budget, the Cabinet refused to invite a public tender under the Public Procurement Act, justifying its decision by national security reasons.According to sources informed about the process of negotiations, Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his team have neglected the World Bank's negative stance regarding the signing of such a contract. A day prior the contract's signing on November 29, 2001 the Resident Representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Bulgaria Piritta Sorsa also voiced her reticence, pointing out that the contract with Crown Agents could turn out too expensive. She expressed apprehensions that the company would be charging 1% of the customs' revenues, as it had done in other countries. However, the company's representative David Philips refuted her fears. In an exclusive interview for the BANKER weekly he said there was no such a clause in the contract with the Bulgarian Government.Judging from the memorandum of the 2-year agreement between the IMF and Bulgaria, to be approved in February 2002, the Fund has obviously approved the idea for setting up a council of consultants. In the Bulgarian Government's letter of intent, accompanying the agreement with the IMF, the contract with Crown Agents is explicitly mentioned.Meanwhile, the Customs Agency's Director Emil Dimitrov (who was isolated from the deal with the British company) approved only two of the 15 candidates who took part in the contest for heads of regional customs administrations. They are the acting directors in Plovdiv and Bourgas Kalin Ganchev and Dimo Keryazov. A new contest will be invited for the three other positions in Sofia, Varna and Rousse.The New Year marked the beginning of the marriage of convenience between the Customs Administration and the foreign consultants from Crown Agents. For the time being both parties are busy with recruitments. In February, after the end of the honey moon, it will probably become clear if they have succeeded to find a common language. Then the 6-month probation period of the widely discussed Customs Agency Director Emil Dimitrov expires as well. The only thing that can be said now is that no special synchronization and warm feelings are noticed in the triangle between the Finance Ministry, the Customs Agency, and the British consulting company.